wet red persian kitten

How to Groom Cats: a Guide to Skin and Coat Care

If you’ve ever been to a cat show, you’ll see everything. Hairless cats like the Peterbald or Sphynx. Orientals with a minimal undercoat and a sleek, short outer coat. Rex cats with curly coats. Forest cats with long, thick, double or triple coats built to withstand wicked weather, Persians with their intense long silky coats and everything in between.

Can Cats Be Groomed?

Despite the myths that cats hate water and groom themselves, there are grooming salons, mobile and house call cat groomers, and entire trade organizations and schools specific to cat grooming. Many vets also have groomers that will do cats.

You can and should also learn to keep your kitty’s skin and coat in good condition yourself between professional grooming.

How you groom your cat will depend on his coat type. An at-home grooming routine, designed for your cat, supplemented with professional care when needed, will soon have his skin and coat in perfect shape.

Should I Get My Cat Groomed?

My cat isn’t a show cat. Isn’t grooming just for Persians and cats like that? Should I groom my cat?

Every cat deserves to feel like a show cat even if they only sparkle in your living room. The show ring is ultimately a beauty contest. A cat presented for a show is at the height of health and pinnacle of beauty. Grooming feels good. It helps stimulate circulation, improves the coat, and minimize hairballs.

Cats like to be clean.  They feel great after being groomed. They know they look good! Their coat is in the best condition it can be, not matted, greasy or dirty. Their skin isn’t flaky. They smell good. People who keep their cats clipped say the cats love it.  I think it is because they feel free of all that matted, dirty, greasy fur.


My Persian loves being groomed. He gets depressed if not kept bathed and blown out. He’s more playful and affectionate after his spa day. You’ll love it too. You won’t be able to keep your hands off the silky smooth shiny coat. And snuggling up to a fresh clean cat is a delight.

Tabby and white cat being bathed

Do Cats Need to Be Groomed?

Your cat’s skin and coat condition are indicators of his overall health and happiness.

I’m not a fan of lion cuts. As a groomer, I don’t like doing them; and I don’t like the look. But the main reason I don’t like lion cuts is that your furbaby’s coat serves him several ways. Unless Kitty is a hairless breed, he is meant to have fur. His coat provides sensory data and protection from his environment. In a lion cut they lose that input.

The cat’s coat protects him from cold in winter and from sun and heat in the summer. If you keep your cat in a lion cut, consider getting him a sweater in winter and grab pet friendly sunscreen if you take him outside.

Cats use their fur to communicate. That classic arched back, angry cat pose is a lot less threatening without the fluffed tail or coat standing on end. It is important to keep your cat’s coat in good condition.

Why Does My Cat’s Coat Look Rough or Scruffy?

Most likely it is from a lack of proper maintenance; but there are medical conditions that can have a poor hair coat as a symptom. Besides obesity, which prevents Kitty from maintaining his coat, age, arthritis and dental pain might all make him less likely to care for his fur leaving him with that clumpy look.

Conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and malnutrition can give him a scruffy, unkempt look. It is worth a trip to the vet if you see a change in your cat’s coat condition.

how to groom a cat pinnable graphic of a bathing cat

Dietary Concerns

Dietary deficiencies is the most common problem that causes a rough coat. Cats need a protein-rich, higher fat, low-carb diet. Supplementing Kitty’s diet with Omega-3 fatty acids from animal sources such as fish or krill oil can improve his health and the look of his fur. Giving him a treat of a salt-free packed in water sardine or an egg yolk once or twice a week will help keep him coat in condition.

If you notice that your cat’s coat is dry and prone to breakage she may need more moisture in her diet. The easiest way to do that is by increasing the amount of wet food you feed. But you can add water to her dry meals. Just don’t leave hard food you have moistened out all day as it will grow bacteria. Feed her what she’ll eat in 15-20 minutes and then pick it up.

Homemade, or salt/seasoning free bone broth, goat’s milk, or cat milk treats can all be great treats for a cat that doesn’t want to drink water.

