Cat grooming is risky. It can be dangerous for the cat, and it can be dangerous for the groomer. It is a professional's job to understand the potential risks and trying to minimize them.
This week there was a challenging groom. A badly matted elderly Persian with a bad attitude. Although the hair hadn't formed a solid pelt, yet, it was still badly matted throughout, even the legs and head. As usual, the tightest mats were in the trickiest, most dangerous places to access on a cat. I wasn't going to torture the cat by trying to de-mat it. The only option was to shave it all off and start over.
Doing a temperament and physical assessment confirmed my first impressions. This cat needed help desperately but was going to fight every step of the way. Being properly prepared in advance with an action plan, tools and equipment within easy reach, plus speed certainly made all the difference. No one was injured, except maybe a certain kitty's pride. She was certainly feeling much better afterwards, especially after the bath. How could any creature have a positive outlook when every step is painful from hair tugging from the knots. The bruising exposed under the knots tells the tale.
This groom could have gone very badly in the wrong context, fortunately this cat came to the right place. Not to say I will or can do all cats. If I can't handle it alone, I will refer those cats to grooming under vet supervision. That option is unfortunately very expensive. Using multiple people to handle or restrain a cat, in my opinion, makes the cat even more defensive, aggressive, and multiplying the risk of injury.
So why intervene? Why risk hurting the cat, or getting yourself hurt? Compassion actually. Call it tough love, or advocating for cats, but someone has to help them. You can't just ignore the filth, the mats, the sores, or the bruising. They won't go away by themselves. So risk assessment is necessary, a plan of action to correct a situation, and a maintenance schedule put in place to prevent it from happening again. It is the right and humane thing to do.
I want to come clean. I was a "pet groomer" too.
I had had a cat. Typical short haired domestic. Was I prepared to groom them professionally? Was I really qualified for the title Master Pet Stylist?
No way. Master Dog Stylist, perhaps.
Looking back I realize how completely out of my depth I was, and how unprepared the majority of "pet groomers" are when it comes to professionally grooming cats. Now to make myself very clear, I am NOT trashing fellow groomers, because it's not their fault. I know this because 15 years ago when I started doing cats, I realized I knew nothing about their specific handling or breed standard grooming. So I went searching for feline mentors, a school or course. I found none. So here is truth unleashed.
1. They don't teach cat grooming at pet grooming school. When I went to one of the top grooming schools in the U.S. to later fine-tune my pet styling, I saw ONE cat (for 30 students). One very brave cat. It wasn't part of the course curriculum, no zoology was discussed and there was no quantity of cats coming through the door to learn on. I didn't learn anything about feline temperaments, handling skills, diseases, styling options, etc. It was all dog biased. Like typical grooming salons everywhere, a cat is a novelty tacked on at the end of all the other dog services.
2. Dog Pet salons are designed for dogs. The cat is a very different species. Everything from the tables, tubs, dryers, tools, shampoos, restraints, and cages are designed for dogs. This does not bode well for the feline who has more sensitive hearing, highly reactive to change, tissue paper thin skin, different hair and a fight or flight mentality. They also hate the car ride. They are also well-armed. The whole grooming process we are taught, from start to finish, doesn't work for cats. So it can be very dangerous and hazardous to the cat and the groomer.
3. They don't feel good about the end result. I've been there. I also know that most groomers will tell you that your cat (who is shedding, has dandruff and messy bottom) doesn't need a bath because they don't want to be the one to do it. Think about it. The odds of a cat groom going well is heavily stacked against success. They didn't get proper training. They don't know safe and quick procedures to minimize feline stress. The salon environment is noisy and filled with dogs. They don't know or have access to feline specific tools and products. What typically ends up happening is you get a damp, greasy and freaked-out cat back, plus a hefty price tag. What pet groomer could feel good about doing that? They don't. So they prefer, consciously or not, to avoid it. "Cats groom themselves." If the cat ends up a a pet salon, it's because there is a problem. Shedding, mats, etc. As professionals we want to help, but the majority of us are ill-equipped. Fortunately, change is on the wind.
Cats do need baths. Some more than others. Educate yourself, and advocate for your cat. Prevent mats, shedding, hairballs, and other nasties that come from dirty loose hair. Get professional feline specific training. I'm grateful for mine and it made all the difference. By the end of a grooming session that includes dematting, bath, high velocity drying and sanitary trim, I have purring clients. How is that possible?I know know what I'm doing. I became a Certified Feline Master Groomer with the National Cat Grooming Institute of America. Teaching pet grooming in the Middle East where most of the client are washed and styled cats, not dogs, certainly accelerated my learning curve and skills
When done correctly, the bath is what felines like the best of the cat grooming process. I know this after doing hundreds of cat baths. But it has to be done right. With the right handling, equipment, and products. And no dogs allowed.
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Janet Wormitt, CFMG CFCG
Cat-a-lyst and Ad-vo-CATe