I literally stole this article title off a Google search for cat grooming. It made me laugh. I wasn’t sure if people searching for this information were looking for ideas in how to wrestle a cat into submission, armour themselves for a battle, or attempt bribery and distraction.
Grooming is an act of love between individuals. It should be enjoyable and a wonderful bonding experience. So how does it become so unpleasant between some individuals? We need to step back and get the background story.
Here are nine reasons cat grooming goes awry:
1. “What’s in it for me?” Look at grooming from the cat’s perspective. Is it enjoyable? Rewarding? With no bred-in desire to please like a dog, you have to give the cat a reason to want to do this.
2. The cat wasn’t handled and groomed while young. A crucial opportunity missed. If started young, any pet learns that grooming is just part of the scenery, no big deal, and that it’s quality time spent with the owner.
3. You didn’t start grooming until there was a problem. Aren’t cats supposed to “groom themselves”? Well, no. Not all cats have the ideal hair, weight, and overall health to make self-care a breeze. The owner goes from oversight to suddenly being all over the issue pestering the cat. The cat rightfully believes you are Jekyll and Hyde. The problem is usually painful or uncomfortable. Tugging on private cat areas really hurts and is offensive.
4. You are using the wrong grooming tools. There is a lot of bad information on the web about the cat grooming tools. Here is my recommendation. Use a “feel good” tool for training and reward, and an aluminum comb to do the actual grooming work somewhere in the midst of a grooming session. Be sure to use the grooming tools on yourself first to have a good idea of how it actually works and feels. If the tool is uncomfortable, or you would never use it on your own (8x coarser) hair and scalp, don’t use it on your cat.
5. Doing too much at once. If you haven’t been practicing since young, you can’t possibly expect a cat to have patience for a grooming session more than a minute or two long if it has little prior experience. It takes time for a cat to build up trust and patience with you. Start with the good enjoyable stuff, and sneak in one hard-to-get-to spot, and finish on a positive. Keep sessions short enough so that you quit before the cat does. Short and frequent grooming trumps intermittent and arduous. Build on the good stuff.
6. Wrong time, wrong place. Never be in a rush or attempt cat grooming during rush hours in your home. Find a quiet time and place. No interruptions, no distractions. It’s quality time for both of you.
7. Former traumatic experience. At some point the cat has had a fear inducing experience. Could be bathing/falling in the tub, could be a shavedown that pushed the cat too far with multiple people holding it down, could be declawing. What ever it may have been, your cat is caught in a fear-based defensive mental loop anytime the cat is handled by a person. Slow, patient rehabilitation using different strategies are the only way to overcome a PTSD-like fear.
8. Level the playing field. Cats are armed with sharp claws and teeth. You’ve just got your wits. Wear long sleeves and pants. Groom in your lap with a towel wrap for shy/nervous cats, or on a slippery surface to reduce traction and leverage for the runaways or swatters. If you are worried about being bitten, use an elizabethan collar, or welding gloves. Most cats quit arguing when you’ve proven you can ignore and thwart their offence.
9. You are not the original owner. Kudos to you for giving a cat a new home! Build on trust following all the other recommendations above.
I haven’t told you how to groom a cat that hates it. I have given you direction and mindfulness you need to start over so the cat will come to at least tolerate it, and with time hopefully enjoy it. Every cat/owner relationship and history is different. If the cat’s grooming needs are beyond what you’re capable of, seek a certified professional cat groomer to get you back on track. Then work on maintaining the reboot, and go for professional seasonal tune-ups.