Turning to see a charging house cat just as it lunges for your face, or finding yourself with a feline on its back with claws and teeth at the ready, daring you to grab its body, those are the moments you know you have too much cat to groom.
We have all started a groom and then realized we made a mistake. As soon as the owner has walked away, the cat transformed itself for battle with teeth, eighteen claws, growling, hissing and spitting all directly focused on you, the groomer.
Since felines are both prey and predator animals, they come well equipped to not only to defend themselves, but to also provide the meat required for a healthy diet. These six to eight pounds of fluff are an adequate opponent to do real damage to the human body, while the twelve– to eighteen–plus–pounders are even more powerful with their jaws and paws. Cat bites can easily result in a serious infection, the loss of a finger, or worse.
So, how do we prevent ourselves from getting in over our heads? Starting with a temperament check at drop–off, clipper testing before any work is done, and knowing when and how to walk away are all key to keeping us safe as groomers.
When I first meet a cat, I know the temperament within seconds. If you work in a salon or mobile unit you can use the cat’s position in the carrier to understand much about temperament. The cat that is hiding in the back is obviously shy, the kitties in the middle tend to be compliant and the ones at the front, ready to get out, are aggressive.
House–call groomers can also gain a lot of information from the first meeting with a cat. I instruct my clients to have their cat in an unused room before I arrive. I sit on the floor, outside the closed door, and run my fingers near the bottom of the door to get the feline’s attention. If the cat does not approach the door, it is usually a shy cat. If the feline is cautiously curious, it tends to be a compliant cat. The cats that are right at the door, ready to investigate, are usually the aggressive ones. Once I have the cat’s attention, I crack the door and offer my finger for the cat to smell. At that point I see the cat for the first time. I then slowly reach to pet the cat. This is the moment where I confirm my initial prediction about the cat’s temperament.
Groomers usually get in trouble for one of three reasons: First, they do not know how to temperament test a cat at check–in. Second, they overestimate their skills or underestimate their ability. For both of those struggles, I would suggest you seek training from a feline–exclusive organization. Third, the groomer accurately assesses the temperament at check–in then the cat changes temperament or the aggression level is elevated at some point during the groom. These cats usually have a short attention span, and when you hit that “magical” time limit, a switch flips and you end up with a very angry cat.
What do you do when you have too much cat? No matter the reason, at some point, we have all had more cat on our hands than we wanted. The good news is that most cats will run back into their open carrier when it is placed in front of them, then you can use a towel to close the door. If the cat has escaped your control and is hiding, wanting to fight or will not run into the carrier, there is no shame in asking the owner to retrieve their cat.
Deciding to walk away from a groom is never a simple choice. There is the embarrassment of sending an unfinished cat home, the concern over the effect it will have on your business and reputation, anxiety over telling an owner their beloved kitty was more than you could safely groom and many other factors to consider.
Damage control is always a concern for any professional or business owner. It is best to make the decision sooner than later when it comes to grooming a cat. If you take on too much cat, there is always the possibility of a serious injury or infection to the groomer. It is ideal to make the decision to send the cat home before you remove it from the carrier.
After accepting a cat for grooming, starting with a nail trim can help you establish if this cat is too much. If you have any hesitation during the nail trim—keeping in mind that any negative behavior is likely to escalate during the groom—send the kitty home for your safety.
If you have started shaving before you decide to send the cat home, things become more difficult. Obviously sending a half–shaved cat home is bad for business. Many times this can be prevented by clipper testing the cat. Simply running the side of your clippers, without a blade, over the cat’s back will let you know if the kitty will get angrier with shaving. If a cat does escalate during clipper testing, really consider your options before you start shaving.
Obviously the best policy is not to accept more cat than you can handle at check–in. Understanding how to temperament test and accurately knowing your skill and ability level go a long way in preventing the start of a groom on a cat that is too much cat. ✂️