Grooming your cat can make a difference in overall health
Cats are independent and spend a lot of their time cleaning themselves. But regular grooming is also an important part of caring for your pet.
There are many benefits to grooming, including stimulating the circulation; reducing fur balls, checking the skin, coat, ears, eyes and teeth for health problems; and, of course, the quality time spent with your cat.
Shorthair cats require less brushing -- once a week or so -- while longhair felines require brushing more often. Younger kittens may need additional grooming as they learn to clean themselves, and older cats might need extra help reaching some parts of their bodies.
If you have a kitten, start grooming them now so it becomes a normal part of their routine. If your cat is older, introduce the tools and processes gradually, pairing them with a special treat.
Experiment with different combs and brushes appropriate for your cat's coat. There are a lot of differences between the options available at the pet store. There are even glooming gloves.
Softer brushes may not be as effective, but they are considerably more comfortable for your cat, so it may be wise to start with a soft brush until he is comfortable being brushed.
Begin brushing for short periods of time to keep the experience enjoyable. Stop when your cat shows signs of stress. Watch for flattened ears, enlarged pupils and a "frozen" stature. These are ways your cat may show you he's had enough.
Be patient and let him set the pace. Start by brushing the body -- stroking in the direction the hair grows -- and then, as your cat allows, include his legs and tail. A treat given at the conclusion of a grooming session encourages your cat to look forward to the next one.
Cats get mats from time to time, especially behind the ears, in the armpits, on the backside of the back legs and on the tail. Tease these out with your fingers, or try using a damp cloth. See your veterinarian to remove mats too difficult to remove or too close to the skin instead of trying to cut them out at home with scissors.
The condition of your pet's coat and skin are an indication of his overall health. While brushing, look for signs of excessive chewing, scratching or licking that can be caused by parasites, allergies, wounds and stress.
Signs to look for include redness or inflammation; rashes or scabs; dry, scaly or bald patches; and lumps. Schedule an appointment with your vet if you notice any of these abnormalities.
Other things to consider:
• Make sure your cat's paws are in tiptop shape. Check to be sure there are no cuts or sores.
• Check his claws. Cats who spend part of the time outdoors or love to use their claws on scratching posts (and hopefully not on the back of the couch) may wear down their claws so they never need to be trimmed.
Most indoor-only cats, however, need regular nail trimmings every couple of weeks so their claws don't grow inward into their pads. Have your vet demonstrate the procedure before trying it the first time. If you are uncomfortable trimming your cat's nails, your veterinarian can do it for you.
• Your cat's eyes should be clear and bright, and his pupils should be the same size. Any redness, discharge or crusting should be reported to your vet.
• Take a peek inside your cat's ears. Gently fold back the ear and look for sores, wax buildup and redness or inflammation. Put your nose closer and take a whiff. If the ear is smelly, see your vet.
• Healthy cats have clean, white teeth and pink gums free of sores or lumps. Give them a quick brush with a toothbrush and toothpaste specifically formulated for cats. If your cat has bad breath, it is time for a dental cleaning.
If you have never brushed your cat's teeth before, it will take time to get him used to it. Start by simply opening his mouth and lifting the lip. Then try massaging his gums with your fingers. Next, introduce the toothpaste on your finger. Finally, try using a toothbrush.
• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit redbarnpetvet.com, or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 422-1000 (Gilberts).