6 Tips to Teach Your Cat to Enjoy Brushing

Cats are wonderful about grooming themselves and keeping the dirt and debris out of their coats.

I’m sure all cat owners have marveled at the contortions their cats go through to clean the various parts of their body. It’s amazing.

That said, our cats shouldn’t have to do all their own grooming. I regularly brush and comb my cats so that I can help prevent hair balls. I hate hearing my cats cough, hack and then throw up a lump of hair, saliva and stomach contents. Yuck! If I brush my cats two or three times a week, I can drastically reduce hairballs and since one of my cats, Scottie, is a long-haired cat, that’s important.

I also feel that regular brushing can help in my overall care of my cats. Since my cats are used to my handling of them, I can check for fleas, look for cuts, scrapes or other problems and thus make caring for them easier. If one of the cats needs his ears cleaned, for example, because he’s used to this handling, it’s far less traumatic than it might otherwise be.

Brushes and Combs

There are many different types of brushes and combs available for grooming cats. Most are smaller in size than those used for dogs but some can be used for both species.

Some of the most commonly used tools include bristle brushes, pin brushes, combs and flea combs. A bristle brush has many soft bristles, usually made of a synthetic material but in years past, boar’s hair was often used. This is particularly good for a short-haired cat. A pin brush is better for a long-haired cat as it will move through the coat rather than over the coat. This brush has metal pins instead of bristles, often with a tiny round ball on the end of each pin so that the skin isn’t scratched.

A regular pet grooming comb is a metal comb with wider teeth at one end and narrower teeth on the other.  This can be used on the coat after brushing to find any remaining tangles. It is also more effective at working out tangles than a brush. A flea comb has fine teeth spaced close together and is designed to pull the fleas out of the coat. It’s more easily used after the coat has been combed first; otherwise the flea comb will get caught in any clumps or tangles.

If you’re not sure about what brushes or combs will work best, talk to a local groomer. She’ll be happy to advise you, especially if you bring your cat in for a bath. After all, it’s much easier for her to work with a pet who has been well cared for at home in between visits to the grooming shop.

Don’t Hesitate to Use a Treat

Although cats are usually not as food-motivated as dogs, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a few treats to make grooming more acceptable. The only time my cats get tuna (which they love!) is during grooming sessions. This makes brushing, combing and other grooming chores much more acceptable to them.

A tiny bit of tuna is a great motivator to accept a few swipes of the brush or comb. A larger bit at the end of the brushing session is a reward for calm cooperation. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your cat learns this.

You can also use a few bits of cooked salmon, other cat treats or even a favorite canned cat food. In the beginning, though, it’s especially important to use a special treat your cat normally doesn’t get. To work as a motivator and reward, it needs to be special.

©istockphoto/RyersonClark

©istockphoto/RyersonClark

Start Young

If you have a kitten, this is the best time to begin introducing brushing. Kittens wiggle a lot, are somewhat fragile and are way too cute; all of which makes it difficult to hold them still for any kind of grooming. If you do fifteen seconds of brushing or combing to start, however, that’s great. It’s an introduction to the process and that’s the whole idea.

Use a small, soft-bristled brush or a fine-toothed comb and, while you hold the kitten, gently touch him with the brush or comb. Let him sniff it but don’t let him attack it; you don’t want him to think fighting the grooming tools is acceptable. Gently brush or comb the kitten a few times and then let him go. Repeat this often until he’ll relax in your hands. As he relaxes, you can gradually extend each brushing session.

Choose the Time Wisely

Since you want your brushing sessions to be calm, don’t try to brush your cat when the kids are running around the house, the dog is barking or your cat has just been bouncing off the walls with a catnip toy. Instead, choose a moment when he’s just eaten and has a full tummy, is relaxed on the cat tree or sofa or when he’s curled up on your lap. Calm and quiet is the key.

I keep a cat brush next to my favorite chair in the living room and when one of the cats is cuddled up with me, I’ll use that brush to groom him. If I have to get up to find a cat brush, the moment is ruined, so I make sure I put it back in the same spot when I’m finished. You can do the same thing with treats; if your cat has a certain time when he likes to cuddle, have treats close by as well as the brush and comb.

Brushing Techniques

If you also have a dog, you know that they are, for the most part, pretty accepting of just about anything we do. You can begin brushing anywhere on their body, you can brush with the coat or against it and your dog will put up with it. As a general rule, cats are not like that.

Always brush with the coat, moving the brush or comb in the direction the hair grows. If you back brush your cat, the grooming session will probably be over and you’ll be lucky if the only thing she does is meow in disgust and stalk away. Since there really isn’t any reason to back brush her coat, that’s okay. If she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t like it.

As you brush her, if you come upon a tangle in the coat, switch to a comb and gently work it through the tangle. Be careful not to pull the hairs. If the comb doesn’t work it out, use a drop of hair conditioner (your own is fine) and work that into the tangle, then comb it out. If you just use a drop of conditioner, it doesn’t need to be rinsed out although you can blot it with a paper towel.

Never trim out a matt or tangle. Your cat’s skin is thin and flexible and if the hair is pulled straight out so that it can be trimmed, the skin will pull up also. Many cats have needed stitches because their owner tried to trim out a tangle. If you can’t work it out with conditioner and a comb, leave it alone and ask either your groomer or veterinarian to remove it for you.

Once you’ve brushed your cat from her ears down to her tail (either in one session or multiple sessions) then follow up by combing her. The comb will catch the last of the dead coat, the undercoat or any debris the brush missed.

Know Your Cat

Since you want these brushing sessions to be calm and peaceful, it’s important to know your cat. If your cat hates to have her belly rubbed, don’t begin by grooming her belly. Two of my cats, Kirk and Spock, have to be in the right mood to accept belly rubs. Scottie on the other hand loves to have his belly rubbed and so for him, I can begin every brushing session there. Some cats can be sensitive about their tail, others their head.

Pay attention as you begin to brush and learn what is most easily accepted and what is not. Then start with the favorite spots and end the session with the least favorites. Always use a treat during and after the least favorite spots.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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