As a professional groomer, there are times when, for the sake of humanity and compassion, you have to groom a pet that does not tolerant handling for certain areas or even all aspects of grooming. Whether it is the natural disposition of the pet, or a fearful reaction, it is our responsibility to treat a pet in our care with sensitivity and empathy in the quickest time possible to prevent undue stress and fear. The introduction of the Air Muzzle(R) has been a wonderful option for grooming unpredictable pets.
The Air Muzzle(R) is a bit of a misnomer as is is not actually a muzzle that would fit over the snout of an aggressive or fearful animal. It is more like a Elizabethan collar or pseudo-space helmet . It fits around the neck like a space helmet and it prevents an animal's teeth from coming into contact with a pet professional. Sometimes we need to perform tasks that may create an aggressive reaction from the pet, yet is necessary to maintain the health and comfort of the pet. A good example would be nail trimming, a necessity for all indoor pets. No animal likes it, but the degree of tolerance varies a great deal. Avoiding nail clipping can cause painful splayed feet, arthritis, and ripped out, broken and ingrown nails. But this only one common example of when a pet professional may opt to use an Air Muzzle in order to keep the pet comfortable or clean.
The Air Muzzle(R) is designed with a deep trough for the throat to ensure no contact at all on the windpipe, yet it fits around the head and sits high on the neck behind the jaw bone. The animal can see clearly forwards and there is nothing on the muzzle or face whatsoever. This is why I prefer using the Air Muzzle(R) over a regular muzzle for both cats and small dogs if ever necessary. It is allows a pet to breath freely, no restriction to sight, or anything that could cause annoyance on their face. Pets adapt quickly when they figure out they can still see and breathe freely. They stay calmer and stress less when having to do some offensive grooming tasks.
Because the Air Muzzle(R) seems to be such a benign and safe tool for pets, I have learned to use it in other useful ways. Some pets, understandably, strongly object to water or blow-dryers anywhere near their faces, so the Air Muzzle is a great tool to prevent this from happening.
The Air Muzzle(R) is expensive, but an excellent investment ($90 USD or $115 CAD). Professionals will never know how they ever worked without it when comparing it to the other bite restraint options. A cat bite is far more infectious than a dog bite and every pet professional is entitled to work safely using the most humane tools available to prevent injuries.
You can order your own Air Muzzle(R) here
When I first started professional cat grooming in earnest, I admit, I was a bit dubious about nail caps. Why? Well, because my experience in putting them on and concern for the cat's reaction made me cautious. Having put on hundreds of sets, I can now assure you that the resounding reaction of the owners and their cats is very positive. So here are some reasons you may want to consider using nail caps, some reasons you shouldn't, and worst case, what can go wrong when applying nail caps.
First let me explain what a nail cap is.
A nail cap is a soft, pliable, silicon cap / hood in the basic shape of the nail that slips over the nail to cover the pointed end. Kind of like a sword within a scabbard. Ideally, the nail must be trimmed first, but not excessively short, in order for the nail cap to adhere to the nail with a pet friendly super glue. Nail caps last on average about 6-8 weeks, but varies by individual lifestyle of the cat.
Reasons to consider using nail caps:
1. Despite a solid available scratching post and numerous attempts at encouraging the use of said post, or trying posts of various materials (cardboard, wood, sisal, carpet, wicker), your cat still insists on using your furniture.
2. Your cat is not an angel and likes to swat two and four-legged family members with claws extended.
3. The cat lives with an elderly person or young child who could be easily injured by the cat unintentionally.
4. You have been considering having you cat declawed. Because nail caps do not hurt the nails, nor amputate the first toe digit, it is a humane alternative.
5. They are awesome fashion fabulous! With so many colours available you can have a new theme every second month, like pink and red for Valentines or black and orange for Halloween.
Reasons NOT to use nail caps:
1. Your cat has an indoor/outdoor lifestyle. For the same reason a declawed cat should be never be allowed outside, a cat with nail caps has far less ability to defend itself from territorial cat fights and predators, or escape up a tree.
2. Your cat is elderly. Most elderly cats really slow down on sheathing their nails and using the scratching post. This means the layers of nail cuticle build up to a wide, thick structure. This needs to be visually checked regularly by the owner to prevent it from growing into the pad. Also, because of this wider structure, nail caps may not fit over the nail.
3. Your cat has an infected nail bed, or some other foot fungus, or injury. Common sense prevails.
What could go wrong with nail caps:
When there is a problem, and the cat seems continually uncomfortable or gnawing at the nail caps, it is inevitably human error with the application. To avoid discomfort, use an experienced Certified Feline Master Groomer to do the nail cap application.
1. Too much glue was used and the overflow has gotten on the hair and pads. If you have ever spilled super glue on your fingers, you know how annoying and uncomfortable that can be.
2. The nail cap was put on too far, or with the nail fully extended, and now the nail cannot properly retract to it's normal position. You can imagine how uncomfortable that would feel.