Humidity

Increasing the humidity in her environment will help too. If your hair is dry and fly away in the winter, her fur will be too. Plug in a cool mist humidifier for everyone’s comfort.

Stress and anxiety can also cause a rough coat.

Hormones

The natural oils in a cat’s coat keep it soft and smooth and help protect her from rain and snow outdoors but a coat that isn’t maintained can have a greasy, separated or clumpy look to it. A greasy coat is common in older or obese cats. Hormones also play a part. A cat that is sexually mature and not neutered may have an excessively oily coat.

A condition called stud tail affects both skin and coats. Most common in intact males, it is like cradle cap in humans where an excess of oils and skin build up around the base of the tail and mix with the cat’s saliva when he grooms. Regular bathing with a degreasing shampoo will help. In severe cases you might need an medicated shampoo or ointment from your vet.

What Conditions Affect My Cat’s Skin

A cat’s skin is her largest organ. Healthy skin is an indicator of her overall health. Conditions that affect Kitty’s skin include parasites, ringworm, yeast, and bacterial infections. Not only can this all make Kitty itchy but some cats develop an allergic reaction called flea bite dermatitis. Even one flea bite can make her miserable.

Allergies

Food and environmental allergies can all cause itchy, flaky skin. Look at your cat’s diet and environment if he is suffering from dandruff. Poor quality foods full of corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors and flavors are the most common ingredients that cause problems. Some cats are sensitive to certain proteins like beef or fish.

Just like people, some cats have more sensitive skin. Allergies to trees, mold, grasses, dust, or household cleaning products can cause itching and rashes. Topical products for parasites or waterless bath type products can also cause reactions. Eating and drinking from plastic bowls can cause cat acne. Switch him to a glass or stainless dish.

sphynx hairless cat

Supplements

Lack of moisture and an imbalance in omega EFA are the most common causes of dandruff and flakey skin problems. Commercial cat food is often high in Omega-6 fatty acids, we can balance it with Omega-3’s from fish or krill oil supplements or add sardines or other small fish to their diet.

Regular bathing can help with some allergic conditions because it removes residue from the allergens off the skin and coat.

How to Groom a Cat

Your cat’s coat style and his temperament will determine what tools you need and what your grooming routine will look like. Establishing a grooming routine with young kittens is the best way to keep Kitty’s coat in good condition. Even adult cats can learn to enjoy it, or at least tolerate it.

Grooming can be a great bonding experience for you and your kitty. Be gentle, don’t push in him past his comfort point in order to “get it done”. Better to do a little each day with a cat that limited appreciation for being brushed.

Types of Coats

There are three different types of hair that make up a cat‘s coats:

  • Undercoat: the soft, downy hair next to the skin that provides the cat warmth. This is where mats get started.
  • Awn Hairs: base coat, “ground color” when determining coat colors.
  • Guard Hairs: longer hairs that stick out past the base coat. Help keep cat dry. Determine cat color.

The balance between the three coats varies by the breed, a Persian coat is recognizable by its long, flowing guard hairs, the Siberian has a full, thick triple coat, while the Cornish and Devon Rex have bristly coats with no guard hairs.

Hard” or silky coats mat up less than a cottony, “soft” coat. Dominant color cats have a hard coat and dilute color cats have cottony coats. You can have a litter of kittens with different coat types and textures.

“An at-home grooming routine, designed for your cat, supplemented with professional care when needed, will soon have his skin and coat in perfect shape.”

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At-Home Routines for Grooming a Cat

How often you need to groom your cat depends on his coat.

Shorthaired cats will be fine with a weekly groom.

  • Massage Kitty with a Zoom Groom or bristle brush in circles, from tail to head to loosen the dead hair, then go with the growth of the fur. Loosens and removes the dead undercoat.
  • Remove excess hair with a comb. A flea comb or small face comb is great for combing the head and face.
  • If Kitty is greasy, you can sprinkle a little corn starch into her coat, let it sit a few minutes and comb it through. It will help absorb excess oil like a dry shampoo does for our hair.
  • Grooming mitts can work for shorthair breeds to remove loose hair and some cats that hate being brushed will tolerate being stroked with a mitt.

red and white longhair cat

Long-haired cats need more maintenance.

