Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour



Cats need to groom both to keep their fur clean and remove fleas (Eckstein & Hart 2000) but also because it is an important stress reliever. Their owners should also give them regular brushing, daily for a long hair, less often but also regularly for all cats. It will reduce the hair on the furniture and will help you bond with your cat. It will also reduce the incidence of hairballs, which are sicked up by cats when they swallow too much hair in grooming. Persian cats with squashed faces and long hair cannot groom well and face a bigger flea burden and a greater likelihood of hair balls (Malik 2009) – grooming will help put this right.

Knots and mats form in long haired cats and sometimes in short haired too if you are only brushing occasionally or only brushing part of the cat. These matted areas slowly tighten, usually causing raw sores below. In the end this is excruciatingly painful for a cat. Some cats are completely terrified by grooming, because they have been groomed roughly in the past. They may bite out of fear while being groomed.

If a long haired cat is severely matted, the result may be fly strike, myasis, when maggots are found literally eating the cat alive (Anderson & Huitson 2004). This may be a sign of prolonged neglect by the owner. A severely matted cat will have to be anesthetised by the vet before the mats can be tackled properly. This is because the sore places below the mats make the slightest interference with the fur acutely painful for the cat.

Persian cat breeders have a trick to deal with mats. They cut across the top of the mats with blunt ended scissors, being careful never to get too close to the skin. Then they leave the mats. “The fur left behind will fall away in two to three days or can be combed off. The ends of the fur knit together like clasped hands so if you cut across the “knuckles” if removes the knitted bits and leaves loose ends,” explains a Persian owner.

Mats can also be cut out using Mikki Mat Splitter (order from a pet shop). It is a two-person job. Somebody must hold the cat and feed cat treats while the other person works very carefully. If you use scissors make sure they are blunt-ended. It stresses the cat to cut out too many at a time so, if you have lots of mats in, say, a stray cat, do five minutes a day. Cutting out mats is better than combing them out. If you comb them out, you are more likely to hurt the cat and make it unwilling to be groomed. If mats are allowed to stay, severe sores will occur underneath.

Long haired cats need daily brushing for about five minutes all over every day to stop the knots developing in the first place. When I had a semi long haired cat, I began with a Zoomgroom, then used a Lawrence Tender Care slicker brush, using a small size round the head and a larger size for the body. Then I finished off with a metal comb. A newish device,the FurAway, small size, might be helpful for cats with a lot of hair. There’s a video showing how to groom a cooperative cat at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSibCuFtnFQ

Daily grooming is less stressful for a cat, because knots do not have time to form. If you miss more than one day, mats develop quickly. I also used to clip short the fur round my cat’s bottom, to prevent mess there. This also may be a two-handed job, depending on your cat’s response!

Stand the cat back to you on the lap or on a chair. Lift hard underneath the front paws to avoid scratches and bites above. Then comb downwards. You can do tails and between the back legs by putting the cat on your lap on one side with head and front paws kept behind your right elbow and arm. Lift the upper back leg to groom. Then turn it to the other side and repeat.

If your cat dislikes being brushed, use prawns or cat treats as a reward. It MUST be a really desirable treat for the individual cat (tastes vary). Hold treat firmly in left hand, and while cat nibbles it, brush with right. Keep all grooming sessions short.

If you have a rescue cat who won’t be groomed, often because of a pain caused by rough grooming in the past, first deal with any existing mats with the help of the vet. If necessary ask the vet to shave all the fur off the cat. (While the cat is sedated, it is a good time to look for any tooth problems etc.)

Then slowly start the cat being accustomed to being touched by non-grooming items (like a banana) while you hold a treat in front of it. The point is that while the cat may immediately disappear if it sees a brush, it won’t feel that way about a banana. (It must be a mega good treat. Prawns usually do the trick.) So, start touching several times a day with a banana, with a spoon, with biro. When the cat is used to these, move these an inch or two through the hair. Then start using a grooming tool (preferably of the kind which the cat hasn’t seen before) Treat and touch. Treat and touch. Treat and touch, moving over an inch of the hair. Very slowly increase this. Keep all sessions short.

Holding the treat in the left hand, let the cat nibble it while you brush down the back. This is usually the area where most cats will tolerate brushing. Only when the cat fully accepts this brushing, possibly weeks later, proceed to brushing the neck ruff. Keep all sessions short.

The next step is to hold the treat at ground level so the cat has almost to lie down to reach it. Say “Lie Down” while you do this. When the cat lies down, give the treat. When this response is established, hold the treat so that the cat has to lie on its side and brush a little along the side of the body before giving the treat. Next hold the treat in such a way that the cat has to lie on its back to nibble it. When it does this, reward it with the treat. Then brush round the tail a little, still holding the treat where the cat can nibble it, before giving it. Most cats will respond by moving their back paws nearer the head, thus exposing their tail area. You can take off any mess with a metal comb. Keep all sessions short

You will need endless patience to make sure each stage is established before you proceed to the next one. If the cat is focused on the treat, preferably nibbling it, it will not bite you. It will take weeks, maybe months. I would suggest giving a week for each stage. Keep all sessions short

For some basic help on cleaning up pet hair in the home, go to http://www.bbcleaningservice.com/office/cleaning-for-pets-and-humans.html


Anderson G. S. & Huitson, N. R., (2004), ‘Myiasis in pet animals in British Columbia: The potential of forensic entomology for determining duration of possible neglect’, Canadian Veterinary Journal, 45, 993-998.

Ecstein R. A. & Hart, B. L.,  (2000), ‘Grooming and control of fleas in cats’, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 68, 141-150

Malik, R., (2009), ‘Brachicephalia – a bastardisation of what makes cats special,’ Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 11, 880-890

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