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An Introduction To Cat Grooming

Sarah Johnson, Gone to the Dogs, Wallington, Surrey. Co Breeder of the Landican Siamese and Oriental Cats

Website: www.landican.co.uk

Many groomer  go quite pale at the thought of tackling a matted, dirty, longhaired cat and I always wonder why. These same groomers will happily work on dogs with very uncertain temperament with calm and consideration – could this not equally be applied to our feline companions?

Grooming cats is as much about learning their psychology as anything else. Cats are flight creatures and need to be handled in a firm but compassionate way, needing reassurance all the way. It is important to understand that cats are NOT small dogs – yes that sounds obvious but you need to bear this in mind always when grooming cats. They do not understand the meaning of "sit", "stay" and "hold there" and if you attempt to restrain them using leads they will do their best to commit suicide! Remember the saying "Ask a dog to do something and he will respond to your every wish – ask a cat and he will take a message and get back to you". Cats are all about negotiation.

If you really don’t like cats, don’t groom them. You will never have sympathy for them no matter how professionally you view yourself. And cats just KNOW when you dislike them!

There are some safety issues to consider:
Use only those shampoos specifically formulated for cats. Never use coal tar based shampoos nor any canine flea killing shampoos – they could well kill your client! Coal Tar is phenol based which is a poison to cats and many flea killers contain similar ingredients. Derasect may be used safely on cats.

Cats’ skin is extremely fine and can be ripped apart by using the wrong tools for grooming. Scissors and cats, in my opinion, rarely mix. Scissors are sharp and cats are fast – a lethal combination. Keep away from de-matters that have blades on them. I have seen cats shredded using these. Never use anything coarser than a 7f on the body and 10 on the belly and under-parts. The finest blade to be used safely on the under-parts is a 15 – anything finer and you risk shaving off the nipples. (All blade sizes quoted are for Oster/Andis)

Do not accept an anaesthetised or sedated cat. Sedation can affect cats very peculiarly, often inducing hallucination, and cats waking from sedation can be very unpredictable and very dangerous. Sedation is not necessary to groom cats.

Your personal safety must also be considered. Cat bites are extremely dangerous and must be avoided at all cost. Most cats carry Pasturella multocida in the oral cavity. Streptococci and Fusiform are also often present. A bite can result in deep implantation of these organisms and severe infections commonly occur. If by any chance you should be bitten, cease work on the animal immediately and seek urgent medical attention. The infection tracks to the nearest lymph node and you could be extremely ill within hours. I have knows colleagues from the world of cat judging and showing who have been hospitalised and required surgery following cat bites. You will usually be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs at high doses over a 15-day period. I hope this information hasn’t scared you witless, but information is power and you need to know all of this.

Cat Scratch Fever is another problem, but is very rare indeed. Sufferers have an allergic reaction to the scratch and experience fever and sickness.

Consider your workspace. Cats like to be calm and quiet. I prefer to have "feline only" days. Many cats are upset by dogs, and equally it can drive a dog wild to have a cat within gazing distance. Make sure you have few distractions. Turn off the radio. Cats have extremely sensitive hearing and a radio set to a normal human tolerance is deafening for the cat. Make sure you have a warm environment to work in. Cats hate cold; can you also warm your towels? Put the answer phone on. You MUST secure all doors and windows and ensure that no one can enter that secure workspace without first alerting you. Cats squeeze though tiny, tiny gaps and once they are off you will not catch them for some time. If they manage to break free from your salon, they could be dead in a moment in traffic.

OK – if you have noted all the above and wish to embark on this project read on.

Equipment. Have all you will need within easy reach. My equipment consists of small nail cutters, Teflon coated terrier comb (fine/medium teeth), cat muzzle (Mikki brand), fine tooth flea comb, clippers with no.15 and no.10 Oster blades (or equivalent), thick towel for the work bench and two large, thick towels for drying. You should also invest in a plastic coated wire basket with the opening in the top - Majesticage of Alyesbury make the best one. It will cost you about 25 but will be money well spent. You may wonder why you need this as it appears to be superfluous at this juncture, but read on and its uses will become clear.

Don’t keep the cat waiting – ideally have all the equipment ready before the cat arrives. Assess how nervous the cat is and if necessary, allow a little time for settling after a long car journey, for instance.

Mix the shampoo ahead of time – cat grooming is best done as a "complete" task rather than "piecemeal". Make the mixture hand warm. Wear reasonably thick clothes - i.e. a sweatshirt with long sleeves. This will give you a good protection in the event that the cat is nervous and lashes out.

Open your empty carrier (as described earlier) and place a clean, dry towel in the bottom. Position the carrier near to your workbench and prop the lid open. Keep the locking rod to hand. This will be your emergency escape route if the cat becomes completely un-handleable. He can be dropped into the basket and the lid closed with a foot if necessary.

The method. I am tackling pet cats here generally. Show cats are a different kettle of fish indeed and I shall cover these briefly at the end.

Take the cat out of its carrier and put on the bench in front of you. If you need to restrain the cat, do so by firmly gripping the scruff of the neck and lift the cat up off the bench, supporting its rear end with your other hand. "Scruffing" invokes a natural relax reflex in the cat. However, this will hopefully not be needed.

Once you have the cat in front of you, assess the matting in the coat. Frequently the cat appears in good condition to the eye but the fingers will tell another tale. Matts are usually found on the shoulders, hips, underbelly, back of the legs and underarms. If the matts are large – more than about 3 inches long – the best solution is clipping entirely. Small matts can be removed if there are not too many.

