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How to brush your cat: Grooming tips and techniques

Grey tabby is brushed on owner’s lap

Brush your cat’s fur gently and in the direction of the hair growth to avoid discomfort.

© Impact Photography - Shutterstock

Regular brushing removes dirt, loose hair and can even improve circulation. Here we look at the equipment available and how to help your cat feel comfortable.

By Greta Inglis

Published on the 11/05/2021, 17:00

Cats are fantastically skilled at keeping their coats under control, regularly licking their fur clean and de-tangling knots where possible. This can lead to furballs, and if your cat is older or has long fur, they may need a little bit of extra help to keep things smooth.

If your cat spends most of their waking hours grooming themselves, you may have wondered whether brushing them is necessary. Our feline friends are notoriously self-sufficient and tend to take on this responsibility by themselves. Nevertheless, grooming can have many health benefits and the physical contact can increase the bond between owner and cat.

Do cats like to be brushed? 

Whether or not your cat enjoys being brushed depends largely on their past experiences. Some cats seem to love the attention, while others will run a mile at the first sign they may be groomed. Bad experiences in the past can contribute to this. If your cat has long fur, there are particularly sensitive areas around their front legs and stomach, and you will need to take time to build positive associations. If your cat is shy or afraid of handling, this can also contribute to nervousness around being brushed.

Signs your cat is not happy being groomed 

There are signs you can look out for that indicate your cat is not happy being groomed. Keeping an eye out for indications of discomfort is important, as a nervous or frightened cat will be less likely to come back for a brush next time.

If your cat is feeling uncomfortable, you may notice their skin twitching or that they try to pull away from you. A sharp turn of the head, tense body and vocalisation such as growling and hissing are also signs your cat is telling you they need their space. If their tail starts swishing, they should be given some time alone to decompress and recover. By keeping an eye out for these signs and giving your cat the time they need, you can show them you understand their behaviour and what they are communicating to you.

Brushing your cat without getting scratches: How can I groom a cat that hates it? 

Grooming a cat that is uncomfortable will be very unpleasant for all involved. If you brush your cat incorrectly this can cause pain, making any future attempts at grooming extremely difficult. Cats are clever and remember past experiences, so it’s essential to make grooming a happy and relaxing occasion from the outset.

The best way to brush your cat without getting scratches is to ensure your cat feels comfortable. This is in the best interest of their welfare. Here we take a look at tips on keeping your cat happy during grooming.

How can I help my cat become comfortable with grooming? 

Grooming your cat has numerous health benefits and advantages. Brushing your cat’s fur can help improve circulation, reduce shedding and even spread sebum which helps their fur remain waterproof. In warmer months, the action of spreading saliva through grooming can cool your cat in hot weather. The physical contact that occurs through the action of grooming can increase the bond and connection between you and your cat.

To help your cat feel comfortable with the sensation of being groomed, wait until they are relaxed and take things slowly. Initially, start small, rewarding any interaction with the brush. This can be as simple as letting them approach at first to investigate. Once they are happy to see the brush, touch them with it and reward. Starting around the chin and face is often a good idea, as cats naturally engage with contact in this area.  Over many sessions, move it gently in the direction their hair grows, rewarding for all contact. Build on this over time, stopping immediately at the first sign of stress.

To keep the experience positive and exciting, save special rewards you know your cat loves for the times the brush comes out. Rewarding them with tasty treats helps build positive associations.

If you have a young kitten, you can start getting them used to the process early on,  by encouraging gentle interaction and touches of the brush with food rewards and games.

Whether you’re working with an adult cat or kitten, take care to observe any body language that indicates they are no longer comfortable. Let them move away calmly and do not force them to tolerate grooming. This will reverse any positive training carried out in the past.

How often should I brush my cat? 

How often you should brush your cat depends largely on their temperament and fur type. If your cat is comfortable and enjoys the experience, regular grooming may be something they look forward to. Fur type also plays a large part, with short-haired coats only needing brushing every two to three days. Long-haired cats will require more regular grooming, to help keep tangles and matting at bay. If they are happy being groomed, a daily session is advisable.

Equipment and Techniques: Top tips to remember 

Different coat types require different brushes. From bristle brushes to wide-toothed combs, it’s important to understand the equipment available to you as a cat owner. Certain options will only prove effective and comfortable for specific fur types, so take some time to consider which piece of equipment is best for your cat.

Choosing the right brush 

A bristle brush, which usually comes with soft bristles, is the best choice for short-haired cats. If your cat is happy with the motion, this type of brush can be used to sweep the hairs towards your cat’s head and then to smooth the fur back down. The process loosens and removes any old, dead fur, allowing a healthy coat to shine through.

A pin brush, which usually has a tiny ball on the end of each pin to prevent discomfort for your cat, is the best choice for long-haired cats. This actually works through the fur as opposed to glossing over the top, which is essential to prevent matting.

Combs are also useful tools when it comes to brushing your cat. For short-haired cats this will need to be fine-toothed to ensure any dead hair has been removed and to promote circulation. Longer haired cats will benefit from a wide-toothed comb, which should be used on any tangles before the pin brush. This will avoid pulling on the skin and helping to gently work through knots.

If you suspect your cat may have fleas, a fine-toothed flea comb can help to pick up any black excreta or the fleas themselves, cleaning your cat’s coat in combination with medicated treatment.

How to brush using the right technique 

Cat hair grows in cycles, much like the fur of many dogs. When new hair grows, it pushes the old, dead hair out. Through brushing, this can be brought to the surface and removed, leaving only the new, healthy fur left. If your cat is older they may struggle to reach certain areas themselves, so grooming can be a huge help.

Having selected the right brush and comb combination for your cat, brush in the direction of the fur using long and gentle strokes. Move the brush slowly and stop if you hit a tangle. Tease this out with a comb and reward your cat for letting this happen. Allow breaks if you feel your cat may have had enough.

If your cat has matted fur or you are struggling to work through tangles, please consult a professional groomer or your veterinarian. Do not try to cut the matted fur using scissors as you may nick the skin which is painful for your cat.

Whether you share your life with a kitten or an adult cat, teaching your feline friend to enjoy grooming is good for their health and wellbeing. Brushing your cat can be an enjoyable experience for all concerned, just take your time to build positive associations and let your cat move away when they need to. In time, your cat will learn to enjoy the attention and interaction.

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