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How to Properly Groom Your Cat at Home—By Dr. Leslie Brooks

How to Properly Groom Your Cat at Home—By Dr. Leslie Brooks
Written by Dr. Leslie Brooks, DVM
—Veterinarian 🇺🇸

Most cats are able to effectively groom themselves and do not need nor want any help in this endeavor.

However, there are some cats that need a little help with grooming either regularly or from time to time.

In this article we will discuss which cats may need your help, how to recognize your cat needs assistance with grooming, and how to safely groom your cat at home.

Be advised, though, that this is merely a reference point. Some cats will absolutely not tolerate you grooming them.

Never force it as this is unsafe for both you and your cat. It is also important to keep in mind that there are some cats that should only be groomed by a professional groomer and some cats that can only be safely groomed while sedated under the supervision of a veterinarian.

We will discuss these situations here too.

Cats that May Need Help with Grooming

Long-Haired Cats

The cats that usually need help with grooming are the long-haired cats. This is because, unlike short-haired cats, long-haired cats’ fur can get quite unruly at times.

Their fur is more likely to get matted, they can get stuff stuck in it, and it is just too difficult for them to completely groom all on their own.

They will also sometimes get poop stuck in their fur underneath their tail, which can be quite uncomfortable and lead to multiple problems if it is not removed. For this reason, some long-haired cats are taken to the groomer to get what we call “potty patches” shaved on a regular basis.

Senior Cats

The other group of cats that may need to be occasionally groomed are senior cats who may suffer from arthritis. As cats get older, it becomes more and more difficult for them to thoroughly and effectively groom their entire body.

Just like us, cats can suffer from arthritis. And arthritis can affect not only their legs, but their spine as well. This can make it painful and difficult for them to manipulate their head and neck around far enough to groom their back, legs, and rear end.

So, your older, senior cat may also need help with grooming from time to time. Otherwise, they also may get matted fur, which is not only painful for them, but can be extremely difficult to tease out once it is firmly established.

How to Recognize Your Cat Needs Help with Grooming

It may not always be obvious when your cat may need a little help with grooming. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Matted fur, even small chunks of it- check under their chin, around their neck, and along their spine
  • Poop being stuck to the fur around their rear end, or even small pieces of poop being found around the house
  • Excessively dry, flakey skin, especially along the spine
  • Visualizing your cat not being able to thoroughly groom themselves- not reaching the entirety of their spine or them trying to reach a spot and then giving up

Ideally, your cat should be examined by their veterinarian at least once a year. During this exam, your vet will also be able to recognize any issues your cat may be having with grooming and can discuss these with you.

Grooming Your Cat at Home


The best thing to do on a regular basis at home to maintain your cat’s fur is to brush them. Many cats absolutely love being brushed, but there are some cats that don’t. Sometimes it’s not that they don’t like being brushed, but that they are just particular about what type of brush is used.

It would be best to get 2-3 different types of brushes and see which one your cat likes the feel of. Some brushes are good for cats with thick fur or that are prone to getting matts, while brushes with soft, flexible bristles are better for cats with painful conditions such as arthritis.

Be gentle, yet firm when brushing. And when trying to get your cat used to it, offer special treats or tasty wet food for them to associate the brushing with good things.

If possible, brushing should be done on a daily basis, or at least weekly. Brushing is great at preventing mats from developing, and at teasing out small matts as they start to form.

If your cat is senior and suffering from arthritis, be very gentle when brushing them along their spine and around their hips. These will often be the places they need to be brushed most, but be as gentle as you can.

When trying to get out matts that are already established, you will need to start at the most external part of the matt and use short frequent strokes of the brush to begin teasing it out as you work your way to the base of the matt.

NEVER use scissors to cut out a matt- this is extremely unsafe and you could cut your cat’s skin. Leave the scissors to the professional. If you are finding you absolutely must use scissors to make any progress, it is time to schedule an appointment with either a groomer or veterinarian.

Nail Trims

Check your cat’s nails weekly to make sure they look healthy, are shedding appropriately, and haven’t broken off or been damaged. Keeping plenty of tall, firm scratching posts available for your cat to use is a great way to help them maintain the health of their claws.

When cats scratch the posts, it not only helps their claws shed, but allows them to relieve stress and tension within their bodies and minds.

Still, most cats will need to have their nails trimmed at least once a month. This is especially true for senior cats, as their nails tend to grow too long, turning, and poking into their paw pads.

You can use cat nail clippers to trim cat claws. Holding your cat in your lap (or having someone else hold your cat for you), use your non-dominant hand to hold their paw, gently pushing on the center of the paw to push out their claws. Then, with your dominant hand, being clipping off the tips of their claws.