Having assessed the situation, the first task is to clip the nails, back and front. Clip them as short as is humanely possible – that means very short. Cats claws curve and are almost always translucent so the blood vessel can be seen. The natural clipping line is where the claw beings to widen significantly. Don’t forget the back ones- they can inflict major damage!

If you are in any doubt about the cats’ tolerance level, muzzle him now. Cat muzzles have a very calming effect – almost like the hoods used in falconry.

Assuming this will be a shave down job, begin with an area around the neck and clip in the usual (canine!) way removing all the matts from the top of the body. Try first with a 7F as this will give a nice "teddy bear" finish, but if this blade is too big, swap for the 10. Do not allow the blade to drag the skin. The cats’ skin is very elastic and you will need to hold it taut in some areas to ensure a clean clip. Always clip from the direction of the head to the tail – this way avoids catching skin. Cats will often just sit and let this wash over them – if the cat struggles reassure him. Hold him by the scruff so he is lying on his side on the table. He will usually just relax.

Once you have removed the topcoat, you can lie the cat on his side or back to remove the fur from the belly. Use the 10 or 15 blade here. Hold the skin taut around the armpits and groin area so as not to cut the skin. The best method of hold is to place the cat on the table on his back with his head in front and his tail behind you, and hold him under your arm. One hand then can lift each front leg whilst the other can hold the clipper. Repeat for both legs. Turn the cat so that now you have the head behind you and the back legs at the front and repeat the shaving. Your arm and elbow act as a clamp applying just enough effect to hold the cat. He can brace himself against you and the whole process works very well. I never shave the legs below hocks and elbows, and never shave heads or tails.

So you now have a shaved cat apart from these areas. Remove the muzzle, scruffing if necessary, and shave the rest of the neck. Replace the muzzle.

If the cat is not matted, then you need to comb out the whole of the coat. Small matts are broken apart with the fingers and then combed until removed. You could use a slicker, but most Persian coats are too thick for these to be of advantage. Beware also of scratching the delicate skin.

Often owners can maintain the top body coat in reasonable fashion, but the belly and bottom become matted. For these cats I recommend a belly shave to include armpits and inner thighs and underside base of tail. This keeps many cats very happy indeed and does not look unsightly. The owner can easily maintain this cat too.

We are now ready to bath. Cats react to bathing in one of two ways – love or hate! There is NO happy medium. If the cat goes completely mad, stop the water and calm the cat. Then, having removed the towel, stand the basket in the bath. The cat will cling to it for grim death – relieving you of its claws (clipped though they may be). This also has the secondary advantage of lifting the cat out of the water collecting in the bath. So the basket has a second use.

Initially, I place a slip lead around the cats neck and secure this at a length which will allow some movement (and prevent hanging!) but not so long that the cat can reach me in a leap. Do not immerse the cat – it will panic and you will have water everywhere. I am assuming that you all have some sort of shower attachment to use. Set the temperature to hand warm and start by wetting the cats tail and feet. Gradually wet the body but avoid the head. When wet, wash in the usual way and rinse thoroughly. On the second shampoo, remove the muzzle and wash the head – the eyes may be messy so wash them gently to remove the gunk. If they are very mucky, the skin around the eyes may bleed slightly. This cannot be helped. Apply an oil free conditioner and rinse. Towel dry, and remove from the bath.

Use warm – not hot – air to dry the cat. This will only take a few minutes if the cat is clipped – allow about 25 minutes for a full coat. Use the comb to part the hair whilst blow-drying. In my opinion, cats and drying cabinets do not mix. They panic and, when you open the door, come out like a tornado. I have also heard stories of tails being caught in the fans.

On a shave down, I would use blunt ended scissors to just level off the hair at the top of the legs and around the face to blend in. If the cat is not a shave down, then no trimming is necessary at all.

Once dry, put the towel back inside the carrier and put the cat inside. I find that cats cannot often be dried completely so this just helps absorb any excess moisture.

My longhaired cats come in every 8 weeks on average - some more frequently. I charge a flat fee of 32.00 for grooming cats – no extras or discounts. Compared to vets’ shave down, complete with unnecessary anaesthetic, of about 60.00 in my area, it’s a bargain. When you become proficient, even the worst ones do not take more than 70 minutes.

Show Cats. Grooming show cats is, like grooming show dogs, an art form. It should not be undertaken by anyone not expert in this field as you may unwittingly do damage to a show prospect.

It is very unlikely that you would be asked to groom a cat for show but if you were, a likely regime would be a thorough brush out (I would not expect a potential show cat to have knots!) and bath one week before the show. Depending on the breed specifically, you would then expect to be re-bathing the day before the show for semi longhair (e.g. Birman, Turkish Van, Maine Coon) or for Persians, powder packing on the Wednesday before the event.

Powder packing literally means "packing" the coat with talc. Brushed the wrong way, the coat is then drenched with powder (or Fuller's earth for dark coats) and then brushed out completely. This takes hours – seriously – and is very messy (everything gets covered with powder). The slightest trace of powder in the coat on the show day means disqualification.

Colour enhancers and dyes are forbidden as is scissoring, trimming and thinning of the coat. The knot you cut out means a disqualification. Removing matts can leave bald patches that will prevent attendance at a show, as bald patches can be indicative of ringworm and is a veterinary rejection reason.

 

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Copyright 2000 Northern Groomers
Last modified: November 05, 2000