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Brushing your cat's coat

Sometimes cats just do not know what is good for them. Both cats and humans prefer it if the cat has a sleek, shiny and well-groomed coat. Despite this, most cats do not like being brushed, and some become positively homicidal at the prospect of being bathed. Except in exceptional circumstances it is seldom necessary to bath a cat, especially if the cat has a good brushing regime.

When it comes to grooming, all cats all are by nature very fastidious, but most prefer to do the job personally. Healthy cats will spend hours each day grooming and washing - and in general they take good care of themselves. Nevertheless, from time to time your kitty will need some help to maintain her sleek or fluffy good looks. Cats with long hair require more frequent brushing than short-haired cats. By nature, long-haired cats are harder to keep groomed because the hair has tendency to get matted. This is especially true of outdoor cats which seem to take a perverse pleasure in rubbing against resinous trees or seeing how much of the garden can get entangled in their coats whilst they sprawl out on the grass.

It is recommended that long-haired cats are brushed and combed once a day - in fact some vets recommend that unless you are prepared to groom a long-haired cat every day, you should not get one in the first place. With short-haired cats you probably only need a weekly brush - unless kitty has been particularly assiduous in collecting garden refuse with her coat.

Regular brushing and combing helps to keep a cat's hair in good condition. Brushing not only removes dirt and prevents tangles forming, it also helps to evenly spread the natural oils which the cat produces, which helps to keep the coat shiny. The same oils help to keep the skin irritant-free. On the other hand, matted hair is a paradise for insect pests, and matting can even cause the skin below to stretch and break, leading to infection. So regularly brushing your cat is healthy and useful - but don't expect your cat to see it that way.

Brushing is particularly important during changes of season when cats shed more hair. Outdoor cats tend to shed their hair in the spring and autumn, while indoor cats shed all year long. (This difference is directly correlated to the amount of time your cat is exposed to daylight or artificial light.) Anyone who has felt the sandpapery lick of a cat's tongue will guess that a cat can remove a lot of loose hair for herself when she licks her fur. That is indeed what happens - and when a cat gets hair in her mouth, she swallows it. So when cats groom themselves, they can ingest a great deal of hair, which is later dramatically vomited out as hairballs. Brushing will remove this loose hair before the cat does it for herself and so reduce the production of hairballs (for more information see 'Furballs'). The best way to remove dead hair is to first brush against the direction of the hair growth (expect some initial feline resistance to this idea), and then go with the direction of growth.

There are now a large number of different brushes and combs designed for different types of hair. For short-haired cats you can use a short metal comb to remove loose hair or a rubber brush which is excellent for removing loose hair and giving a soft massage at the same time. Start brushing from the head and slowly make your way to the back. Don't forget to brush down the legs as well. There are also fine-toothed metal combs which are specifically designed to lift fleas out of the coat. Make sure that the comb is short and delicate so you do not damage the skin if you brush too deeply.

For long-haired cats there are larger combs and longer pin brushes. When brushing a long-haired cat it is particularly important to remove any tangles, but don't tug on the tangles too hard. Brush the hair all the way through and don't forget the cat's tummy and legs - but remember some cats are particularly protective of their vulnerable tummy area, and you may need to develop their trust before you can groom there. If your brushing programme goes astray and you find that your cat has somewhat matted hair, do not use scissors to cut the unsightly clumps from your catís fur because that can cause injury. Instead use a metal comb (often referred to as a Greyhound comb) to remove the matted fur. Start picking at it gently till the mat loosens up. It is sometimes tempting to tug harder to get the mat out, but would you like someone to do that to your hair? When the mat is at the bottom of the hair, hold the hair in one hand while brushing the ends, so that the cat will not even feel the tugging. It you really, really, must use scissors, make sure they are blunt-ended.

It is a good idea to use a damp cloth or a wet hand at the end of brushing. That will help to remove any remaining loose hair.

If your cat is not used to being brushed, don't expect her to like it at once. Cats are natural conservatives, and very suspicious of anything new or out of the ordinary. After all, when a cat has dedicated herself to making her life just perfect, the obvious response to any innovation is to resist it. If you discover that your cat does not want to be brushed (and you probably will) take it slowly. Use the brush for a short time and when you see that your cat's patience is fast expiring, let go. It is better to brush often for short periods than to force a long session. That may result in the cat making an unpleasant association with grooming, and next time you pick up the brush the cat will be nowhere to be found.

It is important to choose for grooming a time when the cat is relaxed - after a meal is good - and therefore more willing to put up with brushing. Never try brushing a cat when she is grooming herself or during meal times. If your cat is particularly resistant to brushing, start by using your hand. Brush with your fingers, rubbing the cat at the same time. Concentrate on areas where your cat likes to be petted, such as around the base of the tail. Once she is fully relaxed, change for the brush. If you don't succeed the first time, don't give up. Try experimenting with different brushes and combs to find the one that your cat likes the most. At the end of the session, you can offer the cat a treat. If she wants to hide away and sulk about your behaviour let her do so - forgiveness is generally a mealtime away.

In a multicat household, its best to have brushes for each cat. Like humans, cats are individuals and each will have a brush or comb she prefers. If you do use the same brushes for your cats make sure they are cleaned after brushing each cat. The brushes will retain traces of the last cat, which if not cleaned off, could be distressing for the next cat which will resent being forcefully made to wear another cat's scent. More importantly, if one of your cats has any sort of skin infection, sharing a brush that hasn't been cleaned is likely to spread the problem further.


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