Most longhair breeds will be fine with a 3-4 times weekly grooming routine. Cottony coated cats that mat easily will need more frequent attention to their coat and Persians need daily combing. A good steel comb is the best tool for a longhaired cat.

  • Comb through your cat with the growth of the hair paying particular attention to her “armpits”, belly, around the base of tail.
  • Don’t use a brush with long-haired cats, it will not remove the undercoat where matting begins. I’ve seen lots of cats with beautiful top coats lovingly brushed regularly with undercoats full of matting.
  • If you come across any small tangles or mats, you can pick them out or use a mat breaker.
  • For medium mats you can try rubbing corn starch into a greasy mat or olive oil or rice bran oil into a dry mat.
  • We can not remove large mats with a mat comb, a professional will need to shave them off.
  • Take your flea or a small fine-tooth comb to do Kitty’s face, head and legs.
  • Use a wire soft slicker brush to remove all the hair brushed loose

Matting/Pelting

Mats are dead undercoat that gets tangled, mixed with natural oils on the skin, and dirt. The cat’s saliva licked on to the coat cause it to felt together. They form in areas of friction, around the “arm pits”, belly, and groin areas. If not managed, the mats grow and will join forming “mushrooms” or a hard pelt on the cat. This causes skin infections and provides breeding grounds for fleas causing misery for your cat.

Mats hurt and pull when the cat moves around. If neglected long enough, they can restrict a cat’s movement. It can become life threatening. If the mats build up over the cat’s back end, the cat won’t be able to go to the bathroom. Both short and long-haired cats can mat, but it is a more common problem in long-haired cats. It is critical that a cat’s coat is maintained.

Should I Bathe My Cat?

A regular bath can help almost all cats. Did you say give a cat a bath? Oh, the arguments this brings up on every cat group I’ve ever been a part of outside of the show hall. Jackson Galaxy has weighed in on the “don’t bathe” side. The vet community seems to split over the issue.

Even some pet groomers refuse to bathe cats, opting for “waterless bath” products instead. These just make matting more likely and greasy coats worse. The National Cat Groomers Institute recommends that all cat grooms include a bath rather than working on greasy, dirty fur.

It is the bath that gives show cats the extra sparkle and shine. No successful exhibitor, even in the household pet class, would show a cat that has not had a bath.

Although most people believe cats hate water that is not true: they need to get used to the bathing process. Just like dogs, we can bathe cats to keep their skin and coats at that show cat quality of health and beauty.

Bathing Routine

Bathing a cat isn’t as hard as people thing; 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 claws
  • Brush to get out loose hair and small mats. Don’t let mats get wet, it is like felting wool.
  • Put cool balls in Kitty’s ears if he’ll tolerate it. You don’t want to get water in his ears and cause infection.
  • Wet your cat’s coat. You can use a sprayer or a pitcher.
  • 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. My favorites are Chubbs Bars. The shampoo bars are specifically designed for cat skin and coat by a professional cat groomer.  Chubbs doesn’t rinse well in hard water. In those cases, I use CleanStart by Chris Christensen.
  • In severe circumstances, you can degrease with Dawn dish soap. But it is not the correct ph and will dry Kitty’s skin. But if she is greasy, or got into something oily, it will not hurt her.
  • 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. I tell people to rinse until they think Kitty is clear and then rinse 5 times more.
  • Cats with silky, long coats or dry, damaged coats might need a light conditioner or rinse. You don’t want to add anything heavy. I only use a rinse on my Persians.
  • Once you rinse out kitty, dry her by wrapping her in an absorbent towel. Use paper towels or a microfiber cloth to dry her face, legs, and tail. Replace the towels as they get wet. Pat don’t rub.
  • Once she’s as dry as you can get her with towels you can dry her with a hair dryer on low and cool, or a high velocity pet dryer. Your short-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.

Kitty will shed a lot for 12 hours after a good bath so all the fur you can get off with a bath and blow dry the better.

