Cats love to groom, and they can spend up to 50 percent of their day self-grooming. Though they enjoy self-grooming, not all cats will tolerate being groomed by their pawrents or a professional groomer. Sometimes, they can get aggressive. What can you do if your kitty refuses to let you go anywhere near her with a grooming brush? Here are our top tips for grooming anxious cats.
Why do some cats turn aggressive when being groomed?
Often, these cats do not enjoy being handled either because they are not used to it, they find the whole process to be painful, or they have had a bad experience in the past. Cats are often not submissive and will either try and run or lash out aggressively. When the cat lashes out, it is normal for the groomer to back off. This inadvertently rewards the behaviour. Your cat has learned that by fighting, the groomer will leave her alone. So next time she sees the groomer approaching her with a brush, nail trimmer, or any piece of grooming equipment that she fears, she will react aggressively.
Forming a positive association with grooming
Whatever the reason may be, your cat has formed a negative association with grooming. Some cats will not tolerate the whole grooming process. Others may do fine with brushing but are apprehensive about nail trimming.
Let’s assume that your kitty dislikes being brushed. To start building a positive association with brushing, encourage your cat to interact with the grooming brush. Reward her if she sniffs at the brush or starts rubbing against it. Here’s a special single protein, grain-free treat - Kit Cat Freeze Bites Chicken Giblets Grain Free Cat Treat that kitty will love!
When a cat rubs against something, it is a good sign. When she rubs against the brush, she is forming an affiliation with the brush. It’s a sign that she accepts the brush and may even be claiming it as her own. Whenever possible, start grooming from a young age, so that the cat gets used to it and will not reject being groomed as she grows.
Once kitty accepts the brush, progress to actual brushing. Start slow and don’t try to brush her coat all at once. Some cats may be able to tolerate a few minutes of grooming only and will likely get restless or irritated after a while. Listen and pay attention to your cat’s body language. Take your cue from her. If she starts to get uneasy, stop brushing. Continue grooming for another day.
Tips on grooming a nervous cat
1) Find somewhere calm and quiet
Don’t try to groom your cat in a space where there are lots of loud noises and foot traffic like running kids or pets. Your cat’s favourite relaxing spot is one of the best places for grooming.
2) Allow plenty of time
Do not rush your cat through the grooming process. Take your time and watch her body language. Make sure to follow your cat’s cues. If she’s happy then keep going but as soon as she’s had enough, then stop. Do not push on with the grooming process. You can always try again another day.
3) Find a time when your cat is relaxed
Start by letting your cat sniff and rub her face against your grooming tools in her own time. This will help her get used to the equipment before you start grooming. Start by gently brushing her back. This is one of the easiest areas to get to on your cat. Gradually move onto trickier areas like her legs, belly, and head. If at any point she has had enough and walks away, do not restrain her. Let her wander away if she wants to.
4) Give plenty of praise and treats
Remember to praise and reward your cat when she allows you to groom her. Don’t be afraid to reward this positive behaviour. Eventually, she’ll start to associate the activity with happy rewards.
5) Make sure you use the right tools
Brushes that are too hard can hurt and harm your cat’s skin and coat. Try a soft-bristled or rubbery brush. This Petz Route Soft Slicker Brush For Cats & Dogs is perfect for daily brushing. The softer bristle will not hurt your cat and it helps to reduce tangles or matting. Experiment with different types of cat brushes to see which one your kitty prefers.
Nail clippers must have a sharp cutting edge for a swift, clean cut. Be careful not to cut the quick or your cat may bleed and become uncomfortable. A clipper with a built-in LED light like this PETKIT LED Nail Scissor for Cats and Dogs helps to make the blood vessels visible and prevent any accidental clipping of the quick.
To clean kitty’s teeth, use only a cat’s toothbrush and toothpaste for oral cleaning. A human toothbrush, even a children’s toothbrush, is too hard for the cat and will hurt the cat’s gums. As with any grooming procedure, if kitty is not comfortable with tooth brushing, start by building a positive association with the toothbrush first before attempting to brush her teeth. Alternatively, use a no-brushing solution such as the TropiClean Enticers - No Brushing Teeth Cleaning Gel for Cats (Honey Marinated Chicken) to keep her mouth clean.
One place that cats can't reach when they self-groom is inside their ears. Some cats' ears naturally stay clean, while others have ears that tend to get a little gunky. If your kitty's ears become dirty, she will need help with sweeping the debris out. You’ll need a bottle of ear easy and here’s one for your consideration - NaturVet - Ear Wash Plus Tea Tree Oil Topical Aid for Cats & Dogs. Point spout tip into ear canal. Squeeze bottle to release enough drops to partially fill the ear canal. Gently massage the base of the ear canal to help loosen wax. Remove liquid, dissolved wax, and dirt with cotton balls or facial tissue. Repeat as needed. Do not use cotton swabs or insert pointed objects into the ear. Cleaning a nervous cat’s ears can be challenging. If you are not comfortable doing this at home, get professional help.
Helping your cat to relax during grooming
Grooming can be a stressful experience for some cats, and it can be helpful to find ways to reduce stress during the experience. A calming diffuser or calming cat collar works well. Some pawrents resort to soothing music or sounds to keep their cats calm during grooming. There are plenty of relaxing cat music playlists online. You can give them a try too!
Take note that if your cat is suffering from severe anxiety and is constantly pacing, hiding, vocalising, and aggressive, please arrange to see your veterinarian soonest possible. Do not rely solely on calming herbs. They could be suffering from an illness or painful physical condition.
When to seek professional help
If your cat has become very densely matted, normal home brushing is unlikely to help. The matted fur may need trimming, clipping, and even shaving. Matted hair can be uncomfortable and even painful for the cat. Removing matted hair needs to be done very carefully as it can be quite tight to the skin so there is a risk of nicking kitty by accident. In such a situation, some cats will not tolerate the process and can be very aggressive. The cat will need to be sedated to keep both the animal and the groomer safe whilst the job is done.
In conclusion, with cats, it is best to introduce grooming gradually, keeping it positive and using the right tools. It is best to start them young to get them used to being groomed. Always pay attention to your cat’s body language. Stop grooming if you notice your cat getting uneasy or irritated, and never restrain or punish your cat from walking away. It will not help and will only make your cat more aggressive and fearful. Aim for a positive and rewarding grooming experience. That will help your cat accept and tolerate being groomed, making future grooming sessions more enjoyable.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.