Cat being brushed by a woman.

How to Groom and Clean Your Cat

1. Natural Cleaning
2. Grooming Sessions
3. Coat Types
4. Trimming the Claws
5. Cleaning the Face
6. Teeth Cleaning
7. Bathing Your Cat
8. Cleaning Under the Tail
9. Grooming a Shorthaired Cat
10. Grooming a Longhaired Cat
11. Basic Grooming Tools

A clean coat is healthy and comfortable, and staying well-groomed comes naturally to cats. By giving your cat additional grooming—especially important if you own a longhaired breed—you can help him to look good and enjoy a bonding experience at the same time.

To ensure your cat stays in peak condition, it is also important to give him assistance with basic hygiene, such as teeth cleaning and occasional bathing.

Natural Cleaning

Cats spend a large part of their day self-grooming. This is important to  them because a sleek, conditioned coat  is waterproof, keeps a cat warm, and protects the skin from infection. Your cat will always groom himself in  the same order.

He begins by licking his  lips and paws, then uses his wet paws  to clean the sides of his head. The saliva removes the scent of recent meals, making him “odorless” to natural enemies that  hunt by scent. Next, your cat will use his rough tongue to groom his front legs, shoulders, and sides.

The surface of the tongue is covered in tiny hooks that can sweep up skin debris and loose hairs, as  well as get rid of mats and smooth out tangles in the coat. The tongue also spreads the natural oils secreted by glands in the skin that condition and waterproof the  coat.

Your cat will nibble away any stubborn tangles using his small incisors. His flexible spine then allows him to attend to his anal region, back legs, and tail, working from its base to the tip.

He uses his back paws like  a wide-toothed comb to scratch his head.  In fact, cats are so particular about daily grooming that it may not seem necessary  to give them any extra help.

Grooming Sessions

Helping your cat maintain his coat  is essential for several reasons. For a  start, grooming sessions will enable  you to maintain a close bond with your  cat and also give you a chance to check  his body for problems such as parasites, hidden injuries, lumps and bumps, and changes in weight.

When you groom your cat, you will help reduce the amount of hair he swallows while grooming himself. This hair is usually coughed up as harmless fur balls, but some fur balls pass through the stomach and may become lodged in the intestine, causing serious problems.

Cats become less efficient at grooming themselves as they get older, so elderly cats can benefit greatly from a helping hand. The sudden neglect of self-grooming in cats of any age  is a warning sign that all is not well, and it should be investigated by a vet.

If you accustom your cat to grooming sessions from an early age, he will come  to view you as a parent figure and enjoy  the experience. Always begin a grooming session by stroking your cat and talking in a soothing voice to help him relax.

Remember to be patient and on the lookout for signs that he is uncomfortable, such as a flicking tail or whiskers turning forward. In such cases, stop and try again later or the next day. Make sure you also check his ears,  eyes, nose, and teeth—and clean them if necessary; you may also need to clip his claws and give him a bath. Always end a grooming session with praise and a treat.

Coat Types

In longhaired cats such as Persians, the undercoat can be massively thick. The coat not only collects debris from around the home and yard but tends to form tangles that no amount of licking can remove.

Neglected tangles can easily turn into impenetrable mats, especially behind the ears and in parts of the body where there is friction, such as under the armpits, and in the groin area.

Even the most fastidious longhaired cats simply cannot keep a coat of this type in good order by their own efforts, so owners need to provide additional grooming. In extreme cases, there will be no option but  to cut the matted hair away—a task that needs the skill of a professional groomer or a vet.

Longhairs are also at greater risk than shorthairs of collecting large fur balls. If you own a longhaired cat, a daily grooming session is necessary.

Semi-longhaired cats, which include Maine Coons and the Balinese, have a silky topcoat and a minimal undercoat, so their fur remains free from tangling. Weekly brushing and combing is all that is required.

Some cats have fine, wavy, or rippled coats, as seen in the Cornish Rex, and a few breeds sport longer curls. Such coats do not shed heavily and are not very difficult to maintain.

Overly vigorous grooming can spoil the appearance of the fur, so bathing rather than brushing is often recommended for this type of cat. Shorthaired cats have a

topcoat of sleek guard hairs and a soft, downy undercoat of varying thickness. Although the undercoat may shed quite heavily, especially in warm weather, these cats are generally very easy to maintain. Grooming once a week is usually sufficient for shorthairs.

Hairless cats such as the Sphynx are not usually entirely bald  but have an overlay of fine fuzz. This thin covering is not enough to absorb the natural body oils that are secreted through the skin, so regular bathing is needed to prevent a greasy buildup that can be transferred to owners’ clothes and furniture.

