Grooming means taking daily care of the cat for its health and beauty. The purpose is to tone up the muscles; remove dirt, grease, dead hairs and dead skin flakes; and stimulate blood circulation, thus improving the condition of the hair and skin.
Many cats seem able to groom themselves successfully, but the majority appreciate and enjoy a little help from their owners. If there is more than one cat in the household, they will often indulge in mutual grooming sessions. It is a case of: ‘You wash my back and I’ll wash yours’. The mother cat will wash the new-born kittens thoroughly, both to keep their coats clean and to stimulate the circulation and the production of urine and faeces.
Washing appears to be an instinctive process, as newborn kittens will begin to make ineffective washing movements at about three weeks of age, and by the time they are six weeks old, most kittens will be making a pretty good job of it. Very often the first sign of a queen coming on-call (into heat) is the way she washes vigorously all over, particularly in the vaginal area.
The Oriental Foreign Shorthairs with their short coats and long noses, and consequently long tongues, are especially efficient at self-grooming. But their longhaired cousins have long coats and short noses, with correspondingly short tongues, so are less able to cope. Thus we find that some need help with grooming, and all should enjoy it.
It is best to develop a daily routine, possibly grooming just before feeding your cat, so it gets ‘used to have a little combing, brushing and loving session, which appears to be rewarded by a good meal. An important part of these sessions is removing dead hairs to prevent hairballs forming in the stomach, which could well happen if the cat were allowed to swallow all the loose hairs in its coat. In nature, where cats have to fend for themselves and hunt for food, the hairballs so formed are regurgitated with birds’ feathers and rodents’ skins. So the cat owner should not be alarmed if her pet throws up what looks like a long grey sausage on the carpet. It is only a hairball. But in domesticity, hairballs tend to accumulate in cats’ stomachs, particularly among the longhaired varieties. If not regurgitated, the balls may form solid intestinal obstructions that at worst must be removed surgically. Prevention by daily combing is plainly better than cures as drastic as that.
The daily grooming session can establish a psychological link between the owner and the cat: a bond of dependence forged by an enjoyable regular routine through?out the life of the cat. This practice should start when your pet is a kitten, and continue in whatever condition the cat finds itself. Kittens consider it a great game and will try to bite and fight with the brush or comb; queens appreciate a little attention to the parts they cannot reach during pregnancy; stud cats, living in their own quarters, look forward to this little daily attention from their owners. Ill cats appreciate a cleanup, when unable to do it themselves; and elderly cats find contentment in being looked after by their owners at a time in life when interest in much else has waned. Thus grooming serves the well-being of the cat both physically and emotionally and owners will find this little devotion adding a new dimension to their relationship with the cat.
Equipment required: cotton wool, salt solution.
The normal eye is clear and alert. If the third eyelid begins to come across each eye from the inner corner, there is something wrong. It may be an indication of a temperature, or an early sign of infection. A single visible ‘haw’ (third eyelid) may indicate an accident to one eye only. If the condition persists, a veterinarian must be consulted. If the tear ducts are blocked, the tears have to course down the cheeks and may leave a discolouration from the eye to the nose. This mark must be removed with cotton wool dipped in a salt solution (one teaspoonful to a pint of boiled water, cooled; equivalent to 18 gm of salt in a litre of water). A (usually brown) discharge from the eye may also be a sign of respiratory infection and a veterinarian must be consulted. Eyes should be looked at once per week or bathed more often if necessary.
Equipment required: cotton-wool buds; liquid paraffin; ear mite solution. If there is any trouble inside the ears, the cat may scratch them. This may be an indication of ear-wax or ear mites. If mites, dark waxy specks appear at the entrance of the ear. These result from ear mange-mites or Otodectes cynotis, which are contagious among dogs and cats. Ideally, the cat should be isolated from other animals until cured.
You can remove the encrustations of wax and mite dirt with a cotton-wool bud dipped in liquid paraffin or ear-mite solution, but some of the solution will then have to be poured into the ear daily. It is important to see that the cat does not shake its head and throw the contents out before these have had a chance to penetrate into the deeper parts of the ear. Help this penetration by massaging the warm liquid into position before letting the cats head move. Then the second ear can be attended to. It is not wise to poke down beyond what can be seen. Ears should be inspected once per week and attended to daily when necessary.
Equipment A hand, or wooden spatula, for opening and examining the mouth. Discolouration of teeth or gums, pale gums or bad breath indicate that veterinary attention is necessary. There may be tartar on the teeth, which can be removed by a veterinarian. Loss of appetite may be due to sore gums. Dribbling may be a sign of poison or ulcerated mouth. The best way to open the mouth is to tilt the head back with one hand and open the mouth with the forefinger of the other hand. Mouth and teeth should be inspected weekly.
Equipment Cotton-wool and salt solution.
Any sign of a runny nose, sneezing or a nasal discharge is a warning that something requires attention. Since respiratory infections may be serious it is best to consult a veterinarian right away. However, if powder has been used for grooming, check that the cat is not allergic to this preparation. Isolate any sneezing cat from others.
Equipment Claw scissors or guillotine clippers; scratching post. Cats normally scratch against trees or a scratching post to sharpen and clean their claws. It is wise to supply a suitable post so as to distract them from using the furniture. An outdoor cat gets its claws trimmed naturally by walking on roads and paths, and also by scratching tree trunks. Indoor cats may find that their claws grow unduly long and get caught up in the carpets and upholstery. The claws should be shortened at the tips only. This is done by sitting the cat on your lap with its back facing you. Use one hand to hold up a paw pressing on the pad of the foot and the top of the foot to make the claws spring forward. You can then clip the claws with the scissors or clipper held in your other hand. The end of each claw is dead
When to Groom Your Cat
Once a week for shorthaired cats should be sufficient, whereas longhairs ideally need daily attention. The more often you do it, the easier and quicker it is to keep the coat tangle-free, glossy and looking good. You need to pick your moment when to groom – waking the cat up to do it is not a good idea, and neither is grooming when he is fractious or unsettled for some reason. If your cat becomes fidgety and stressed by grooming because he was not accustomed to it from an early age, then do it little and often to gradually get him used to the procedure.
Never force the cat to be groomed; wait until he is in an amenable mood before trying again. Offering tiny morsels of his favourite food can help settle him and take his mind off what you are doing, as well as help him to associate grooming with something rewarding and pleasurable.
Having someone help by holding the cat can sometimes prove useful – they can talk to him and offer treats to distract him while you concentrate on the grooming.