I hope that answers most questions pertaining to using nail caps for your cat. As I mentioned I went from dubious to a fan of nail caps, especially when it helps reinforce a positive relationship between the cat and its owner.
Fur that feels greasy, waxy, with mats forming around the base of the tail and rear end is sometimes a symptom of a skin condition. If the skin seems darker or discoloured at the base of the tail your cat probably has stud tail.
Stud tail (also known as Tail Gland Hyperplasia or Supracaudal Gland Hyperplasia) is a feline version of acne, just like humans, but on the tail. It is hundreds of tiny blackheads caused by excessive oil production usually triggered by hormones. It can sometimes also be found on the chin too. It is usually associated with male cats, but females can also have this condition.
This first photo is of a female cat after a preliminary degreasing bath with some combing to break apart the matted hair on the tail so a closer inspection could take place. Notice the yellowing discolouration, greasy waxy appearance, black flakes, and darkened skin. It will often have a rancid smell. After evaluation, it was determined that the stud tail was extensive and that the tail would need to be shaven (as had the body of the cat already had been done) in order to improve the ability to treat and clean the skin condition.
With the tail shaven, in this second photo of the same female cat, you can clearly see the yellow waxy grease and the blackheads. This residue will rub off wherever the cat goes, plus it looks and smells bad. So it was back to the tub for a deep cleaning tail exfoliating scrub combined with a degreasing organic cat-safe shampoo. I use Chubbs Bars Sugar Scrub. It works fabulously.
To get stud tail to clear up, an owner has to begin a regular regime of washing the tail twice a day with a degreasing cat shampoo or vet prescribed antiseborrheic shampoo. It is faster and easier if the infected area is kept shaven so the twice daily washing regime can penetrate effectively. Treatment of stud tail is not that different than daily cleansing for human acne, but please don’t use human products.
Sometimes stud tail can cause secondary skin infections that look raw and oozy. This will require vet prescribed antibiotics to clear up the infection.
After the Chubbs Bar Sugar Scrub, the yellow wax and blackheads were mostly gone with renewed and deep-cleansed soft pink skin beneath. This was only the first step. It will take multiple regular cleansing to clear up the skin and regular bathing to prevent mats in the future.
The last in the series, of "Cat Grooming, You're Doing it Wrong", we talk about products that are marketed for felines. By products, I mean items that are used on the coat of the cat.
Standing in the aisles of most pet supply stores, you will first notice a deficient of tools and products specifically for cats. Most are dog-centric have just been repackaged for cats. This can be dangerous and does a disservice to cats.
Never ever use ANY product that is meant for a dog on a cat. It may contain ingredients that are very toxic or even fatal if licked by the cat. This is particularly critical for any flea control products. Use a cat-specific labelled product only. This is for drops, flea collars, shampoo, foam, premise spray, etc.
The most popular cat shampoos marketed typically have a conditioner in it. I suppose it is meant to control the static electricity commonly associated with fine hair. The problem is that cats are naturally greasy. In fact, they are greasier than dogs. It makes no sense to add oil (conditioner) to a coat that is already amuck with grease. You best choice is a natural degreasing shampoo to thoroughly wash the skin and hair. Damp cat hair should squeak when it is clean. This doesn't happen with any cat shampoo I've ever seen in a pet supply store. So although you may has "washed" the cat, it really isn't clean. It's still greasy. It is no wonder that pet groomers get frustrated with the results of attempting to wash a cat with poor results. They are using the wrong products.
Show cat fanciers used to use four separate steps to adequately wash and prepare their cats for shows. Some still do. Some will use solvents, Dawn, d'limonene, to get the grease out of the hair. Followed by a hypo allergenic products to get any gear easer residue out in the final step. It doesn't need to be that complicated anymore. I use Chubbs Bars. It is an organic degreasing shampoo that can degrease most cats in just two washes. It uses no solvents, or anything else that is potentially harmful to a cat. Just simple old fashion clean.
Have you ever shampooed your hair using wipes? What kind of result do you think you would get? The result is about the same on a cat. It might smell perfumed for an hour from the chemicals on the wipe, but it didn't succeed in getting your cat any cleaner. Use wipes if it makes you feel better.
De-tangler sprays for cats is a bit of a farce because you cannot de-tangle cat hair. Once the hair has started to bond with other hairs the only thing that can be done it to ease the mat out by pulling it out of the coat. It won't magically come undone. Pulling on wet sprayed hair damages and stretches the hair follicles even more. In fact, trying to comb out mats on a dirty cat is tantamount to torture. The hair is locked up and pulling it out hurts. No wonder kitty isn't happy when you try and do it. If the mats haven't interlocked into a pelt (which then requires a shave down) than the mats must worked gently out of the coat only AFTER the cat has had a proper degreasing bath, followed by a velocity drying to loosen and blow apart the mats. It is the only humane and effect way to remove the knots on a cat. If you have a matted cat and decide to wash it at home, never let it run around to air dry otherwise the mats will shrink and bind only tighter.
