Cats are known for their fastidious cleanliness. Nature has provided them with the perfect grooming tool: a barbed tongue that gets rid of loose hair and dead skin cells. Cats also use their teeth to dig out tougher dirt. They moisten their front paws to groom areas that the tongue can’t reach. However, sometimes, cats will need some help with grooming. The extent to which they may need grooming assistance will vary with the type of hair coat.

The Different Types of Cat Coats

The domestic cat will fall into one of three categories: short, medium, or long haired. Purebred cats range from the almost hairless Sphynx cat to fluffy-haired breeds like the Persian. Some breeds have crimped, wiry hair, which is also known as permed.

All cat hair originates in the epidermis. Most cats have three different types of hair in their coats. The undercoat consists of soft, short, downy fur. Its purpose is to keep the cat warm.

Guard hairs are coarse, long, straight hairs found in the outer coat. These guard hairs are designed to keep the cat dry. The intermediate coat is made up of medium length hairs known as awn hairs. The part of the awn hair closest to the skin functions much like the undercoat, the part further away from the skin has the same function as the guard hairs.

Benefits of Grooming

Most cats will benefit from regular brushing to remove dead skin cells and loose hair and to distribute the skin’s natural oils evenly along the hair coat, giving the coat a healthy shine. Grooming can also improve muscle tone by providing a mini massage. Another benefit is that it provides an opportunity for a quick physical health check, which may help detect any lumps and bumps early. Grooming can also be a wonderful way for cat groomers and owners to bond with the cats.

A Word About Hairballs

Daily brushing will also reduce the amount of hair that cats may ingest during grooming, which can help prevent hairballs. Although contrary to popular belief, ingesting hair is not the primary cause for hairballs. Most hairballs are caused by compromised intestinal motility. A healthy cat with a healthy gut system should be able to eliminate hair ingested through grooming in her stool. Vomiting as a daily or even weekly method to eliminate hairballs is almost always an indicator of a more serious health problem.

Grooming Tools

Different types of grooming tools will work for different types of coats. Brushes with stiff bristles or wire slicker brushes work best at removing hair from cats with short coats or sparse undercoats. Long-toothed metal combs, especially those with offset tines, work well to remove loose hair and smooth minor tangles in medium and long-haired cats. Grooming tools like the Furminator, which is essentially a clipper blade mounted on a brush handle, can safely remove large amounts of undercoat without cutting the skin. Grooming gloves can work well for cats who don’t like being brushed. They are designed to remove loose hair while petting the cat.

Regardless of the tool used, it’s important to always be gentle and to avoid excessive pulling.

How to Remove Tangles and Mats

Minor tangles can usually be removed with gentle brushing or combing. Mats require a different approach. Mats form when dead hairs, combined with dirt or other debris from the cat’s environment, stick together to form hard, tangled areas. Depending on the location on the cat’s body, these mats can be very uncomfortable for cats, since they will tug on the surrounding skin.

A wide-toothed comb may work for safely untangling some mats. Care should be taken to not tug too hard on the mat while working on it. Applying corn starch throughout the fur can help loosen mats, making them easier to comb out.

Never use scissors to cut a mat – it’s too easy to cut a cat’s skin when using scissors. Electric clippers can be used to gently shave off smaller mats close to the skin. Since clippers or shavers can create quite a bit of heat, they should be tested against your own skin before using on the cat, since a cat’s skin is very thin and extremely heat sensitive. In some severe cases, cats may need to be anesthetized for shaving.

To Bathe or Not to Bathe

Most healthy cats will not require bathing. Older, arthritic cats may have difficulty grooming themselves and may occasionally need a bath. Veterinarians may prescribe bathing as part of a treatment plan for cats with allergies. Always remove any tangles and mats prior to getting the coat wet, as they can be impossible to remove after a bath.

This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of Groomer to Groomer magazine, and is republished with permission.

18 Comments on Different Strokes for Different Coats: How to Care for Your Cat’s Coat

  1. My cat fancie has light and fluffy long hair.Every day her hair tangles back up.I remove them every day.Iwas wondering if i used hair cutting thinners if that would help.

    • I would worry about cutting into skin with human thinning scissors, Sharon. Have you tried using a deshedding tool like the Furminator? It won’t remove mats, but it will help prevent them if used regularly.

  2. My kitty Myles is 17 years old. He would never let me brush him and when I was able to brush it is only for a minute then he bites. Unfortunately since he is now older his fur is getting matted in many places. They are so stuck together that it is impossible to brush them . If he won’t let me brush him I know he would go crazy with clippers. He never goes outside as we live in the woods and have critters that would kill him. I don’t know what to do. Any suggestions? Oh yes he is a very large cat.

    • If the mats are so bad that they pull on his skin, you may need to take him to your vet and have him shaved under sedation, Linda. Mats can be painful for cats.

    • Hi Linda, my large male cat Alfie is very twitchy about being groomed, especially around his lower back and back legs but of course that’s where the mats appear! He loves his face and neck area being groomed however. In the past I tried so many specially designed tools and it always ended up with a battle or my only being able to do a few strokes before he realised what was happening and the game was up. The other day we tried something new and it worked! He was lying on my lap facing forwards so I decided to try my new de-matting tool (a type of comb about an inch long with razor style blades that cuts through the actual mat and thus breaks it up as you stroke the comb through the fur). It looks much scarier than it is. The key difference was the presence of my husband who sat in front of the cat and used a normal grooming brush to brush his face and cheeks which he always loves. This distraction technique worked so well that he didn’t even flinch once whilst I was working on him. He was far too focused on the lovely facial massage. Result, mat free, stress-free cat and no human blood split! Provided you can find a helper to help you then I hope technique this might help. 🙂

  3. My beloved Maxximus who is no longer with us hated brushing but if I put a treat in front of his nose he was distracted king enough to let me get a brush him. My other two when they hear the word BRUSH come running. Maxxie was long haired like a Maine Coon so to get his belly I would reach underneath him while he was enjoying his treat. He would never allow any contact with his belly otherwise.

  4. How do we get permission to groom the belly, its the only spot my cat wont let me groom, but will let me rub when he wants to. it does have the most loose hair I think. I have had his belly shaved in the past but not a fan of having it shaved all the time

    • Some cats just won’t accept having their bellies groomed, Sepo. You can try and condition your cat to accept it by going very slow. One or two brush strokes, stop before he starts to fuss, reward with a treat. Gradually increase the time you groom, but always stop before he stops to fuss.

  5. Jewel loved being brushed, but Carmine and Milita really don’t like it. I’ve seen the grooming gloves and wondered how effective they are. I might try one of those for Carmine and Lita – maybe they’d like that better than regular brushing. Thanks for the info!

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