In part 1 we talked about raising your expectations for cat grooming. There is no reason to expect less in cat grooming than dog grooming and be charged more. When we talk about tools, we are talking about the equipment used to groom our cats. With varying degrees of tolerance, even from day-to-day, cats may give you only a small window of opportunity for at-home combing. You must be prepared and make the most of every second you have and have the right tools.
If you go to the local pet supply store you will either face a complete lack of grooming tools or tools that are identical to dog grooming tools except typically coloured in pink or purple and on a slightly smaller scale. Dogs have 8 different types of coat, cats only really have one type of coat, but it varies in length and in the volume of undercoat.
My dog grooming kit is a workshop cabinet. It has three drawers full of brushes, combs, clippers, stripping knives, clipper blades, products, and spare parts. Over the years I have pared down my tools in what works best and avoid duplication. It's still a cabinet full. My cat grooming kit is contained in a tiny tool box. That is all I really need to effectively and humanely groom a cat, aside from cat-appropriate clippers for lion and teddybear trims.
I will share with you what is in the cat tool box, by telling you what is NOT in it.
1. NO slicker/wire brushes. This might work well for dogs, but is a big no-no for cats. You can demat dogs using slickers carefully, but you cannot demat cat hair. The only thing a slicker-type brush accomplishes on a cat is damaging the hair by damaging the hair follicles and scratching the skin.
2. No pin brushes. This is great for long coated dogs but rather useless on cats. Cat hair is too fine and any small mats will be missed.
3. No cat nail clippers that have holes for fingers or guillotine style nail clippers. Use a small scissor-type nail clipper instead. Cats can be wiggly. There is nothing more annoying and potentially dangerous than nail clippers you can't immediately drop or disengage from because it is wrapped around your fingers or a nail. Safety first.
For at-home grooming the only tool you will need for a medium to long-haired cat is an aluminium "Greyhound-style" comb with coarse teeth on one end, and fine teeth on the other. The coarsely spaced teeth are good for easing out small mats and combing out the tail. The fine-toothed side is excellent for general body combing and removing loose hair.
For short-haired cats I recommend a rubber curry or boar bristle palm brush. These will remove the loose hair when used in a circular motion, followed by a sweeping motion. Most cats enjoy this type of grooming and it is an excellent entry level of grooming even for longer haired cats. It may not be effective on long-haired cats but it is a good training step to build tolerance and trust before the comb. Don't dwell in this phase too long for your long-haired cat, otherwise your cat will mat without regular combing.
Always use a comb on the body to check your work on short or long hair. (Yes short-haired cats can and do mat). Your work is done when it glides easily through the whole coat. This is the professional groomer's secret for all pets.
Location is another important tool. If you have a lap kitty, your lap will do fine as the grooming location. If you have a a cat who is more independent or prefers to bolt after a few strokes with a comb, find a location that is high and smooth. A smooth surface works in your favor and advantage. Give a cat traction and they are more likely to give you a hard time. This could mean the top of the washing machine (when it is off), a table top, counter, etc., the point is to be consistant. Use the same location every time and treats and favourite toys everytime. This is training time. Don't expect to accomplish more than a 1/4 of a cat the first few times. With a patient attitude, speedy and efficient technique, you'll be able to do more each time. Never try to tether your cat like a dog. You run the risk of serious injury should they decide to make a jump for it.
If you have a cat that tries to constantly avoid the situation, you may need to scruff them gently but firmly by the back of the neck just as momma cat used to do. This is only done with all four paws still on the ground. Use scruffing only for a few moments while you comb the underside or backend; those difficult to get to, but very necessary spots. It will give some measure of control and safety from biting should your kitty object. Speed and efficiency are necessary skills when it comes to combing certain personalities.
One other tool in my kitty arsenal is a Furminator-type shedding blade. I do not recommend using one of these tools at home. I have seen a lot of damage done to cats and dogs by improper use. If you really do want to use one of these shedding blades be sure to take your tool to a professional groomer and get a lesson in its proper useage. You must learn what to do with the blade to make it safer for use before ever applying it to the hair and skin of your pet, plus where it can or can't be used.
