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Adventures in Cat Grooming

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Cat grooming is not for the faint of heart.

“I firmly believe that if you are going to groom cats, then you have to leave your ego at the door,” Crystal MacDonald, Pretty Paws Pet Grooming in Henderson, Nev., said. “Cat grooming is not a ‘Get ‘er done no matter what’ kind of thing. You have to be willing to stop when it’s time, take time out to play with, or comfort, the cat, and be willing to tell a cat guardian that today is not the day, bring it back next week to finish.  It can be an intense effort.  You have to really love cats to be successful at this.”

Feline grooming needs differ quite radically from their canine counterparts. It is important for groomers to remember that, though dogs and cats may share their lives and homes with people, cats are, indeed, an entirely different species than dogs. Safe and compassionate handling combined with specialized knowledge are the cornerstones to successful cat grooming.

Experienced cat groomers suggest that in order to handle cats safely, the following guidelines should be considered.

Education

Before attempting to groom cats, learn as much as you can about their physical and psychological needs.

You can find useful and general information in books and on the Internet, and you can get specific grooming-related information from The Professional Cat Groomers Association of America,  the National Cat Groomers Institute of America or from the Cat Grooming Symposiums, which holds annual events across the country.

Understand Body Language

While a dog may wag its tail when it is happy to see you, a wagging cat tail is a warning that should be heeded.

Cats communicate their feelings and intentions quite well with their eyes, ears, body position and tail.  Once a groomer learns to read cat body language, their grooming success rate will climb.

Product Knowledge

Shampoos, conditioners and even cleaning products used in the grooming area that are perfectly safe to use around dogs can cause illness or even death in cats. People who want to add feline specialty services must learn what ingredients in the products they use can be harmful.

This can be tricky because some products which are labeled as safe for feline use actually contain ingredients that are known to cause problems. To make matters even more confusing, many pet products contain no list of ingredients at all, leaving the safe use of those products purely up to chance.

Even very benign-seeming ingredients, such as natural essential oils, cause negative reactions in cats.

Ideal Environment

In a perfect world, cats would be groomed where they feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, many grooming spaces have barking dogs in them, or at least the scent of dogs and other cats, which can cause the cat to become very stressed. Steps can be taken to minimize these stressors, however.

House cats in the tallest cages possible, covering the cage door entirely or partially with a clean, dry towel so the cat feels hidden. Be certain there is no way for a frightened cat to exit the grooming area should it get loose.  Clean cat cages, grooming surfaces and washing areas with a cat-safe, scent-free cleanser before working on the pet.  Have all tools ready at hand before beginning because cats have an internal timer—that timer may be set to 30 seconds or an hour, but when the cat is done, it is time to stop grooming.

Restraining

“Less is more,” Amie Wright, of Dirty Dogs and Smelly Cats, in Ohio, said. “The less you restrain, the better the experience will be for all.”

Grooming loops, which are safety features used around a dog’s neck, are disastrous when used on a cat, and may cause choking or even a broken neck.

“Never restrain a cat by holding the scruff of its neck,” Sheryl Woods, cat-exclusive groomer and grooming educator at Wet Whisker Cat Grooming in Chicago, said. “Scruffing is an aggressive action to the cat, and you will never build a bond by man-handling the cat.”

Bathing and Drying

The old wives tale that cats hate water is not true. Cats can be comfortably and safely bathed using cat-friendly techniques. Using warm, soothing water, cat-safe products and a calm, reassuring demeanor goes a long way.

Many cats have rather oily coats, and this can present a challenge when it comes to getting their beautiful hair really clean. More than one bath is often needed to ensure that the end result is a fluffy, fragrant feline. And getting those dense coats dry is a huge challenge as well.

Wrapping the cat firmly in a warm, dry towel and holding it for 15-20 minutes will absorb much of the water. Groomers call this a “kitty burrito.”  Next, working from the haunches up, use a mechanical dryer and comb to remove the rest of the water from the coat, unwrapping each area as you work.

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