Cat Grooming Basics

by Danelle German, CFMG, CFCG

The grooming industry places a huge importance on the level of knowledge, understanding and skills obtained by professional dog groomers.  However, when it comes to cat grooming, these things are often overlooked or deemed unnecessary.

Considering the fact that there are more owned cats on this globe than there are dogs, this should not be the case.  Considering, too, that cats come with a unique set of challenges, it becomes even more important for groomers to seek out whatever training available for the safe and efficient handling of felines.

Proper and thorough cat grooming education needs to cover a variety of aspects.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Identification of temperaments
  • Safe handling techniques
  • Understanding proper coat care and management
  • Proper grooming procedures
  • Knowledge of the best tools, products, and tricks-of-the-trade
  • Understanding breeds, colors, and coat types
  • Education of customers

Identifying and Handling Feline Temperaments

Simply put, most cats fall into 3 main temperament categories. These consist of: shy, compliant, and aggressive. The shy cat is the one that likes to curl up into a tight ball and hide.  It is fearful of being out of the house and with a stranger. This type of cat prefers close contact with a human and wants to keep its head/face hidden. The shy cat is the one that will smash itself into the back of the carrier as much as possible, as if it could become one with the plastic and not be noticed anymore. The shy cat typically shows no signs of aggression as long as it does not feel threatened.  Maintaining its sense of security and safety is the objective while grooming a cat of this type. The bath is usually the most difficult part of the grooming process when working with a shy cat.

The compliant cat is the groomer’s dream. It lies there, perfectly content to be where it is. The compliant cat appears to enjoy the entire grooming process and may even purr at times.  It typically arrives at the salon peeking out from the carrier as if truly looking forward to a day at the spa. The goal is to keep the cat this way by never giving it a reason to mistrust the groomer.

The aggressive cat is the beast that makes one wonder why they are grooming cats at all. It is the cat that leaves battle scars – trophies of bravery that a groomer will wear for a lifetime.  It is the cat that arrives at the salon, staring out of the carrier in search of the perfect opportunity to take off one or two of the groomer’s fingers. The aggressive cat is at war the moment it enters the salon and will fight to the death if need be.  Not everyone is cut out to wrangle the aggressive cat. And so be it. Knowing limitations and working within them is wisdom at its finest, especially when dealing with a wildly aggressive feline.  If choosing to handle these challenging creatures, bathing the cat first can make a tremendous difference. It is amazing how quickly an angry cat can change from a ferocious fighter to a whimpering ball of wet fur. Of course, always keep a safe distance from teeth and nails when handling cats, especially aggressive ones. Be smart, be quick, and be strong.

Please keep in mind that the beauty of the feline beast is its total and complete unpredictability. The above classifications are only general guidelines. The most dangerous cat will be the one that fools the handler into thinking it possesses one kind of temperament only to show its true nature when it is least expected. The cardinal rule of cat grooming: Never Trust a Cat!

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Before
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After

Common Stress Signs

Stress can affect a cat very quickly and have catastrophic results. A groomer must be aware of the common stress signs and treat the situation accordingly to lessen the chance of a fatality.

The most common sign of stress in a cat is panting. This can mean the heart is working overtime. It is possible that a cat has an unknown, underlying health condition such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, diabetes, or a variety of other conditions that can go undetected and show themselves when the cat becomes stressed.  Normal grooming, and especially removing mats or a pelted coat, can be highly stressful to any feline.

Another common sign of stress in a cat is frequent urination or elimination of the bowels, especially if present with other behavioral stress signs. If it is suspected that a cat is stressed, the grooming should stop. Contact the owner and seek veterinary care immediately. It is also important to impress upon cat owners the need to eliminate stressful situations in the future. This means working together to prevent matting and poor condition coat. Less stress for kitty should be important to an owner. It is the professional groomer’s job to communicate how to achieve that when it comes to skin and coat condition and the cat’s overall grooming needs.

Do’s and Don’t’s of Cat Grooming

DO’s

     Do bathe a cat until is squeaky clean and degreased.

    Do force dry a cat’s coat until it is 100% dry.

     Do check for stud tail and chin acne.

     Do complete a cat groom in less than 1 hour.

     Be confident and in control at all times.

 DON’T’s

     Don’t use a noose on a cat.

     Don’t send a cat home wet or damp.

     Don’t’ shave a highly aggressive cat.

     Don’t use conditioner on a cat.

     Don’t use shears on a cat.

Understanding Feline Coat & Skin Care

Cats mat. It’s a fact. Even the short-haired varieties are prone to matting from time to time. Understanding the main causes of the matting will help a groomer better communicate to an owner the protocol for future prevention. Cats are greasy. This is another fact. If a cat is not bathed regularly then the grease and oils build up and cause all sorts of problems.

When the coat is greasy, it becomes sticky. When the coat is sticky, hair that normally sheds clings to the hair that is not shedding, rather than falling away. This causes a small tangle to form. Usually the small tangle goes unnoticed to the pet owner and may even be so small that it doesn’t catch in a comb or brush. Over time, other small tangles form and grow bigger as more hair sheds and collects underneath. If not taken care of in a timely manner, the tangles grow into mats and eventually fuse together, creating a large, thick pelt. A pelted coat can prevent an animal from performing normal functions such as walking, lying down, or using the litter box.

The key to preventing mats is to, first and foremost, bathe the cat thoroughly on a regular basis with a good degreasing shampoo. It may take several applications to do the job. But if the grease is thoroughly removed, not only will the cat stay mat-free for a reasonable period of time, but it will also look a lot better after the groom.  The second part of the mat-prevention process is to properly dry the cat using a non-heated, forced-air dryer. Blowing as much of the loose hair out and getting the cat completely dry will do wonders in making it look fantastically fluffy and mat-free.