In summary, all you need at home is good quality comb, a bristle or curry palm brush, and scissor type nail clippers sans finger holes.
Next week we will talk about cat grooming products.
Cat grooming is filled with misdirected good intentions, misinformation, misconceptions, myths, and just flat out ignorance. We take horse grooming to a higher level than the feline that resides in our house, walks our counters, and sleeps with our kids. So why the blind spot? Why the incredibly low expectations?
Most uneducated attempts at cat grooming are a miss at best, and frequently a fail. It is doing your cat a serious disservice to it's long-term health, it's mental well-being, and your enjoyment of your pet. Let's face it, if it smells funky, feels greasy, looks dandruffy, or has chunks sprouting down it's back, how much time do you spend playing and cuddling it? It's more like having a roommate you avoid that doesn't wash.
New clients are often very apologetic. They believe their cat to be a self-grooming flunky. They don't know why the cat is in the state it's in. We expect the cat to stay beautiful and clean all on it's own because it spreads lots of time spreading spit all over it's hair. Hygiene standards changed for dogs when they stopped working for a living and we brought them indoors. The same should go for cats. I don't know any Pekingese who doesn't need regular brushing and bathing, why would a Persian be any different? If you do not have the time, or are unsuccessful in developing an enjoyable grooming routine with your pet, seek professional help for their health and well-being. You owe to them, as a responsible pet owner.
Owners and even pet groomers give-up or have incredibly low expectations when it comes to grooming cats. Here are a few of the statements or accepted norms/myths I encounter regularly, that as a professional, I have to debunk.
"Just comb out the mats"
You can't detangle fine cat hair once it mats. It must be pulled out. Pulling on mats is a great way to piss off the kitty, because IT HURTS. Loose hair + moisture + grease/dirt = MATS. Even if you pulled out the mats, they've already started elsewhere and be back even sooner because you've damaged the hair cuticles by combing when its dirty. You've done nothing to prevent it from happen again or to break the cycle.
"Just shave out the mats"
Some cats really don't like clippers. Then there's the really bizarre looking reverse mohawk/baboon butt creature wandering around your house after the chunks have been shaven off. Course it still is greasy, dandruffy, dirty and has the aroma of a litter-box. Don't you feel proud to share your living space with this poor creature?
"Just do a lion clip"
Do you get a better haircut if the barber just wets your hair with a spray bottle, or when you get a massaging hair wash and blow dry by a stylist? The results are dramatically different, you feel different. Now the cat just looks and feels naked AND dirty. That makes for a vengeful kitty. Doing an annual dirty shave-down because your cat is matted is inhumane and unhygienic. This is a house pet, not livestock like sheep or alpacas. Stop making excuses. There are better alternatives.
As a professional, I will not do or recommend any course of action I know is not a long-term solution for you and your cat. If I lower my standards, how could I be a professional? I would never do the "just" minimal with a dog groom, why would I do it to a cat? Your cat can be trained and pampered too, differently than a dog, but with the same goal and end result.
RAISE YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Your kitty will thank you for it. Most cats do enjoy being bathed and blow-dried. They particularly love how they feel afterwards and seek your admiration and affection.
All cats benefit from regular baths and grooming, but if your cat is any of the following issues: long-haired, over-weight, elderly, diabetes, kidney problems, depression, hairballs, dietary issues, or any number of well hidden feline health issues, you can improve their quality of life dramatically. How dramatic? We often have clients who don't recognize their own cat after just a professional bath and comb (no trimming).You just have to raise your expectations and try just one professional groom by a Certified Feline Master Groomer.
Reveal the glamour puss you may not realize you own.
Typically in the working world there are three words that accompany the higher paying jobs: dirty, difficult, and dangerous.