Trimming the Claws

Cats naturally keep their claws worn down by exercise, scratching, and climbing, and also by biting them. Indoor and especially older cats often do not get much claw wearing exercise and are at risk of growing long claws that curl into the pads of the paws, causing discomfort.

To prevent this, regularly check your cat’s claws and cut them with clippers about every two weeks. To trim the claws, keep a firm hold on your cat and make sure you remove just the very tip of the claw.

Any farther down and you might cut into the pink region, or “quick,” and cause pain and bleeding—which will make your cat extremely resistant to having his claws clipped in future.

Accustom your cat to having his claws clipped from an early age. If you find the task too difficult, ask your vet to do it instead.

Bi-color cat getting her nail cut.

Cleaning the Face

The inside of your cat’s ears should be clean and free of odor. Remove excess earwax with cotton or tissue. If you see dark,  gritty specks in the ears, which indicate ear mites, or any discharge, take your cat to  the vet. Damp cotton can also be used to clean around the eyes and nose. Mucus may collect in the corners of the eyes of longmuzzled cats, such as Siamese.

Short-faced cats, such as Persians, often suffer from tear overflow, which leaves mahogany stains on the fur around the eyes. Consult your vet if you find any discharge from the eyes or nose, or prolonged redness of the eyes.

Teeth Cleaning

Brushing your cat’s teeth once a week  will give you the opportunity to check  for signs of oral disorders. Problems that need the attention of your vet include discolored teeth, inflamed gums, and  bad breath.

To clean the teeth, use a soft child’s toothbrush or a specially made cat’s toothbrush that fits over your finger. Alternatively, wrap your fingertip in gauze. Always use specifically formulated cat toothpastes; your cat will probably enjoy  the  meat-flavored ones. Never use a brand of toothpaste intended for humans.

Hold your cat’s head firmly and gently lift his lips. Starting with the back teeth, brush each tooth carefully in a circular motion  and massage the gums. If your cat will not allow you to brush his teeth, ask your vet for oral antiseptics, which you apply directly to the cat’s gums.

Antiplaque solutions for cats are also available from pet stores or your vet. These products are simply added to your pet’s drinking water and have a palatable flavor. You will need to change the water and add fresh solution every day.

Bathing Your Cat

Outdoor cats occasionally give themselves a dust bath, in which they roll in dry dirt to clean their coat of grease and parasites, such as fleas. You can buy dry shampoos for cats, which work in a similar way. A shorthaired cat may need a wet bath if it becomes covered in oil or a pungent substance.

A longhaired cat requires more regular bathing. Use only a shampoo made for cats, and keep it out of your pet’s eyes, ears, nose, and mouth—especially if you are applying a medicated shampoo to treat a skin problem.

Few cats enjoy being bathed, and it is easier for both of you if you accustom your cat to the experience from an early age. You will need to be patient. Use soothing words throughout the session and give treats to your cat afterward as a reward.

Black and white cat getting a bath.

Cleaning Under the Tail

All cats wash their anal area, but additional cleaning may be necessary, especially in older or longhaired cats. Check beneath the tail as part of your grooming routine, and gently wipe the area with a damp cloth if needed.

Grooming a Shorthaired Cat

Begin the session by loosening dead hairs and skin, drawing a fine-toothed metal comb from head to tail along the lie of your cat’s coat. Take extra care when grooming around particularly sensitive areas such as the ears, the underside (armpits, belly, and groin), and the tail.

Remove the loosened debris by working over your cat’s body with a slicker or soft-bristled brush, again drawn along the lie of the fur. For a supersleek and shiny look, finish the grooming session by “polishing” the coat with a soft cloth such as  a piece of silk or a chamois leather.

Grooming a Longhaired Cat

Begin by gently combing the cat through from head to tail with a wide-toothed comb, following the natural direction of the fur. Do not tug at knots or tangles—tease them out with your fingers, using unscented talcum powder formulated for cats.  The powder will also absorb excess body oils.

Using a slicker brush with fine pins or a soft-bristled brush, work along the lie of the fur to collect the loosened hairs, skin debris, and any remaining talcum powder from both the topcoat and the undercoat. This will help to make the coat look  full and shiny.

To end the grooming session, fluff up the coat with a brush or wide-toothed comb, and comb through long plumes on the tail. If your cat is a Persian, comb the neck fur up into a ruff. Ideally, to keep  a longhaired coat in good condition, you should spend 15–30 minutes on this routine every day.

Basic Grooming Tools

Combs and bristle brushes remove tangles, and a slicker brush sweeps up loose hair and debris. Ask a professional for advice on the correct use of equipment such as tick removers and nail clippers.

Cat being brushed by a woman.