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Cat Grooming

By Diane Morgan

Cats are generally self-sufficient, at least in their own eyes. They bill themselves as elegant self-cleaning creatures who need no help from people in the grooming department, but in fact, cats spend about ten percent of their waking hours grooming themselves. Their methods of self-cleaning, however, are primitive: Their cleaning agent is spit and their tools are the tongue and teeth. They simply lick their fur and chew up anything that doesn’t belong there. 

This method generally works well enough for young, healthy cats. Older cats have less energy for self-grooming and are at risk of developing mats, sores, and hairballs. 

You can prevent these problems by sharing grooming duties with your cat. This has four advantages:

1. Grooming keeps your cat cleaner than he can manage on his own.
2. Grooming gives you an opportunity to check for lumps, ear mites, broken teeth, and skin problems.
3. Grooming in the form of gentle brushing helps create a loving bond between you. Your cat will not tell you that he appreciates your attentions, but he does.
4. Grooming controls shedding. All cats shed, although how much varies by breed, season, and individual. Normal shedding is a seasonal process roughly corresponding with the length of the day. Outdoor cats shed most in the spring and fall, while indoor cats, exposed only to artificial light, shed moderate amounts of hair all year long. Siamese cats often shed all year round. Stress and illness can also trigger shedding.

While longhaired cats are not worse shedders than shorthaired varieties, their shed hair is often more noticeable because it may come out in tufts rather than in individual hairs. Shedding is a natural process, so it’s not possible to eliminate it. However, faithful combing and brushing will remove some hair before it lands on your sofa. Fatty acids in the diet also help to keep the skin and coat in tiptop shape. 


Hairballs are subjects of innumerable jokes, but they can be very unfunny—especially if surgery is required to remove them. 

Hairballs are the result of self-grooming. When your cat grooms himself, his rough tongue catches loose, dead hair, which is swallowed. Most of the time the hairball passes straight through, but it’s often vomited up. The accompanying retching and gagging are unpleasant for everyone. Hairballs also cause constipation, and in rare cases, a life-threatening blockage.


The main rule about grooming cats is this: Be calm, be quiet, and be quick. Cats have sensitive, fragile skin that cuts and tears easily. 

Shorthaired cats need brushing only once a week, but longhaired coats require attention two or three times a week. It doesn’t take an arsenal to groom your cat, but one tool you do need is the Magic Coat® Gentle Slicker Wire Brush for cats. It is equally useful on long- and shorthaired cats. The slicker removes mats and pulls away dead hair. The bristles promote circulation, distribute hair oils, and condition your cat’s skin. His coat will gleam. 

For seriously tangled hair in longhaired cats, you may also need a good comb. Get one in which half the teeth are coarse and half are fine—two combs for the price of one! 


Daily brushing, which takes less than one minute, removes the plaque from your cat’s teeth before it has had time to mineralize. 

If your cat will allow it, use a little cat toothbrush; they are soft and designed to fit more easily into a cat’s mouth. Use a made-for-cats toothpaste to fight plaque and tartar buildup. 

The first step in toothbrushing is to get your cat to allow you to insert something in his mouth. To train him, dip your finger in chicken broth and let him lick it. Eventually he will let you rub your broth-soaked digit along his gumline. Then wrap some thin gauze (dipped in broth) around your finger and use that. Then try the toothbrush, but before inserting, let him lick the paste off so that he gets used to the feeling of the bristles. 

At first, you may have to content yourself with just brushing the fangs. Slowly work your way to the back. Don’t worry about brushing the insides of the teeth; most of the bad stuff accumulates on the outside. 


Restrain your cat in a towel, leaving only the head exposed. Gently bend back the ear flap and wipe away any dirt. Healthy inner ears are light pink with no odor and no visible earwax. If you find dark or smelly debris in the ear, your cat may have ear mites. If the ears are red or swollen, talk to your veterinarian.

Clean the parts of the inner ear you can see with soothing Four Paws® Ear Wash. It has a special formula to prevent itching and the accumulation of odor-causing earwax.


Cats are usually able to keep their own nails in excellent condition by ripping your furniture to shreds. To help protect it, trim your cat’s nails every couple of weeks. Magic Coat® Professional Series Cat Nail Clipper have stainless steel blades and are designed for easy, safe, and painless trimming. 

Holding the cat in your lap, press his toe pad to extend the claw. This is also a great opportunity to inspect for split and damaged claws. Clip the sharp tip of the claw below the quick (the pink part inside). One of the truly great things about cats is that almost all of them, even black cats, have white nails, so it’s easy to see the quick. If you do cut the quick by mistake, stop the bleeding by touching the end of the nail with a styptic pencil. You don’t have to clip the rear claws; these don’t usually cause damage to furniture. 


It’s not usually necessary to bathe a cat. Cats are odorless and generally neat. However, even the most fastidious cat can have an accident involving mud or oil, and some cats have skin conditions that require such attention. In addition, people who are allergic to their cats find that a weekly cat bath helps keep dander down and allergies at bay. 

Use a shampoo specifically designed for felines, like Magic Coat® Cat & Kitten Tearless Shampoo. Brush the cat thoroughly before bathing. (Never bathe a cat with mats; the mats will tighten and never come out.) 

Arrange all the materials at the kitchen sink or tub. Nothing is worse than trying to find the shampoo with one hand while holding down a wet, soapy, angry cat with the other. Make sure that you have several towels. 

Submerge the cat up to his shoulders in warm water. Ignore the yowling and plaintive mewing. Be firm but kind. After the cat is thoroughly wet, drain the sink and shampoo him, starting at the head. 

After the bath, blot him dry with a towel. For long haired cats, a pet-friendly dryer may be useful. Start by drying the upper body by blow-drying backward against the lay of the hair. Then do the sides, front legs, and neck. Finish with the tail, back legs, and belly. Keep the cat away from drafts until he is completely dry. 

If your cat totally objects to water in any form, Magic Coat® Dry Shampoo Powder is cat-approved and can be a lifesaver.

Four Paws®, Magic Coat®, and Wee-Wee® products are available at major pet stores everywhere in the U.S. Please check with your local retailer or our Where to Buy page for product availability near you.