Take It from a Vet... Cats Need Grooming, Too!

Derm Connection

Take It from a Vet… Cats Need Grooming, Too!

As a veterinarian, when dealing with passionate cat clients, their hope is for us to recognize that cats have unique qualities, very different from their drooling canine counterparts. 

One of the most striking differences between cats and other animals is their barbed tongue which allows them to efficiently self-groom. Also, a normal, healthy cat can get by with minimum groomer intervention, but this doesn’t mean that grooming isn’t necessary. It simply means that if the cat is healthy and able to groom, then it can do parts of its grooming independently. 

However, due to the fact that the skin turns over every 21 days (keratinization cycle), it is always a good idea that we assist by bathing monthly to help remove the dead and dying cells from the skin. Even though cats can groom and remove the dead hair by themselves, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is best for their wellbeing. 

Good self-grooming will sometimes lead to hairballs and vomiting, which can cause dehydration and secondary urinary tract infections, especially in the major shedding cycle times. With a long-haired cat, this is usually anticipated, but it also occurs with short-haired cats. If you understand the process, then it can usually be prevented, or at least dealt with to avoid major health issues.

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When a cat licks and swallows the hair, it accumulates in the stomach. The stomach, as it contracts, will cause the hair to matt just like a friction area on a dog. Once this forms, the cat either has to vomit it up or it is going to pass through the digestive tract. Both can create health issues. If vomited up easily, all is good. If the cat vomits multiple times and is unable to get it up, then often the cat will get dehydrated. In the same token, if it passes through the intestines, it can constipate the cat, and they either stop eating/drinking, or vomit as a response. Once again, creating a dehydration situation. 

Due to the dehydration, many of these cats will not produce as much urine and then get secondary urinary tract infections. This is especially a problem with a lot of indoor, obese male cats. They often form stones and become blocked (unable to urinate). Good grooming and home care can play a big role in the prevention of these issues. If they are already in this cycle, fluids given by the veterinarian may help avoid issues and make the groom easier.

Cats can also experience health issues that minimize or eliminate their ability to groom, thus creating a situation that leads to the need to shave a cat down. Recognizing the issue and dealing with it early is very important for the prevention of shave-downs. If a cat stops grooming, that is something that needs to be addressed and not ignored. 

Some of the issues that we see are metabolic or hormonal, arthritis, poor conditioning after we groom, allergies, and dry hair and skin secondary to environmental factors. If the cat is over seven years of age (although issues can occur at any age), we need to consider bloodwork to make sure that there isn’t something health-wise going on. Typically what is observed, is a dry coat, often with a color change and greasy skin. 

The greasy skin is the body’s way of trying to compensate for the fact that the skin is irritated. Try to avoid the temptation to “degrease” these cats, because by doing so, you send the cat’s body into shock and they will just produce more grease as a response. What we really need to do is to confirm that there are no underlying health issues and then condition (hydrate) these coats to soothe the irritation versus making it worse. 

These are prime cases for a condition-shampoo-condition technique. The first condition will break down the oils and start the hydration process. The shampoo will clean off the excess oils. And then, by using a very hydrating conditioner, you will calm and soothe the skin. Correctly done, many of these cats will return to grooming normally which minimizes future issues.

Areas that are common issues with many of our older cats are arthritis and obesity. They get to the point where they physically can no longer groom. This is where it becomes very important for the groomer to assist in the process. These cats are typically older, and similar to older people, they don’t have the ability to control their temperature well so shaving them down is really not the best solution. It does take a commitment from the owner and the groomer to be able to maintain them. Grooming just once a month or every other month is not realistic to control this issue. Daily brushing with a hydration or light spray is ideal for keeping their coats well maintained.

Cats are unique and have a whole different set of problems and needs in order to maintain healthy hair and skin. But once you learn how to deal with the fabulous feline species, grooming them can be a very rewarding aspect of your career. ✂️

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Dr. Cliff Faver

Dr. Cliff Faver graduated with a BS in Biology/BA in Chemistry before getting a Veterinary degree in 1987. He is the past owner of Animal Health Services in Cave Creek, Arizona and now the US distributor for Iv San Bernard products, teaches the ISB Pet Aesthetician Certification program, and speaks internationally on hair and skin. His passion is to merge groomers and veterinarians to aid in helping and healing pets. He is also a member of AVMA, AAHA, AZVMA, Board member with Burbank Kennel Club, and has served on Novartis Lead Committee, Hill’s International Global Veterinary Board, and a Veterinary Management Group.

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