I have been a professional pet groomer for many years and I have to be honest and tell you that pet groomers are very under paid and under appreciated for what they do. Pet grooming is very dirty, from feces, to fleas, to inhaling dander. It is difficult; hard on your back, feet, hands, and it gets very hard when you have uncooperative clients. It can be dangerous from parasites, strain injuries, falls, and bites.
If you compared the square inches on a person's skull and what a hairdresser will charge you, for just a wash and trim, it would be on par to the square inches of a Yorkshire Terrier. We don't get a mani-pedi, Brazilian, ears cleaned included. We also usually sit still and don't try and bite our hairstylist. So when we encounter clients who complain why does it cost so much for a dog groom, they simply haven't considered the education and skill, the amount of products, metered water and electricity during peak hours, and the time to comb out. Pet grooming is very energy intensive.
Hair stylists have two kinds of hair to content with: straight and curly. A good stylist will go to trade shows to stay current with styles and techniques. Dog stylists have to content with eight different types of dog hair and a vast variety of breed specific styles and pet trims. Education for a quality groomer is also ongoing as equipment, styles, and products advance.
Cats generally have two types of hair and three lengths. A few exceptions would be some of the rare wire-coated breeds, wavy coated, and hair-less. By the square inch, cats have more real estate than a person's skull but a lot less than most dogs. Cats have very fine hair and it takes longer to dry per square inch than dog or human, plus they like to make it more difficult by staying tucked up and making the underside inaccessible to drying.
Pet groomers do not receive training on grooming cats, therefore when an attempt to groom cats with dog-centric equipment, products, and process goes amuck it can become very dangerous for the groomer and the cat. Cats are contortionists, own 18 weapons of mass destruction they aren't afraid to use, and have teeth that puncture a deep wound and infect the blood stream. Dog bites can be messy, but they are easy to clean. A bad cat bite can end your career.
If you are not paying attention to the very subtle warning signs of tension, a pet groomer can get caught by a "sudden" attack, or attempt at escape. It is no wonder many groomers will not groom cats or minimize contact by just spot shaving, or running a comb over a dirty, dandruffy cat with a nail trim for $50. A grooming (shave down) at the veterinary clinic will include sedation for the safety of the vet tech, and in our area will run about $300 and they aren't stylists. None of these services include solving the cause of the mats and dandruff in the first place; it's dirty and greasy and needs a bath.
Now that I have explained the "3 D's" of why it is more expensive to groom cats, I can also offer hope. With proper training and certification, there are some groomers who are truly qualified to groom your cat, in a safe, feline sensitive environment. Please look for a Certified Feline Master Groomer in your area. As they are a rare commodity, they do have the right to charge in a manner that gives value to their skill and knowledge in providing the best care and solutions for your cat.
As the Ottawa Human Society's volunteer cat groomer, I can attest that all the cats I groom there have never encountered any professional grooming before. To date, none have needed to be sedated or required more than just myself in handling, bathing and drying these grateful kitties. Every one of the cats I groom at the OHS receives a bath as a minimum, because it rejuvenates and cleans their skin and hair, and they feel much better afterwards. They get a fresh start. and a better chance for adoption. If grooming stray cats can be done in a productive, life-enhancing manner, why not spoil yours at a cat spa designed for cats?
A Teddy Bear Trim (aka, comb trim, cat's pyjama trim) is a longer styling option for felines. When done correctly, it is an adorable, low maintenance style for your cat that varies between 3/8" to 1 " long depending on the owner's preference and the most attractive length for your feline's hair and physique. Mane and tail lengths are customized.
This is a very specialized and advanced trim for felines, so I can only recommend it be attempted by a proper Certified Feline Master Groomer. There are no scissors or naked clipper blades used for this style. If the hair is not properly cleansed, prepared and trimmed using the most cat appropriate products and equipment, the results will be VERY disappointing. It will look like your cat fought, and lost, to a weed wacker.
Reasons to consider a teddy bear trim:
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Walk-in nail trimming: Monday, Friday and Saturday 8:30-9:00 a.m.
Janet Wormitt, CFMG CFCG
Cat-a-lyst and Ad-vo-CATe