Cat Care

Nitty Gritty Kitty: How to Perform At-Home Cat Grooming

Nitty Gritty Kitty: How to Perform At-Home Cat Grooming

As far as hygiene goes, cats can pretty much fend for themselves. I mean, have you noticed how much time he spends tidying himself up!? Anyway, cats are on top of it. ...For the most part. There are, unfortunately, times when you have to intervene. When the inevitable moment pops up, it's a good idea to have a decent grasp on the basic principles of cat grooming. Today, we'll cover some general tips, as well as touch on some of the more specific practices necessary for certain breeds.

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How Often You Should Groom Your Cat

When it comes to cat grooming, the less often you have to do it, the better. I mean... most of them hate it, and you hate to put your cat through it. There are, of course, exceptional cases, as with show cats or kitties with special grooming needs who, over the years, have grown accustomed to all of the fussing.

So this brings us to the question: How often should you groom your cat? Well, the answer depends on a few different factors. For instance, how long is your cat's fur? Longer coats will likely require a daily brush out, medium coats can range from daily to every other day, while short hairs can get away with a couple of times per week. Of course, if your feline friend is an outdoor or indoor/outdoor roamer, you may need to up your brushing schedule a bit during the spring and autumn months.

Another factor is your cat's general health and ability. Mature or ill cats may lapse a bit in their cleanup duties, and when that occurs, you may have to swoop in to give him a hand. Unfortunately, this is also true for more acute illnesses that result in fecal matting or incontinence. Though bathing your cat isn't something you typically need to do, in these instances, it may become necessary - though, while you're cat is still feeling under the weather, a good wipe-down with a warm washcloth is probably a better idea.

Other factors, such as nail trimming, eye wiping, ear cleaning, and dental work, will vary quite a bit, and other than the more routine maintenance, you may want to leave these tasks to professional groomers or your vet.

Cat Grooming: The Nitty Gritty

So now that we've talked about frequency, let's get into some of the finer details of cat grooming. As I said before, by and large, your cat will likely do many of these things by himself, and unless there's a major mishap, you probably won't have to touch on these things very often, but just in case you do, here's the lowdown.

The Dreaded Bath

I've found, more often than not, that the myths about cats are generally not true. But them hating a nice warm bath... that one is pretty much absolutely correct. At least as far as my cats go. I don't make a habit of dousing them in water, but sometimes it has to be done.

  • The process for bathing your cat goes kind of like this:
    Start by getting him good and calm first. This will depend largely on your kitty, but for the most part, a vigorous play session or an hour spent with a valerian toy will usually do the trick. Although you may notice your furry little buddy passing out post-meal, I wouldn't advise feeding before a bath, lest all the nervous excitement make him a little queasy.
  • If possible, you might want to give his nails a quick trim - just to save yourself some gnarly claw marks later. However, this is optional, and again, will depend largely on him.
  • Once he's feeling calm and groovy, now is the time to comb and/or brush him to help get up any excess hair or matting and lift the fur up, making it easier to dampen.
  • Prepare the bathing area - be it the tub or the sink - with a non-slip mat, and fill the basin with lukewarm water.
  • Carefully lower him into the bath, and slowly pour water over his coat. If you have a hand held sprayer, this works way better; however, it may freak him out. Just take things slowly and see what works.
  • Going from his head down to his tail, carefully massage in a good, natural cat shampoo. Make sure you're going in the direction of fur growth to avoid creating more knots.
  • Rinse well and, if necessary, follow the same process with a cat conditioner.
  • Rinse, rinse, and rinse again. I cannot stress this enough, especially if you're using a conditioner, as any left over residue can cause new dirt to cling to your cat's fur.
  • Use a wash cloth and plain water to carefully wipe around sensitive areas and paws.
  • Dry your kitty with a dryer-warmed bath towel, and if you can, keep him wrapped up for a while. Also, if the sound doesn't intimidate him, you can speed up the drying process with a blow dryer.
  • If you have a long haired kitty, you may want to finish up with a cat detangling spray.
  • Finally, reward your cat with his favorite treat and lots of love!


As you may have noticed in the "how often to groom" section, long and short haired cats need different things when it comes to brushing, and it isn't just about frequency, either. One thing that applies across the board, though, is that you should really begin your brushing routine by inspecting your cat's fur. Does it look healthy overall - with a bit of springiness and gloss to it? Are there any strange bumps, small wounds, or bits of dandruff? There isn't anything moving around in there, right? If all looks well, you can proceed.

Long Haired Cats

  • Check to see if there are any knots that need to be worked out. If there are, you may be able to use a touch of talcum powder to help massage the knots out. If not, mat cutters will usually do the trick.
  • Once that's done, begin combing the fur in an upward motion, starting at the belly and legs, moving up to the neck, and finishing at the chin.
  • Next, part the fur on his back and tail, and brush it out straight on either side.
  • Finish up by carefully brushing everything back into place.