A Clean Cat is a Happy Cat

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How Often Should a Cat be Bathed?

General theory is once a week is the maximum. Some say that is too frequent while others say my show cats get bathed more often than that.

There is disagreement among professionals. Some vets say never, except for hairless breeds. Or only if they get into something. A veterinary dermatologist says 2-3 times a week is fine.

Frequent bathing of the cat also helps pet parents who have people in their families with allergies to cat dander but do not want to give up their feline friend. If you use the right products, you will not dry out your cat’s skin.

Regular brushing and bathing not only will remove dirt, grease and dead hair from her coat but it will stimulate the skin and remove skin flakes. A regular spa day can keep Kitty’s skin healthy and dandruff free and her coat from looking greasy, scruffy, clumpy or rough.

Like most routines, this is something that is easier started with kittens but most cats can learn to tolerate a grooming routine, whether you do it yourself or take her to a professional cat groomer.  It is an important component of maintaining her health and happiness.

For more in my grooming guides series:
Ear Care
Eye Care
Dental Care
Paws and Claws

15 thoughts on “How to Groom Cats: a Guide to Skin and Coat Care”

  1. Ah yes! I don’t have a cat at the moment however used to bath my girls once every 90 days but used sensitive skin baby wipes weekly. People thought I was nuts but those were my furkids! I used many of the steps you mentioned like cutting nails beforehand and detangling or brushing before getting them in the bath. They both hated it at first but eventually tolerated it, lol. I love the way they smell when freshly bathed and towel dried. I could never use the dryer as I felt they had been through enough trama with the bath. LOL Ah …those were the days.

  2. One of my cats loves to get a bath in the bathtub, but my other three cats hate water. I have tried but nothing helps so I use dry shampoo and brush them regularly. However, didnt know the dry shampoo makes coat greasier, now I know why. I will try the cornstarch. I also use wipes to clean their ears and their face. I clip their nails before I start anything seems this calms them or at least they get submissive after their nails are cut. You have so many good tips really like how detailed this article is. I will try some of your recommendations.

  3. Interesting post! I don’t have any cats currently. When I was a kid I had one with some medical issues that needed to be bathed once in awhile. I remember the first time I did it I was prepared for the worst, but she was actually pretty well behaved.

    1. A lot of cats are fine with being bathed. Water can actually be calming. It’s usually shaving or drying that freak out my grooming clients not the bath. Even my son’s furball is great for her show baths but loses it over the dryer.

  4. So true that some cats can learn to accept baths! I would bathe my old cat Beamer on occassion. The poor guy sometimes got an upset tummy and got his coat, um, dirty. Haha. But he tolerated a quick bath. No big deal. I use a furminator brush on my current short haired cat. It seems to work well if I’m gentle about it.

    1. Yeah, butt baths are a thing with the older guys. Furminators scare me, I ruined Shadow’s coat with one, but it is harder to do damage with short haired cat. It’s a stripping blade – but they don’t tell you that or market it that way.

  5. How interesting and a little fascinating too. I had no idea cats should be groomed. I rarely ever see or hear of my friends giving their cats a bath. Now I see it is beneficial for them, especially health-wise.

    1. I get that a lot – you do what??? Then they get over it because my cats show. But when I say no, I groom cats – like people groom dogs… they are befuddled. Yet dogs have skin and fur and we bathe them. Heck we have skin and “fur” and we bathe daily. It shouldn’t be that weird for cats. And they feel so good after.

  6. I never gave my cats a bath, no way would they have tolerated it. They would have fought to the end and I know whose end it would have been!! I did brush them all on a regular basis, even the ones who weren’t wild about it. It was the chance for some extra bonding time (for those who stuck around long enough), and you could see how much better their coats looked after. I used the Furminator and I was always amazed how much fur came off!

    1. yup grooming is great bonding time. Even my big boy who hates it so much – we have an agreement (I call it drive by grooming – he gets to lick my hand after I take a shower and I get to comb his hair. When he bites my hand we’re done for the day.) But when he shows he has to have a bath. He doesn’t mind the bath. But for some reason the brush is his nemesis.

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