How to Groom a Cat at Home

black and white cat being bathed

Despite the prevailing myth that cats hate water and don’t need grooming, there are a lot of good reasons why you should groom your cat regularly. Bonded cats groom each other. Learning how to groom a cat at home gives you a chance to build the bond between you and Kitty, saves you money, and allows you to keep an eye on his health.

A grooming session gives you a chance to check him over for any lumps or bumps, parasites, or matted coat. A cat that isn’t keeping his coat condition up may have an underlying health problem. Catching a medical problem early is always better.

The younger Kitty is when you start getting him used his grooming routine the better but even an adult cat can adjust to predictable routine. A familiar routine reduces stress and anxiety for Kitty. Keeping your grooming sessions short but frequent is better than trying to convince Kitty to sit through long, intense sessions.

Get to know Kitty’s preferences. Her petting preferences are likely to be similar to her grooming preferences. If she loves having her head and back stroked but goes to bite your hand when you touch her tummy, she’ll most likely react the same way to grooming in those areas. Start your grooming routine working around her head and neck. Then work on the less pleasing areas and return to the head and neck before Kitty gets too angry. Reward with a favored treat as you work.

A professional cat groomer can help out if your cat is particularly difficult to handle or needs a lion cut for a fresh start in coat care.

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How to Groom a Cat at Home:

How often your cat needs grooming depends on his coat. Shorthaired cats need grooming less often than their longhaired siblings. A thick coated cat, whether long or short haired, needs more grooming to avoid getting matted than a thinner coated cat. Older cats need more help with their grooming than younger cats.

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A weekly groom will be enough for most shorthairs.

You want to keep Kitty’s coat free from excess undercoat and dead hair.  There are several tools that work great on short haired cats. My favorite is a rubber brush like the Zoom Groom.

Massage Kitty in circles, from tail to head, to loosen the dead hair. Then brush straight in the direction of the growth of the fur. You’ll be impressed with how much fur these brushes pull out.

Remove the excess hair with a comb. A regular “butter” or “greyhound” comb is the best tool for body and tails. A fine tooth comb or even a small flea comb is great for the head, face, and feet.

Cats tend to have a greasy coat. The best solution is a proper bath, but if you don’t plan to bath Kitty you can sprinkle a little corn starch into her coat, let it sit a few minutes and comb it through. It absorbs excess oil like a dry shampoo does for our hair.

Finish the coat with a slicker brush.

Click here to see our recommendation for best tools for shorthaired cats

Longhaired cats need more maintenance.

Most longhaired breeds will be fine with a 3-4 times weekly grooming routine. A cottony, soft coated cat will mat more easily and need more frequent attention than a silky or hard coated cat. Persians benefit from daily combing.

A good steel comb is the best tool for grooming a longhaired cat. It is important to work the comb through the undercoat instead of just brushing out the top coat.  The undercoat is where mats will form. Don’t use a brush because it won’t reach into the undercoat. I have seen many well-loved and well-cared for cats with a matted undercoat even when brushed regularly.

Comb through your cat’s coat with the growth of the hair. You want to pay particular attention to her “armpits”, belly, backside, and around the base of her tail. If you come across any small tangles or mats, you can pick them out with your comb or use a mat breaker.

Take your flea or a small fine-tooth comb to do Kitty’s face, head and legs and then use a wire soft slicker brush to remove all the hair brushed loose.

Large mats will need a professional to shave them off. Look for a certified feline master groomer in your area. Bonus if they make housecalls. See your vet for a sedated groom if your cat is aggressive when handled, or pelted,

Ask your groomer for tips on how to groom your cat at home to keep Kitty’s fur in good condition as it grows back in.

longhaired tabby cat after being groomed at home

Check out our recommended tools for grooming longhaired cats

Bathing a Cat

Why bathe your cat?

Bathing cats is a controversial topic. Regular brushing and bathing will remove dirt, grease and dead hair from her coat, stimulate the skin, and remove skin flakes.

A regular spa day will keep Kitty’s skin healthy and dandruff free and her coat from looking greasy, scruffy, clumpy or rough. Regular bathing can help with stud tail and feline acne.

If your kitty suffers from hairballs, in addition to changes in diet, regular bathing and grooming can help remove dead coat before she can swallow it.