Short Haired Cats

  • As with his long-haired counterparts, check to see if there's anything knotted or unsavory sticking to his fur.
  • Next, comb through his fur, starting at the head and working down, being sure to comb in the direction of hair growth.
  • Finally, use a standard brush to brush all over - including his belly, tail, and legs - to help pick up any loose fur and spread around natural oils.

Now that you have a nice brushing method in mind, it's also a good idea to note that not every brush works for every coat. Slicker brushes and mat breakers work well for medium to long hairs, while dual-sided brushes are better suited to medium to short hairs, and mitt brushes and shedding blades work for everyone. If you prefer a comb to a brush, longer haired cats do well with something called a Poodle comb, which has thin, widely spread teeth. The alternative is the Greyhound comb, which has closer teeth, and is best suited to short haired kitties.

Nail Trimming and Paw Care

As you know, paws are essential - those ridiculously adorable little jelly beans matter just as much as your own feet, so you need to keep an eye on them! And nails... well... those might not be as cute, but they do serve their own necessary functions, and from time to time, you may need to provide something akin to a kitty pedicure, just to keep your cat AND your home in good condition.

To ensure healthy feet and nails, start by making sure to regularly wash up your cat's paws with a simple wash rag soaked in warm water. While you do this, check for things like cuts and sores, splinters, swollen patches, or debris stuck between the toes. If you have a long haired companion, you may occasionally need to trim the hair between his toes - though, only if this excess fur is bothering him or catching a lot of flotsam.

  • Now for the scary part - trimming your cat's claws:
    As with bathing, spend a little time getting your cat in a relaxed mood - play with him, give him some of his favorite nip, whatever makes him happy, really!
  • Next, sit down in a comfortable spot and try to encourage him to get cozy in your lap. I know, this seems like a mean trick, but it's better than the grab and snip method, right?
  • When the two of you are in a good position, carefully take a paw, massage it gently between your fingers. If there's some resistance, just let it go for a moment and come back to it.
  • Once you're working with minimal resistance, apply just a bit of pressure to the pad to help the nail extend.
  • When the nail is extended, trim just the white tip, being certain to avoid the pinkish area of the nail. This pink spot is known as the quick, and houses blood vessels and nerves. Nipping it can mean a good deal of pain and bleeding for your cat. Should you accidentally trim it, you can stop the bleeding and discomfort with a styptic formula; however, it's better to err on the side of caution with this, and just snip at the tips.
  • Repeat this whole process all the way around. Then, of course, reward your little buddy for a job well done!

Oral and Ear Care

Although we often think of brushing, bathing, and nail trimming when we think of cat grooming, areas like the mouth and ears are every bit as important, and could really use more care than we tend to give them.

Ear Grooming

  • Begin this process by inspecting both the outer and inner portions of the ears. Ensure that there are no unusual bald spots, discharge or strange odor, swelling or redness, or a heavy buildup of earwax. If there is, of course, speak with your vet.
  • If there's nothing untoward in your kitty's ears, you can then begin by soaking a thin washcloth or cotton ball with a cat-specific ear cleansing liquid.
  • Fold back your cat's ear, making sure to wipe away any wax or debris from all inner folds.
  • Flip that ear back into place, and quickly wipe around the outer portions of ear.

Oral Care

  • As with anything else, begin by inspecting your cat's mouth. Carefully pull back his lips and check to see if the gums are pink, firm, and show no signs of inflammation, sores, discoloration, ulcers, pus, or dark brown tartar. In some cases, you may also be able to inspect the tongue, though chances are he will have clamped his jaws shut by this point. For a more thorough exam, it really is a good idea to take your kitty to the vet.
  • If everything looks good, you can now begin to get your cat used to his new oral hygiene routine. Start by massaging his gum with a swab.
  • Once he's a little more comfortable, show him his new toothbrush. Cat toothbrushes can either be smaller, softer versions of their human counterparts, or they may be tiny brushes that are slipped onto your fingertip. Either way, let him see it, smell it, rub on it, whatever makes him comfortable.
  • Now that he knows what you've got in your hand, rinse the brush with lukewarm water, apply the cat toothpaste directly to his teeth, then gently brush it around for a few moments.

Breed-Specific Needs

Aside from routine maintenance, most cats require very little grooming. However, certain specialized breeds - ranging from the very long-haired to the mostly-hairless - require specific types of care in addition to the regular sort of grooming. For example, long and thick furred cats, like Himalayan and Chartreux, need frequent, thorough brushing. The hairless Peterbalds and Sphynx cats will need occasional baths and moisturizing.


No matter the breed, the size, nor the length of hair, cat grooming is sometimes necessary, and knowing the ins and outs of preforming this all important responsibility is always a good idea. The task can be a bit tricky at times, but with enough practice, both you and your kitty will become old pros in no time!

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