Grooming a Senior Cat
A Guide to Keeping an Old Friend Clean
As a senior cat ages, their grooming needs may change. Some cats will need more frequent grooming while less is better for others. Many older cats lose the flexibility they had when they were younger and have difficulty maintaining their coats as they once did.
There are multiple factors to influence cat grooming decisions.
Is your cat healthy enough to groom? Is s/he lethargic or are their gums pale? Both can indicate inadequate blood flow.
Is your cat in pain? Manipulation of already painful joints on an arthritic cat may cause you pain in the form of a bite.
Is your cat stressed? Cats have a difficult time calming down, especially if you exacerbate the situation by insisting on doing an activity they do not enjoy. A cat whose stress levels are rising is at risk for a heart attack. Signs of stress include dilated eyes, heavy panting, unusual vocalizations and/or ears pointed backwards. Dilated eyes are when the blacks of the eye are larger than normal.
Is your cat in a bad mood? Angry cats can become stressed cats in short order.
Is elasticity of skin present? As your cat ages, their skin may become thin and papery. This is important because thinner skin will scratch easier. Unlike dogs and people, cat skin is not attached to muscle so a slight nick has the potential to become a large tear.
Begin the grooming process by gathering your supplies and checking the integrity of your equipment before you use it. Damaged tools may cause injury. There are a number of supplies that you will need.
Cat Safe Shampoo – Cat-safe labeling is strictly up to the manufacturer to make that determination. There is no state or federal agency that oversees it. Look for full ingredient listings. Some pet manufacturers may list categories rather than ingredients, such as earth-based shampoo base and coconut-derived cleansers. What you want to avoid are essential oils, as well as flea shampoos that use toxic chemicals. Essential oils may not be listed on a category-based ingredient lists. Cats cannot metabolize most essential oils or toxic chemicals so these become stored in their livers and kidneys. Over time, toxic buildup may cause chronic medical conditions.
Rubber Curry Brush – This brush is helpful for short-coated cats.
Pin Brush and Standard Metal Comb – These two items help with longer-coated cats. They can vary in price. Cheaper brushes and combs will have sharper edges because they do not round the tips. Run the brush up your arm; if it scratches you, it will scratch the delicate skin of an older cat.
Cat Comb – This is a particular style of comb that alternates long and short tines. It is more effective at removing undercoat than a standard comb.
Nail clipper – Some prefer the scissor-action to the guillotine-action type of clipper. The latter pulls on the nail as it cuts, which may cause discomfort to your cat.
Hand-held Adjustable Clipper – This clipper helps with shaving out small mats. It has a lever on the blade that changes the size from 9 to 40 inches in five increments. The 9 is a short shave and the 40 is a surgical shave. The clippers are lightweight, low vibrating and quiet. The larger professional clippers may be too noisy, as well as have a higher oscillary rate, which then causes a vibration that may irritate your cat.
Blunt-tip Scissors – Use these scissors for light trim work. Do not use them to cut out mats as this can result in substantial injury.
Hand-held dryer – These dryers can become dangerously hot very quickly. Monitor the heat flow while in use so as to not burn your cat.
Before you begin grooming, set the mood. Reduce the stimuli as much as possible. Turn off the TV and play soothing music, such as classical or harp. Remove noisy children and other pets. Make this one-on-one happy time between you and your cat. Have plenty of their favorite treats and be generous with them.
If you choose to begin by bathing, fill your sink halfway with lukewarm water. The body temperature of cats is higher than that of people. What feels warm to us may be too hot for them. Place towels in the sink. Your cat needs something soft to grip. Fill an empty 16-ounce soda bottle with about 2 inches of shampoo and then fill with water. Shake well. Place your cat in the water and thoroughly wet by gently moving the water over your cat. Most cats will not like water sprayed directly on them unless it is a very gentle flow. Once you are certain the bath will not stress your cat, take the pre-mixed shampoo and work it into their coat. Use a washcloth on their face. Use the water in the sink to remove as much soap as possible. Drain the water, and refill the sink. Repeat this until all the soap is removed. Towel off and dry with a handheld dryer. Toss out any unused, diluted shampoo, as it will begin to collect bacteria.
Once fully dry, you can begin to comb, brush or clip your cat. Most cats do not respond well to being scruffed on the neck. Scruffing is when you grab your cat by the loose skin at their neck. Instead, use a gentle touch on their body or cover your cat entirely with a towel. If you towel your cat, expose only the part that you are working on. The brush is used for loosening up the coat, while the comb is for finishing. Your comb should move easily through the coat starting at the skin outwards. If you meet resistance with the comb, go back to the brush to loosen the coat.
Always work with their pace and tolerance. Cats respond better to shorter, consistent and more frequent rather than sporadic, longer grooming sessions. At the first indications of stress, stop the grooming and try again another day. There is a possibility you will need to stop during the bath while un-rinsed shampoo is still on your cat. If this occurs, allow your cat time to relax. Then, using warm, wet towels gently wash the shampoo off.
There are times when you will need to seek out a professional groomer or veterinarian. These include when or if:
• you are unable to groom your cat.
• your cat is matted. Look for a professional groomer trained in the low stimuli, gentle handling techniques for cats. The Association of Holistic Pet Professionals (HolisticPetAssociation.com) and the Professional Cat Grooming Association of America (ProfessionalCatGroomers.com) are two professional organizations that have online member listings.
• your cat has a chronic medical condition that may be aggravated by stress.
• your cat becomes aggressive during the grooming process.
One of the best benefits of regularly grooming your cat is you will know their physical condition and can spot irregularities sooner. Early detection means early intervention. The sooner you attend to any health concerns, the better the outcome. And don’t forget that your senior cat will feel good, and look better with regular grooming care.
Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master tech pet first aid instructor. She is the owner of Pawsitive Education. Connect at
PawsitiveEd.com. See ad, page 53.