Frequent bathing also helps people with allergies to cat dander. Regular bathing will reduce allergens and keep Kitty in their home. It will also help keep Kitty comfortable if she has environmental allergies.

If you use the right products for your cat, you will not dry out your cat’s skin. In fact, regular bathing will improve the condition of your cat’s skin and coat. Show cats are often bathed weekly, or even twice a week, during the height of show season. Skin and coat health is critical to good show results, even in the household pet class.

The average cat benefits from a spa day every 4-6 weeks or so but your hairless cat will need weekly bathing.

How to bathe a cat

Bathing a cat isn’t as hard as people think; as long as you have a basic knowledge and the right tools and products. Stay calm, get yourself organized so you aren’t trying to grab your shampoo with a wiggling cat in the tub. A double kitchen sink or the bathtub work just fine.

Clip Kitty’s claws first so she doesn’t hurt you. Be sure she is brushed out without any mats. Don’t get mats wet. It is like felting wool and will make it much worse to remove the mat.

Wash

Wet your cat’s coat. You can use a sprayer or a pitcher. Mixing a little bit of shampoo into the water will help saturate the coat. Don’t get water in his ears or eyes.

Apply shampoo, dilute according to manufacturers’ instructions or use an amount about the size of a quarter. Shampoo the coat staying away from face and ears. You may have to shampoo more than once if Kitty is extra greasy or dirty.

Rinse

Rinse the cat until the coat is squeaky clean. This is where most people go wrong. You need to rinse a lot more than you think you do.

Silky long coats and dry or damaged coats might need a light conditioner or rinse. You don’t want to add anything heavy. I do use a light rinse on my Persians. Again be sure you rinse thoroughly.

wet red persian kitten being groomed at home

Dry

Once you rinse out kitty, dry her by wrapping her in an absorbent towel. I like to keep one in the dryer to help dry and warm Kitty. Replace the towels as they get wet. I like to put a cape or bathrobe like this on Plush. It helps make the drying process less stressful.

Use paper towels, or a microfiber cloth, to dry her face, legs, and tail. Pat don’t rub or you’ll encourage matting. You can dry Kitty with a hair dryer on low and cool, or preferably a high velocity pet dryer, once she’s as dry as you can get her with towels.  Your short- or medium-haired cats might not need blow drying, but it will blow out loose fur and cut down the shedding. You will need to blow dry long-haired cats or they will tangle and mat.

After the cat is dry comb him out to make sure there are no mats.

Want more tips on how to bathe your cat without getting clawed to death? Click here.

How to Trim Your Cat’s Claws

The best way to keep your cat’s claws maintained is regular trimming.  Typically, most cats are fine on a 2-4 week schedule. It is easy to learn to clip you cat’s claws, but if you can’t do it yourself your vet’s office or a groomer.

If you think of your finger as your cat’s claw, form a “C” with your  thumb and forefinger. Your forefinger is your imaginary claw.

The part you’d be clipping off is just past the first knuckle, the top part of the “C”. The “quick” or live part would run between your hand and the center knuckle. If you look at your cat’s claw the quick is the pinkish part.

To clip Kitty’s claws, press her toe gentle between your fingers. She will extend her claw. Nip off the clear part before the claw curves. Less is more, you can always clip a little more another day. Inspect her paws for any health concerns while you are trimming her claws.

Some cats are visually overstimulated by claw clipping.  If you cover her head with a towel or the corner of your sweater, she may relax enough for you to clip her nails alone.

Read here how to trim a wiggly cat’s claws by yourself.

How to clean Kitty’s eyes

All cats can experience watery eyes. Significant drainage is normal for some brachycephalic breeds of cats like Persians. The more extreme-face the more the drainage.

Clean your Kitty’s eyes using a saline solution or commercial eye wash. If Kitty has irritated eyes there are some easy treatments to try at home. Signs of an infection should take you to the vet.

Use a cotton ball or make-up pad soaked in the salt water or cleaning solution and gently wipe at the encrusted area of your cat’s eye.

Use a separate cotton ball for each eye to prevent spreading anything.

