Cat are known as great bathers, giving many lucky owners a sigh of relief because normally cats have their hygiene handled. But there are some situations where you may need to step in, because problems with hygiene can affect a cat’s health.
During this My Lovely Feline Zoom call, small animal veterinarian and My Lovely Feline content contributor Dr. Leslie Brooks discusses specific situations where owners may have to help a kitty stay clean.
The call was also co-hosted by My Lovely Feline content contributor and fostering and behavior specialist Liz Italia.
Note: We host these interactive calls exclusively with some of our customers—every single week 🙌
To condition a cat at a young age, start brushing when they're a kitten. Try to do it on a daily basis or at least a few times a week to keep their skin and coat healthy. It will be easier to continue brushing your cat as they age if it's already part of an established routine.
Even though brushing is a great way to help your cat keep up with grooming, there are a number of different types of cats who will need some extra help. To start, let's look at long-haired cats of any age. Since their fur is so long, it's hard for them to groom all of it, and it can get matted up.
One of the worst areas is under their tail, where they can get poop stuck to long fur – especially if they have runny stool or diarrhea. If a cat has chronic issues in the rear end area, you'll need regular appointments with a vet or groomer to shave a "potty patch" to prevent poop from getting stuck and hanging on the back.
Another group of cats that might need your help is older arthritic cats or younger cats with joint issues. It can be very difficult for them to maneuver to clean their spine and hips.
The best way to check on how they're keeping up with grooming is to pet them daily and if you find any mats, tease them out. Look for a rubbery or more silicone brush, so it's more comfortable for them since their bones and joints are more sensitive than an average cat.
A third group to keep an eye out for is overweight cats, who can have a hard time reaching their back half. In addition to brushing, it's highly recommended that you talk to your vet about trying weight management food to get their weight down. Obesity, to this extent, is a health concern, and matted fur is just one of many issues your cat can face if they're overweight.
A fourth group that can have a hard time is shy cats. Sometimes, they don't feel as comfortable cleaning themselves, especially the backside. If you notice any smell by their rear end, you can just get a damp paper towel and tap it on the anus. The moisture will cause them to lick and clean the area.
A quick note about Persian and other flat-faced cats: Their tears often spill over onto their fur and dry under their eyes. Use a warm washcloth to clean their face.
If your cat is super stressed going to get groomed, work with your vet to try anti-anxiety medications. Some cats even need to have a sedated groom, especially if the mats are really bad.
Regarding dandruff, most times, it's related to a change of seasons or stress and it typically resolves on its own. For a chronic problem, talk to your vet and consider running bloodwork to see if there's another issue.
A professional groomer was listening to this Zoom call and offered her advice too. Laura runs a grooming salon called Look N Dandy in the suburbs of Chicago in Villa Park, IL.
She suggested cat owners look for a professional groomer who does cats and has a special protocol for them. At her salon, Laura said they groom cats at specific times and separate from dogs. She also allows owners to be with the cats throughout the experience, and it makes a huge difference keeping everyone calm.
Laura and Dr. Brooks talked about how sensitive cats' skin is, and that it's very easy to cut. Never use scissors, and try not to even use clippers yourself. Leave the job to a professional groomer. If you find a mat and want to try to break it up yourself, use a comb and pull work through it in small amounts, slowly pulling away the fur until you have the mat completely broken up.
For a cat that has a ton of fleas, the best way to get rid of them is put on topical flea preventative medications or a pill that gets rid of them. If you give your cat a bath, you don't want to give your cat the flea medicine 48 hours before or after.
Only use flea medicine labeled for cats, because dog flea meds have an ingredient that's toxic to cats. For cats that are at least two pounds, you can give them a pill called Capstar that kills all the live fleas (or a maggot infestation).
To bathe a kitten under two pounds who is too young to take Capstar or get topical flea meds, wet them, coat them in dish detergent like Dawn, wait 10 minutes, pluck off the fleas with tweezers, and blow them dry. Don't put the blow dryer right on top of the kitten and watch the temperature.
