Wondering what’s the best way to groom your cat at home? Cat grooming is an essential part to keeping your kitty happy and healthy. Luckily, cats do a lot of the hard work themselves; cats are naturally clean animals, and you’ll frequently see these creatures licking themselves or their playmates. However, there are still some things you’ll need to do to keep your cat well-groomed. In this guide, you’ll learn:
- Why cat grooming is important
- Why you need to help groom your cat
- How to prepare your cat for grooming
- How to clip your cat’s nails
- How to brush your cat’s fur
- How to bathe your cat
- When to visit the vet for other grooming needs
Why cat grooming at home is important
For cats, grooming is an important part of staying healthy and active. Cats spend, on average, up to 50% of their waking hours grooming themselves and their kitty playmates. In addition to keeping kitty clean, grooming has several other benefits. Regular grooming helps keep your cat’s fur coat shiny, and allows her to distribute important oils throughout her fur, which ultimately help keep her warm and dry.
Grooming also helps your cat regulate her body temperature! Cats actually sweat from their paws, but these glands aren’t enough to maintain a healthy body temperature. Instead, when your kitty cleans herself, the evaporation of saliva on her fur keeps her cool. Additionally, the process of grooming improves blood circulation. Cat saliva is also full of enzymes that make it a natural antibiotic, which is helpful if your cat has a scratch on her body! (Note: Be sure to visit the vet if your cat has any scratches or wounds.)
The other side of grooming is the social aspect! Grooming is a relaxing activity for cats. In the “wild,” it’s what they do after hunting and eating; grooming comes in when it’s time to calm down. Additionally, because grooming is an intimate activity, this is one of the ways cats show affection for one another, often bathing each other in pairs or groups.
If my cat grooms herself, why do I have to groom her too?
Yes, cats are experts at self-grooming, but they still need help once in a while. Brushing your cat lets you bond with them, the same way another cat would by licking her fur. It also helps reduce shedding and dead fur that ends up floating around your house. Additionally, for long-haired cats, brushing helps prevent tangles and mats that your cat couldn’t fix by herself.
Similarly, your cat would technically be fine if you didn’t trim their nails. But if your cat has a natural instinct to scratch with those nails, your furniture, clothing, and tender skin may not fare so well.
Grooming also helps you stay in tune with your cat’s state of health. If you regularly groom your cat, you are much more likely to notice scratches, fleas, ticks, or any other health issues your kitty might be dealing with. Plus, if your cat gets into something messy or gets something on her fur that’d be dangerous for her to consume, it’s up to you to clean her properly.
Training your cat for grooming
Most cats won’t be happy with you if you just pick them up and start trying to clip their nails. Grooming without helping your cat understand what’s happening is stressful and frightening for her. So before you pick up a brush, you’ll need to get your cat comfortable with the process of grooming.
If you’ve adopted a kitten, start on the grooming training as soon as possible. Gently pick up your kitten when she is relaxed, and practice petting her, touching her paws, and gently pressing on her knuckles to expose her claws. The more comfortable your kitten is with being handled, the better she will respond to grooming. It will also make vet visits much easier!
When grooming your kitten, do it as gently as possible. Praise her throughout the grooming process and give her treats afterwards. If she is uncomfortable, do not force her to stay—this will only scare her, making her likely to scratch you and make future grooming a battle.
If you have adopted an older cat, the process is the same. However, you need to be aware of your adopted kitty’s past, and that they may not have been handled much or correctly before. Some cats may be scared to be touched at all, especially just after being adopted. If you are working with a cat who is frightened of contact or grooming, talk to an animal behaviourist or veterinarian to see how you can groom your cat in the best and safest way possible.
How to clip a cat’s nails
You should try to clip your cat’s nails once every two weeks. This will keep them at a comfortable length for your cat, while protecting you and your home. Before clipping your cat’s nails, make sure you are dressed appropriately—wear a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans or thick pants, just in case! To clip her nails, follow these steps:
- Place your cat on your lap or nearby in a comfortable position, where you can reach her paws.
- Take one paw and gently press on it to extend your cat’s claws.
- Examine the nails. If they are short enough, there’s no need to clip them!
- Clip a nail using a nail clipper made for cats—NOT a human nail clipper. Be careful not to clip your cat’s nails too short. Most cats have clear nails, so you’ll be able to see the nail’s “quick.” This is where the blood vessels end, and there are lots of nerves here. Cutting into the quick will hurt your cat, and she will bleed!
- Praise your cat and offer her a treat for a job well done.
Pro tip: If you are unable to safely and calmly cut your cat’s nails, take her to a vet or groomer who can help. Some cats are scared for reasons you can’t control, so the best thing you can do is to make sure both you and your kitty are safe, and that they get the grooming they need from a professional.
How to brush your cat’s fur
This probably seems like an easy one, right? Well, it’s still important to make sure you’re brushing your cat the right way and with the right tools. For long-haired cats, you’ll want to buy a steel comb, sometimes called a slicker brush. For short-haired cats, you can choose between a metal or a rubber comb. Rubber combs and brushes are great for getting rid of dead skin and fur!
To brush your cat, simply place her on your lap or near you while she is relaxed. Then, gently brush in the direction her fur lays down. Never brush a cat in the opposite direction to her fur! Praise your cat and give her some treats when you are done.
Pro tip: Long-haired cats should be brushed every day to help prevent tangles. Short-haired cats should be brushed at least twice a week to help reduce shedding.
How to bathe your cat
The only time you should be bathing your cat is if they’ve gotten extremely dirty, or if they have fleas or another medical condition that requires bathing. (Read our article to find out how often you should shower your cat!) For a normal bath, remember to only use a pet-safe shampoo made for cats. Human-formulated shampoos are too harsh for cats and can irritate their skin. For baths to get rid of fleas or help with other medical issues, ask your veterinarian about what products are safe to use. To bathe your cat, follow the steps below:
- Pick a time when your cat is relaxed, such as after playtime.
- Make sure your cat’s nails have been recently trimmed, for your own protection.
- Check the water temperature. Just like you would for a baby’s bath, make sure the water isn’t too hot or cold for your cat. Lukewarm is perfect.
- Place your cat in the sink or bath, and gently wet your cat’s fur with a hand-held spray hose or by pouring from a plastic cup.
- Gently massage the shampoo into your cat’s fur.
- Thoroughly rinse your cat’s fur. Make sure not to leave any shampoo behind.
- Dry your kitty with a towel. If your cat likes it, you can use a blow-dryer on “warm” to help your cat dry quickly.
Pro tip: Do not pour water on your cat’s head. If any water gets in your cat’s ears, dry them thoroughly to avoid infection. If your kitty’s face is dirty, clean it carefully with a damp washcloth.
Other cat grooming needs
In addition to brushing and nail clipping, your cat may need other grooming help from time to time. For example, cats need clean teeth! Of course, most of them hate it when you touch their teeth, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do this on your own. Talk to your vet about your cat’s specific dental needs, and how often they might need a vet visit specifically for teeth cleaning. There are also treats and cat toys that help reduce tartar and protect your kitty’s teeth.
If your cat has dirty ears or goopy eyes, gently wipe away the dirt or goop with a warm washcloth. However, if your cat’s eyes continue to have discharge or her ears are dirty again quickly, it’s time to visit the vet.
Okay, so you’re ready to groom your cat! By now you should understand:
- The benefits of cat grooming
- How to prepare your cat for grooming
- How and when to clip your cat’s nails
- How and when to brush your cat
- How and when to bathe your cat
- AND when to talk to a vet or other cat professional
Cover photo by Jeffrey Buchbinder on Unsplash