Many cat owners want their cats shaved; however, they do not want their cats to look like they are wearing a pair of fashion boots. This can be a real challenge for many groomers and grooming business owners. While we know the position of the leg line is important, we are not always able to explain the importance of the leg line position to our clients. Understanding why the leg line is positioned where it is will not only assist you in educating your clients, but will help to establish you as a professional and increase the likelihood of that client returning to you in the future.
The position of the front leg line is important because it preserves the whiskers on the rear of the feline’s front leg. These carpal whiskers are important when it comes to the function of the paw. When a cat catches and holds onto something such as a toy, human or prey, the carpal whiskers trigger the nerve which sends a signal to the brain about the exact location and movement of the item the cat has in their paw. By simply showing these whiskers to the client, they will instantly understand why the front legs cannot be shaved all the way down to the paw.
Most cat owners understand the importance of not altering whiskers; however, if the cat owner is not aware of the importance of not cutting or removing whiskers, this is an excellent opportunity to educate the client. Spending a little time discussing whiskers goes a long way to establishing you as the expert in your field.
But what about the back legs? The problem with shaving past the hocks on the shank of a feline is that the nerves, tendons and blood vessels run closer to the skin than in other parts of the body. Oftentimes the skin is indented or pulled into the space between the fibula and tibia.
Keeping in mind how unexpectedly a feline can make a quick, random movement, the risk almost always outweighs the benefits of shaving past the hock. What would be a quick–to–heal nick on any other part of a cat’s body can easily become a cut to a blood vessel, tendon or muscle with lifelong consequences. Even if it is a “good” calm cat, the potential harm to your business’s reputation—or to the cat—is usually greater than the benefit of shaving the lower rear legs.
When a client requests the lower back legs shaved to the paw, I have the cat owner feel that area on their cat. Then I explain it is simply not safe to shave into the indented area. Explaining how the nerves, tendons and blood vessels run right under the skin in that area is usually enough to help the client understand the potential danger of removing the coat from the lower rear legs of a feline.
Even after explaining your reasoning behind the positioning of the feline leg lines, a few clients will still be insistent on removing the coat on the lower legs. These clients can be tricky. The way I have approached this dilemma in the past is by telling the cat owner I am happy to remove the coat on the lower legs with a written note from their veterinarian. Most will not bother, and if they do speak to their veterinarian, I know my local veterinarians understand the danger and will educate these clients on why they will not promote shaving the lower legs of a feline.
Another approach is to simply tell the cat owner you are not comfortable with their requests and suggest that a different groomer may be able to better meet the goals for their feline’s haircut.
Now that the reason behind the placement has been explained, how exactly do we find the correct spot on each feline for the leg lines?
On the front legs, the goal is to make your line at the bend of the leg when the leg is gently extended. To achieve this, position the cat in a way that is comfortable for you to work. I like to lay the cat on their back in my lap, then gently extend the leg by holding onto the bottom of the leg or base of the paw. Once the leg is extended, shave down the front from the shoulder towards the paw. Your blade will hit the natural bend at the elbow. This is where the front leg line is placed. After the front line is set, begin the side lines by shaving from the shoulder down the leg. Pull the skin from the back of the leg to either side to complete the leg line.
The back leg line is made at the top of the hock. I shave down the outside of the leg from the body toward the paw and stop at the hock. I then move to the inside of the leg, starting at the hock and shave up towards the body. Next, I move to the front of the leg, finishing with sliding the skin on the back of the leg to either side to form a tight surface in order to make the rear leg line.
By seeing the cat’s legs as square or rectangular prisms and marking a starting point with your clippers, you can set the leg line on each side of the leg. If you were to look at the leg as a circle or column, your leg line will tend to spiral downward and never appear straight from a distance. To better define your leg line, finish by shaving between the leg line and the body in the opposite direction.
Knowing exactly where to make the leg line can seem like a mystery until we understand the reasoning behind the placement. As groomers it is important to understand not only how to get clean and polished leg lines, but to also understand how the position of the leg line benefits the feline. Once we have an understanding of why the lines are positioned where they are, it is much easier to educate clients on the importance of placement of each leg line. ✂️