If you can brush your cat's teeth, that's great, but many won't allow it. Do your best to keep an eye on their teeth and how your cat is eating so, you can catch problems early. You'll want to look for things like dropping food and watch how they chew.
You can add additives to their water, which is like mouthwash for cats, to keep their mouth healthy. You'll need to get your cat's teeth cleaned by a vet at least once in their lifetime.
Try to trim your cat's nails at least once a month. Pay attention to older cats who are 10 years of age and older because it's harder for them to scratch and shed the dead nail.
Check their paws frequently to make sure the nails aren't curling around into the paw pads. If you can't cut your cat's nails, you may need to go to a groomer.
Sometimes, cutting nails is better as a two-person job, so don't be afraid to ask for help.
You can use a cat nail trimmer or even human nail clippers to cut a cat's nails. Simply push on the toe pad, and the nail will pop out. Just cut the tip and try not to go past where you see a light-pink hue because that's the blood supply.
If you accidentally hit the blood supply, don't worry, your cat will be fine, but there will be some bleeding. You can use Kwik Stop or water mixed with baking powder (to form a paste) on the area to stop the bleeding quickly.
If you're inexperienced, start with one nail at a time and maybe cut the nails when they're half asleep. Try to stay relaxed and do the cutting as quickly and confidently as possible.
If a cat is scratching or shaking their head a lot, they may be getting an ear infection. A vet will check for yeast, an infection or ear mites. Ear mites are more common in kittens than adults. Cats' ears are very sensitive, so you usually can just let them be, but if they are dirty, just lightly wipe the areas you can see with a cotton ball.
For cats with ear infections, a vet may prescribe ear drops along with an ear rinse to remove bad stuff from the infection, along with any ear medications that build up during treatment. To use the rinse:
- Soak a cotton ball in the medicated rinse
- Place the cotton ball in the ear
- Gently massage the cotton ball in the era
- Remove the cotton ball
- Let the cat shake their head
- Wipe away any excess wax or dirt that comes out
Laura, the groomer, also recommended getting wipes to clean cats' ears because they're easy to use and gentle. You can even get ones with chlorhexidine and ketoconazole in them to help battle yeast, bacteria, and fungus.
Like dogs, cats have anal glands that live on either side of their anus, at 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock. They're natural scent glands that get expressed when they defecate and leave their scent on feces. If they are really stressed or really scared, like at the vet, they may express it. It smells awful, and once you smell it, you never forget it.
Some cats have issues where they can't express them naturally. The cause is usually unknown, but it can be the result of food allergies or issues with defecating.
Cats can get an abscess because the fluid sits too long in the gland. If they don't have an abscess, the fluid just builds up with nowhere to go, and it's very uncomfortable. They may scoot on the floor or chew and lick under their tail.
For these cats, they need their anal glands manually expressed. You can do it yourself, but you can also take them to a veterinary clinic or groomer. The difference between the vet and groomer is a lot of groomers only express them externally.
This type of expression doesn't always get all of the fluid out. In a vet clinic, they do a small rectal with their index finger, and with their thumb on the outside, they squeeze the glands and get everything out.
If your cat has to get their anal glands expressed once, they'll likely need it again. Some cats need it once a month, some as infrequent as twice a year.
Q: I have a long-haired cat that throws up furballs a lot. Is that normal?
Dr. Brooks: Daily brushing can definitely help, along with certain foods that are designed to help pass the furball through the cat's intestines. Laxatone is a supplement that you can give them to help.
Q: My kitten suckles on parts of me and objects. How do I get her to stop?
Dr. Brooks: Most often, it's from a kitten being taken from their mother too early.
Liz: Very true, but some cats also just do it because they find it soothing. Your kitten is still young, so I think she might grow out of it, but you can try distracting her with a toy.
So Fresh & So Clean
Even though your cat does a great job staying clean, they may need a little help from you sometimes. Please don't overlook the importance of hygiene in cats because it can lead to discomfort and medical issues.
If possible, start routines as early as possible, so your cat grows up used to them; then it just becomes a bonding experience between the two of you instead of a stressful chore.