Do not clip past where you see a faint color of pink on their nail, as this could cause them to bleed.

Don’t worry, if you accidentally do cause them to bleed, it is nothing to worry about. It will stop. To get it to stop quicker, you can apply a small amount of “quick stop powder” or a paste of watered down baking powder.


Generally speaking, cats don’t need you to give them a bath. However, if your cat gets into something sticky or stinky (such as being sprayed by a skunk), is really dirty, has a ton of fleas, or they get something that could be toxic on them, they will need a bath.

If you are bathing them because of fleas and are also going to be applying topical flea prevention, wait at least 48 hours after giving them a bath before applying the flea medicine.

This is because the shampoo could still be lingering in their oil glands, decreasing the effectiveness of the flea medicine.

Steps to take when bathing your cat:

  • Get a cat-safe shampoo from a local pet store or veterinary clinic
  • Use a clean sink with a water sprayer, if at all possible
  • Test the water to make sure it is lukewarm
  • Put your cat in the sink
  • with the water sprayer on low and holding it right up against their body, run the water through their fur
  • Apply a small amount of shampoo to their fur and gently massage it all over their body
  • Be careful to not get any soap or water in their eyes or ears and only bathe them behind the neck (avoid their head and face)
  • Then rinse out the shampoo with the water and dry them off

This is something you can do at home, provided your cat tolerates it. But if your cat fights it or begins trying to bite, it is best to just stop and schedule an appointment with a professional groomer or your veterinarian.

If your cat is otherwise healthy and you want to just make sure your their coat and skin stay healthy and clean, you can use cat cleaning wipes to keep them clean.

Leave it to the Professional

While you may be tempted to groom your cat solely at home, there are a few reasons why it is best for both you and your cat to take them to a groomer or veterinarian:

  • Your cat has multiple matts throughout their body
  • Your cat has a thick matt that can only be removed by shaving
  • Your cat is painful
  • Your cat is trying to bite or scratch you during the process
  • Your cat will not sit still long enough for you to adequately brush or groom them
  • You notice an infection – really red skin, foul odor, oozing from within or around a matt

These are all reasons you should seek out professional help. Trust me, it will be well worth the money and will be safer and better for both you and your cat.

When Sedation is the Only Way

Unfortunately, some cats just will not tolerate grooming at all, not even by a professional. If this is the case and your cat still needs to be groomed for the sake of their health (matted fur, getting poop stuck in their fur, skin infections, etc.), they will need to be sedated and groomed at a veterinary clinic.

Anxiety Medication

Before jumping straight to outright sedation, your vet may have you give your cat anxiety medications an hour or two before a regularly scheduled grooming appointment first.

The most common one used for cats these days is called Gabapentin. It is actually a human pain medication. It can work wonders for stressed or anxious cats. It is also very safe to use.

The main side effects will be drowsiness, or your cat being a bit off balance for a few hours.

The medication helps relieve your cat’s anxiety and stress, while also providing some pain control. The goal is that it helps your cat tolerate the grooming without needing full on sedation.

Sedated Grooms

However, if anxiety medication doesn’t help with the process, the next step is to schedule a “sedated groom”.  Sedated grooms are only performed under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Your cat will be sedated the same as if they were going to have a surgery performed.

You will likely need to schedule this in advance, because your cat should not eat any food for at least 8 hours prior to the sedated groom since they will be going under anesthesia.

While sedated and under anesthesia, your cat will be monitored closely by the veterinary nurses, having their heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and temperature checked frequently and at the same time as the groomer is grooming them.

Your cat will be able to go home the same day and will likely not remember anything that happened.


Why do some cats need help with grooming?

Cats with long fur are prone to getting matts even if they are completely healthy. Brushing them can help prevent this from happening or at least stop it from getting to be a problem.

Senior cats with arthritis need help with grooming as they can’t effectively clean their entire body anymore.

What if I didn’t do anything about my cat’s matted fur?

Matted fur can be very painful for cats. It can also cause skin infections and abscesses to develop.

How do I know my cat needs help with grooming?

If your cat has matted fur, pieces of poop stuck underneath their tail, or really dry and flakey skin, your cat probably needs help with grooming.

What if I just can’t groom my cat at home?

Schedule an appointment with a professional groomer. Many vet clinics have a groomer on staff, so check with your veterinarian as well. Some cats have to be sedated to get groomed, and this will need to be done only under the supervision of a veterinarian.


Although cats are avid groomers and typically don’t need any help, there are some cats that will need assistance in grooming. Regular brushing is the best way to keep their skin and coat healthy.

For cats that have matted fur or who aren’t tolerant of at-home grooming, a professional groomer or veterinarian will be needed to safely keep your cat’s skin and fur healthy.

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