Once you’ve cleaned the area pat dry with a towel. You can use cornstarch or grooming powder to keep the area dry. A product like Eye Envy will help keep your kitty’s fur from staining or developing an infection.

Blue and White Persian  that needs to be groomed at home

How to Take Care of Your Cat’s Ears

Checking your kitty’s ears out once a week will be enough.  You want to make sure they look healthy and clean, free of dirt, debris, odor, or infection.

A simple wipe with a cotton ball or make up pad moistened with commercial ear cleaner will keep an average ear clear of problems.

Apply the drops to Kitty’s ear, and massage the base of the ear for 20-30 seconds, then let him shake his head (and duck, so you don’t get the gunk all over you.)

You don’t want to fish around with a Q-Tip down in the ear canal, let the cleaner do the work.  Cat ear canals are L-shaped and you can really hurt him. It is fine to use a swab in the crevices and folds in the outer ear and the edge of ear canal you can see.

A Clean Cat is a Happy Cat

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How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Brush her teeth.  Yes, really. It will become part of your daily grooming routine. Like all aspects of the grooming process, it will be easier if you start young.  But even adult cats can get used to the process of having their teeth brushed. You will need toothpaste designed for cats and a toothbrush small enough for your cat’s mouth.  You can get one designed for pets, a small baby toothbrush, or a finger cap brush. Personally I only have had success with the smallest pet brush on the market.

black and white cat with a wide open mouth read to have his teeth brushed as part of his grooming routine

Cornell recommends a 4 week process to get your furbaby used to having his teeth brushed

  • Week 1:  Let Kitty get used to the flavor of the toothpaste. Make it a treat.  No brushing involved.
  • Week 2: Put the paste on one of his canine teeth (fangs) with your finger or gauze. He’ll swish it around with his tongue.
  • Week 3: Introduce the brush, continue just putting paste in his mouth but with the brush.
  • Week 4:  Brush his teeth.  Don’t make it stressful, don’t worry about scrubbing.  Aim for the crevice where tooth meets gum and get front and back.  Don’t worry about the inside the teeth, Kitty’s tongue and the paste will clean the teeth.

Summary:

Start your grooming routine early in your cat’s life if you can. Be patient if you can’t. Stick to short daily grooming sessions instead of trying to comb Kitty’s coat completely out if he isn’t used to grooming. Don’t expect to get through Kitty’s coat in one sitting if he has tangles or mats.

A regular spa day can help your monitor your cat’s health and catch potential problems early. Grooming can be a pleasurable part of your relationship with your cat. Special high value treats can help making Kitty more receptive to the process.

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9 thoughts on “How to Groom a Cat at Home”

  1. Please, don’t bathe your cat. It is not healthy. Brush it, remove excess hair and leave it to that. There is a reason cats don’t like water, it lowers their resistance to virusses and bacteria. In Europe, we never wash cats and they are clean and healthy.

    1. It’s perfectly fine to bathe a cat. They won’t get sick if you dry them thoroughly and keep them warm. Not all cats need to be bathed. But there are others that do.

  2. I wish I’d bathed the girls more when they were younger. My previous Persian cat was taken to the groomer on a regular basis and she was fine with a bath. Truffle and Brulee hate it. Basically, they get a “butt” bath if they have some dirty tocks.

  3. I wish I had bathed my cat when he was younger. When he was a senior cat he wasn’t able to groom himself very well, so I tried to give him a bath. He took one look at the sink of water and hissed (for the first time in 15 years) and wriggled away. Although he desperately needed a bath, I thought it would be unkind to stress him out like that. So I gave him a sponge bath instead which helped some.

  4. Wow, I didn’t know cats needed so much grooming! I do groom my dog about twice a week and brush her teeth daily, but until I read your blog, I didn’t realize cats should get their teeth cleaned too. Great information!

  5. I read your post AFTER I had to give Harvey a head wash. He has got ear drops and the spilled out on to his fur. I am guessing I may not have rinsed him enough but will assess things when he dries. I think you are correct when you say people stop rinsing too early.

    Thank you for this.

  6. I never knew about bathing cats when I had mine over 15 years ago but it make so much sense when I think about it. I used to groom mine once a week and with Layla (dog) I groom her daily, clean her teeth twice a day and her ears 3 times a week.

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