Using Behavioral Cues to Determine Feline Temperament

By Deborah Hansen

As feline groomers, we need to do everything in our power to make each groom as safe and stress free as possible for both the groomer and the cat. Quickly identifying compliant, aggressive and shy temperaments in cats, and then knowing the general guidelines to use with that temperament during the grooming process will help to make your cat grooming flow smoothly.

Determining Temperament

To begin, we need to focus on the feline’s behavior at check–in. The moment a cat is presented to you, you can tell many things about the cat from the behavior it is presenting at that moment. While some cats enter the grooming environment in a crate, many come by some other form of transportation. While observing a cat in a carrier can be easy, asking questions about why the feline is not in a crate can provide you with a wealth of information.

When an owner presents a cat to you in a crate, the cat is easy to observe. If you place the carrier on a flat surface and give the feline a minute to recover from the jostling of being carried, you can then observe the cat’s temperament.

If a cat is curious yet cautious in the carrier, we will consider this type of cat compliant. You can test this by wiggling your fingers on the outside of the crate near where the cat is positioned inside. This will intrigue a compliant feline.

A cat is obviously aggressive if there is growling and hissing coming from the crate. Aggressive cats are usually located near the front of the crate and appear ready to run out as soon as the door is opened.

It is also important to know that aggressive cats can sneak by the best of us as compliant until they unexpectedly attack. Some aggressive cats will instantly turn from compliant to aggressive as if an internal switch has been activated.

Shy cats are easily identifiable as the ones in the back of the carrier hiding under a towel or their sibling. These cats will look like they are hoping to blend into their environment and vanish from sight. While the shyness is the key factor in handling these cats, keep in mind, out of fear, they will become compliant or aggressive.

When a cat is presented to you that is not in a crate, it is important to determine if the owner just does not have or believe in crates or if the cat has a true crate issue. Asking the owner what happens when the feline is put into a crate not only helps you understand the cat, but establishes confidence in you as the professional and assures the client that you truly care about them and their cat.

If the owner shares with you that the feline will go into the carrier and they prefer not to use one, we can establish that the cat probably falls into the compliant category. On the other hand, if the cat puts out all fours, makes terrible noises, and bites and scratches, it can be tricky to pick up on its temperament. By asking a follow up question you can glean a wealth of information.

“What happens after you let the cat go?”

Does the cat run and hide under the bed or in the closet? If the feline hides following the episode, it may fall into the shy category. Does the cat turn and fight? Does the cat swat at you for the rest of the day? These cats are usually the aggressive cats.

If an owner tells you the cat is “mad at me” for attempting to put it in a crate, it is important to continue the conversation by asking, “How does your cat show you it is mad?” While asking questions takes time, it puts the owners at ease and will help you establish how to begin the grooming of this cat.

Compliant, Aggressive, Shy, Now What?

A compliant cat is slightly curious in the carrier. The grooming process will go smoothly for these cats. These cats will lie on your grooming table, stand for the bath and make the grooming process easy and enjoyable for everyone involved. As you develop and refine your grooming techniques, these cats will become the highlight of your day.

Aggressive cats are usually the growly, hissy cats. However, they can be calm at check–in and spring a sneak attack as soon as the grooming begins. These felines need the groomer to be quick, precise and intentional during the groom. This type of cat moves very fast and will lunge or attack without hesitation. To combat their speed, your best course of action is to distract then grab, always keeping yourself out of the bite zone and out of their line of sight. Taking these cats right to the bath will take away the majority of the fight in them.

Shy cats will become compliant or aggressive out of fear. While keeping in mind the secondary temperament characteristic (compliant or aggressive), the cat needs to be foremost treated as a shy cat. Shy cats need to feel safe and secure. Often times, these cats will push their heads into your body, towel or anything else they hope to “disappear” into. By covering their heads during the grooming process, holding them close to you and making sure to support their bodies, they will retain their shy tendencies and be easier to handle.

When shy cats become aggressive, offering a way to “hide” will provide security, reassuring them in the grooming process. It is also important to stay out of the bite zone since the cat may strike unexpectedly. Sometimes a short break, calming massage or just holding the cat close to your body will help the cat build up the confidence needed to continue the groom without outbursts of aggressive behavior.

When an owner hands you a cat, it is important to observe the behaviors the cat is exhibiting. Using general feline grooming techniques with knowledge of temperament types, then fine tuning them to meet the specific cat you are grooming will provide a positive experience for the feline, owner and groomer. ✂

Deborah Hansen, CFMG, CFCG, is the owner of a successful feline exclusive house call business, Kitty’s Purrfect Spa in California. She is the creative talent behind Feline Artistic Creations and founder of “Deborah’s Programs,” a complete rebooking program for cats. Deborah is also the owner and creator of Kitty’s Kopy Kats, a stationary store for cat groomers, and author of multiple articles in Groomer to Groomer magazine, Purrfect Pointers and local publications on the topics of feline grooming, issues that affect felines, and business growth. She teaches, speaks and consults on the topics of all things feline, including grooming, environment, behavior, and creative grooming. Additionally, she teaches business and online presence for groomers. deborahhansen.com

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