I literally stole this article title “how to groom a cat that hates it” off a Google search for basic 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. Although this may be true, 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?” First, take a look at grooming from the cat’s perspective. Is it enjoyable? Rewarding? Trusting humans is a delicate thread. 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. Obviously it’s a crucial opportunity missed. If started young, any pet learns that grooming is just part of the scenery. It’s a normal activity, no biggie, and it’s quality time spent with the guardian.
3. You didn’t start grooming until there was a problem. Aren’t cats supposed to “groom themselves”? For the most part, not all cats have ideal hair, weight, and overall health to make self-care a breeze. The guardian goes from oversight to suddenly being all over the issue pestering the cat. Rightfully, the cat believes you are Jekyll and Hyde. Problem areas are usually painful, uncomfortable, or difficult to get to. Grooming becomes a contest of wills, not a bonding experience.
4. You are using the wrong grooming tools. There is a lot of bad information on the web about appropriate cat grooming tools. There are training tools, and work tools. For example, 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 all 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 previously, you can’t subsequently expect a cat to have patience for a grooming session more than a minute or two long. It takes time for a cat to build up trust and patience with you. First start with the good enjoyable stuff, and then sneak in one hard-to-get-to spot, and finish on a positive. Finally, 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. For instance, 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. Formerly, has your cat had a fear inducing experience? It could be something like bathing or falling in the tub. Maybe a shavedown that pushed the cat too far with multiple people holding it down. Possibly declawing. What ever it may have been, your cat is caught in a fear-based defensive feedback loop anytime it is handled by a person. Only slow, patient rehabilitation using empathic strategies will overcome a PTSD-like fear, or hatred of cat grooming.
8. Level the playing field. Cats are armed with sharp claws and teeth. You’ve just got your wits. In this case wear long sleeves and pants. Groom in your lap with a towel wrap for shy or nervous cats, or on a slippery surface to reduce traction and leverage for the runaways or swatters. In case you are worried about being bitten, use an elizabethan collar, or welding gloves. Surprising, 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! Undoubtedly you can build trust following all the other recommendations above.
I haven’t told you how to groom a cat that hates it. Instead I have given you direction and mindfulness strategies you need to start over. The goal is, with time and patience, the cat will come to at least tolerate basic grooming, and learn to enjoy it. Every cat and custodian 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. Thereafter, work on maintaining the reboot, and go for professional seasonal tune-ups.