As I have blogged before, only a show cat with 2-3 baths a week regime may ever need conditioner. Dandruff is dead skin on cats, NOT dry skin. If you have a very staticky kitty, you can use a metal comb and a light misting of plain water to neutralize the ions. For hardcore problems, look at increasing the humidity in your home or buying Biogroom anti-static spray. It doesn't add oil and it is safe for cats. It's what we professionals use.
Ears have delicate tissue, but it does get waxy at times. You don't need any fancy ear cleaner that may have alcohol or oil in it. I like to use witch hazel.
Eye cleaner are need for flat-faced breeds like Persians or Exotic Short-hairs. Their eye ducts frequently don't drain as easily as the longer nosed breeds and staining results. The staining is caused by protein deposited on the hair. You can buy the fancy stain removal products ( this is the one area that cat and dog product crossover is safe) but a simpler and less costly alternative is to use saline contact lens solution. The same stuff you rinse your contacts in before putting it you own eye. Don't use the red-tipped protein busting solution.
So as you may have noticed, most of the cat products on the shelf in your local pet store is junk. If your cat's grooming needs are getting beyond your comfort zone, or becoming a point of contention in your relationship with your cat, call a Certified Feline Master Groomer for help or advise.
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.
Conditioners for cats is a misunderstood topic. Professional cat grooming is in its infancy and there are a lot of myths floating around. In fact even veterinarians often erroneously recommend conditioner when they see flakes on a cat.
Previously we talked about dandruff and static and how they, for the most part, do not benefit from conditioner. Dandruff on cats is 99% of the time dead skin, NOT dry skin. Large flakes in the hair is just sloughed off skin, meaning the cat needs a bath. Dry skin is on the actual surface of the skin and tiny flakes, and would be evident on the belly.
Cats are naturally greasy and most do not get bathed often enough to warrant using conditioner. The only time conditioner is required is if you are bathing your cat twice a week or more frequently. In other words, only show cats that are actively campaigning may require conditioner.
Static problems often remedied with conditioner resulting in an ever increasing greasy lump of cat. While conditioner adds moisture to the hair, you can just as easily reduce static by adding moisture to the air and defusing the charged ions. You had do this by humidifying the air, and/or spraying a fine mist of water over your static kitty and combing with a metal comb. You do not need conditioner.
Many conditioners have a scent associated with them. If it is a spritz to freshen and improve the smell of your cat that you're after, look for cat specific freshening scents/products without conditioner. Most pet products have rubbing alcohol in their ingredients, among other dubious things on the list and it is not something you want you cat to lick. If your cat smells, it is in need of a bath.
It is unlikely the average household cat will ever need conditioner in its lifetime and more likely needs a regular bath schedule to remove dead skin flakes, loose hair, and revitalize the skin and hair.
It’s officially winter.
Now that the windows are closed and the indoor heating is on, we have a lot of static charge building up in our homes. This affects not only us but our pets.
Static is caused when two different objects with a positive and a negative charge are rubbed together. The electrons from one object is then transferred to the other causing them to take on the same charge. Just like magnets, when you have two objects with the same charge, they will repel one another, making the hair stand on end.
Here are some steps to avoid a static kitty.
1. Get kid of your plastic combs or brushes. Plastic is such an excellent conductor of electricity, that in high school experiments to show to create static and have sparks just they use cat hair (no kidding) and a plastic rod rubbed together. Do not torture your cat by duplicating a high school experiment for your grooming routine.
2. Do wash your cat, (as there is nothing more unsightly than a greasy but staticy cat), in a effective, cleansing cat appropriate shampoo (like Chubbs Bars) but add a very l-i-g-h-t mist of Argan oil while still damp before you blow dry. You cannot add any Argan oil unless your cat is squeaky clean (literally) during the final rinse. You don’t want to increase grease to your cat by adding conditioner or oil to still greasy hair.
3. Before brushing, lightly mist with water, preferably distilled water. It will neutralize ions and reduce hair breakage. This pre-step should be done year-round as part of your grooming routine.
4. Blow dry with a ion reducing blowdryer. It does make a difference.
5. Use metal combs or grooming tools. They will absorb much of the static charge build-up. In fact you can gently rub your cat with a metal clothes hanger it will calm the hair during a major static attack. Introduce it carefully , as you don’t want to spook your cat.
6. If you have a major static attack happening, I would do the following: mist lightly with water, use a metal comb that I have pre-stroked with a dryer sheet. Do NOT rub the dryer sheet on your cat.
7. Finally the best strategy to reduce static is reduce it in your home by increasing the humidity in the air. This can be done by using a humidifier, or running a steamy shower. If you have an ongoing static problem, you need to add moisture to the air. It will make the home environment more comfortable for your cat and you.
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Janet Wormitt, CFMG CFCG
Cat-a-lyst and Ad-vo-CATe