Cat Grooming Basics

Most people agree that caring for a cat is easier than caring for a dog. However, cat-lovers know that cat care has its own set of unique rules and challenges. Most of the challenges cat-parents face involve grooming. Your cat probably won’t be in love with the idea of grooming so you should start a grooming regimen at an early age if possible. Try to be brief with your initial sessions and reward good behavior with treats. Establish a regular body maintenance routine and stick to it. Body maintenance includes brushing, bathing, ears/eyes cleaning, and nail clipping. Following your routine will keep your cat in tip-top shape and will potentially save you hundreds in avoidable vet expenses. Here is a step-by-step guide to grooming your cat.

Step 1: Coat Brushing

Cats are amazing self-groomers. They spend 8-15% of their waking hours cleaning themselves by licking their fur. If a cat’s coat has too much loose hair, the cat will swallow the excess hair and cough up hair balls. It is for this reason vets recommend you regularly brush your cat with either a brush or comb.  Regular brushing promotes circulation, stimulates the skin, spreads natural oils throughout the coat, and keeps the coat free of debris and irritants. Brushing is particularly important in the spring when cats begin moulting their thick winter undercoat. The ASCPA recommends short-haired cats be brushed once a week and that long-haired cats be brushed everyday

Step 2: Bathing

There is a common misconception that cats don’t need to be bathed because they groom themselves. This is not entirely true. An older or injured cat may not be able to keep itself clean so it may need to be bathed. Or your cat may have gotten into something requiring a good bath (mud, debris, paint, ect). In either case, bathing your cat will require patience and a delicate hand.

Most cats aren’t fans of water, so you should try to bathe your cat as quickly and calmly as possible. If your cat is scratcher, it may be advisable to wear gardening gloves. When bathing your cat, use lukewarm water with a gentle flow. If possible, use a handheld nozzle to rinse your cat. Short-haired cats only require a towel-dry but long-haired cats may need to be blow-dried. When blow-drying, use the lowest setting and never point it directly at your cat’s face.

Step 3: Ears and Eyes

It is important to check your cat’s ears for discharge or wax buildup. If you see excessive wax buildup, you can clean the ears with a cotton ball dipped in olive oil. If you see a moist discharge, contact your vet.

Some cats, especially flat-faced ones, are prone to a tear overflow that results in a crusty buildup below the eye. You can use a wet cotton ball to remove the buildup and prevent an eye infection.

 Step 4: Nail Trimming

If your cat’s claws are getting too long, you can use a guillotine-type clipper to cut off the excess part that does not contain any blood vessels. Cutting the quick (the thicker lower portion of the nail that is supplied with blood) is painful and will cause bleeding so take care to avoid that region. If you are in doubt, you should enlist the services of a groomer.

Hiring a Cat Groomer

If you are having trouble grooming your cat it may be time to contact a professional groomer. Look for someone who has experience working with cats and has a facility that keeps cats and dogs separate. Some groomers even provide a la carte services for routine things such as nail trimming and ear cleaning.

Coat Care Tips (Printable PDF)


  • Wild Discovery: Guide to Your Cat, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  • Cat Owner’s Manual, Dr. Bruce Fogle
  • Starting With Cats, Birgit Gollman

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