Typically a cat should be bathed every 6 weeks to keep it in good condition. It can be done more often if necessary.  Contrary to popular belief, cats can be bathed weekly without harm to the skin and coat. In fact, the more frequent the bathing the better the coat and skin condition usually is. During the years that I showed my Persian cats in CFA, I would bathe them twice a week in order to achieve the best condition possible – a necessary feat for winning in the show ring. Obviously a twice-a-week grooming regimen is not practical for the average cat owner. Having it done every six weeks is usually adequate and will result in the cat owner not having to do any at-home grooming in between professional sessions. It will also result in less shedding, better coat/skin condition, and a cleaner cat running around the house. All of these benefits are attractive to pet owners.

If a cat does become severely matted or pelted, it will then be necessary to shave the cat down into a lion-cut or a lion-cut variation. A #10 blade is the safest blade to use on a cat for any kind of shave down. Shave in reverse, against the growth of the hair.  After grooming thousands upon thousands of cats during my feline grooming career, I have encountered just about every conceivable condition one might imagine and have yet to find a mat or pelt that could withstand the force of my #10 blade on my Switchblade or Storm clippers. If a #10 blade is not working, it is usually due to the technique used by the groomer or that the blade and/or clipper being used is not suited to cat hair.

When a cat is shaved down to “erase” the condition of its coat, explain to the owner what causes matting and how to prevent it in the future. Explain the potential risks associated with the stress of removing mats and/or pelts.  Charge the owner an extra fee for the extra work that was performed and reschedule the cat’s next groom appointment within 6-8 weeks. For most cats, a regular 6-week program is recommended.

Getting clients to understand the matting process will go a long way in building business and producing more satisfied customers. Explain to the client what causes the mess that their beloved Fluffy is in, but also offer them a realistic solution to the problem. The solution always involves regular, professional grooming!

Feline Grooming Procedures

Grooming cats really is an art.  And it is not for everyone. For those that wish to tackle the job, here are some basics that will help provide a safer environment and better results.

First and foremost, know your enemy. Cats are unpredictable creatures and are potentially very dangerous. First determine what temperament a cat has and what weapons are present.  I affectionately refer to a cat’s claws as weapons of mass destruction. A smart groomer will remove all WMD’s at the start of the grooming process. The exception to this will be explained in a minute.

After the nail trimming, do the breed-specific face trim (on Persians, Himalayans, and Exotics primarily) and then move on to a rough cut of any shaving, whether it be a sanitary clip, belly shave or lion-cut. Do not worry about getting the lines perfect or the finish completely smooth at this point. These are things to focus on later, after the bath and blow-dry.

Next, thoroughly bathe the cat.  Be sure to use a degreasing shampoo and bathe until the coat is squeaky clean.  There should be no oily residue left on the skin or coat. This is vital for preventing mats and providing a quality finish. Right after the bathe, while the cat is wrapped in a towel clean the ears and eyes. Several breeds have a protein-based eye discharge that is easily cleaned with a tearstain product or basic saline solution. Cleaning the eye area after the bath allows for the water and bathing process to loosen up any build up, making it easier to remove.

Cats should be force dried, whether cage drying is done initially or not.  Always use non-heated air. A high velocity dryer is a must for the hand-drying process, allowing for the removal of loose hair, break-up of tangles, and thorough drying of the coat to create volume and a smooth finish. The best time to do any de-matting is while using the HV dryer, after the cat’s coat is approximately 95% dry.  Use the dryer to loosen up the mat or tangle as much as possible and then use a metal comb to flick out what remains. Most often the cat will be more concerned with the air blowing on it than it will be with the tug made during the mat removal process.

Once the cat is completely dry, finish up any shaving to create a smooth finish and neat, even lines at the legs, neck and tail, or along the belly and/or sanitary lines, as appropriate. Remember to shave in reverse using a #10 blade. Finally, comb out any remaining coat. Do not neglect the head, bottoms of the feet, or inside the back legs. There should be a smooth, perfect finish over the entire body, from head to tail.

When dealing with a highly aggressive cat, consider bathing first. There is something about an aggressive cat being wet that seems to take the fight right out of it, or at least enough of the fight to make it easier to handle. Afterward, dry the cat as described above. Shaving on aggressive cats should be kept to a minimum or not done at all.  Using the right products and procedures when grooming cats will produce stunning results. There is such a sense of satisfaction after turning a dirty, stinky, greasy, matted cat with dandruff into a feline worthy of entering a show. But even better than that is the fact that the newly groomed cat will live a happier, healthier life because of it!

Visit www.nationalcatgroomers.com for more information. ▲

danelle-interviewDanelle German, CFMG, CFCG

Danelle German owned and operated CFA’s Bara Cattery from 1999-2005. During that time she produced and showed many National and Regional Award Winning Persians including CFA’s 3rd Best Cat in Premiership in 2005. She retired from showing to focus solely on her feline-exclusive spa and resort, The Catty Shack, Ltd. Although the salon has only been open since mid-December 2003, it boasts an ever- growing clientele of over 2000. Danelle is a member of Foothills Felines Cat Club, serving as President and Show Manager for a number of years. She has authored several articles for publications such as “Groomer to Groomer” and “Pet Spa and Boutique” as well as the world’s largest cat grooming book, The Ultimate Cat Groomer Encyclopedia. Recognized internationally as an expert on all aspects related to feline grooming, she has been interviewed for various publications and programs such as Kittens USA and Discovery Channel and has appeared on Animal Planet’s “Cats 101.”

Mushroom Cats, October – December 2012 Issue
Web Site: www.nationalcatgroomers.com

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