Why senior cats need special handling

“A retrospective study revealed that 22 percent of cats over 1 year old and 90 percent of cats over 12 years old had radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease.”

This is why I use plenty of towels when I groom a senior cat.  They rest on soft surfaces. If they’re not heavy, I even support their body while bathing them. The little things count.


A Veterinarian’s Best Friend is a Groomer

Ha ha, very funny. You humans are a laugh riot.
Ha ha, very funny. You humans are a laugh riot.

Veterinarians and cat groomers are a match made in heaven.  Too bad many veterinarians are blind to this perfect pairing.  They treat cat groomers as if we were foie gras, a weirdly decadent extravagance of no real benefit to anyone.  In fact, we are more like corn on the cob or string beans.

Injuries and conditions I have found while grooming cats include . . .

Collar so tight that fur underneath has worn away

Obesity to the extent that the cat looks like a massive meatloaf of discomfort

Ear infection

Eye infection

Third eyelid swollen

Ingrown claws

Urinary tract infection


Tooth decay

Nicks that have turned into open wounds

An average cat grooming visit lasts 60 minutes. An average veterinary clinic exam lasts 15 minutes.

Yet there are still veterinarians, and those fierce guardians of the veterinary clinic known as receptionists, who openly scoff at cat grooming.  They tell owners, “You can do the grooming yourself,” without noting that few owners WANT to do the grooming.

These are the same veterinarians who eagerly scan articles titled, “How to Make Your Clinic Feline Friendly.” They sign up for workshops where they study ways to lure cat owners to their premises, complaining that out of the thousands of cats in the city, only tiny percentage will see a veterinarian.

Here’s a brilliant way for veterinarians to lure cat owners into a veterinary clinic. Support the work of the groomers who act as your eyes and ears.

Hisses, scratches and bites. Cat grooming escalating to bites.

Scenarios for cat grooming escalating to cat bites.

1. Cat groomer enters home –> cat runs away, hides, hisses and swats at owner when owner reaches for cat. Tries to bite groomer before groomer starts grooming. Hiding, hissing, swatting, biting not caused by grooming, because that behavior started before grooming. Among possible causes are illness, lack of social experience, rough treatment in the past, disturbance in the home, or presence of other pet who is threatening to the cat.

2. Cat groomer enters home, starts to groom cat –> cat remains quiet for 15 – 30 minutes. Meows, hisses, then swats or attempts to bite after 15-30 minutes. Cause of behavior may be unrelated to groomer or related to groomer.  Possible non-groomer causes of behavior: another pet walked into room, children or strangers walked into room, vacuuming or other loud noises, illness, soreness, feeding time. Possible groomer causes of behavior: groomer pulling on skin, groomer pressing on arthritic area, pinching the scruff with overly tight grip, making sudden movements or loud noises. * Cats often won’t express pain when nicked or when the clipper blade is hot, so these are not likely causes for bite.

Methods for avoiding escalation to bites: Don’t rush. Rushing –> tugging, pulling, pinching –> discomfort –> bites.  If cat is agitated before grooming begins, can wear gloves, apply snap-on e-collar, wrap cat in towel.

Cats and Hip Dysplasia

Brushing, combing and washing the hip area —> discomfort/pain, or fear of discomfort/pain, expressed by moving away, hissing, swatting or biting.

Methods for grooming with minimal discomfort –> brush/comb haunches in very brief spurts of activity, pausing when cat expresses discomfort. Avoid pressing/pulling rear legs and don’t exert pressure on haunches/hips. Use blow-dryer + extremely light-touch brushing to blow out excess fur instead of dematting with a comb. Trim mats with ball-tip scissors (comb inserted between scissors and skin) instead of dematting with a comb. Heat may decrease soreness. Warm room, warm to almost hot water, warm to almost hot blow dryer. Wrap cat in large towel to prevent flailing of legs or twisting of hips. Rub ears and cheeks to soothe anxiety. Work fast.

Maine Coons are more likely than other breeds to have hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia –> discomfort when bending rear legs –> may increase likelihood of urinating outside litter box.

Very fat cats. Try to help them lose weight.

“I’m busy.” “I don’t know how to do it.” “She cries if I don’t give her more food.” “She’s lonely and the food makes her feel better.” “She’s cute this way.” “Losing weight can be dangerous.”

Trying to help your very fat cat lose weight is easier and less costly than the injections, veterinary visits, grooming sessions, oral medications and sadness you’ll experience as severe obesity takes its toll on your cat. I’m not talking about a chubby cat or even a fat cat. I’m talking about very fat cats who waddle instead of walk. They can’t jump. They can’t play. Humans have dominion over the world. Besides which, we buy the kibble. Surely we can figure out a way to help the pussy cat lose weight.  That stuff inside our head is called a brain. We can use it to do cool stuff like help our pets. Just takes perseverance and creativity.

Arthritis in older cats & grooming matted seniors

Imagine what it would be like if a hairdresser pulled on your grandmother’s arms and legs while doing her hair.  Would your grandmother be happy or upset?  Would you feel good about the situation, or would you feel worried?

Grooming the older, matted cat poses challenges which are distinct from the challenges involved in grooming a young or middle-aged cat. Cats whose fur is matted require either de-matting with a comb/brush, or shaving/trimming the fur, in addition to bathing. Bathing relieves the skin of excess oil, dandruff and dirt.  Trimming the claws is part of the health care process, since elderly cats can develop ingrown claws which penetrate the paw pad.

A younger cat may object to being groomed, but as long as the groomer is careful, discomfort can be avoided.

With an older, matted cat, discomfort may be unavoidable due to arthritis.

“In one study published in 2002, 90% of cats over 12 years of age had evidence of degenerative joint disease. This included cats with so-called ‘spondylosis’ of the spine (a form of degenerative joint disease). However, even when these cases were excluded, around ⅔ of the cats still had radiographic signs of arthritis affecting the limb joints. More recent studies have shown radiographic evidence of arthritis in the limb joints affecting between 60% and more than 90% of cats. All these studies show that arthritis is actually very common in cats, that it is much more common (and more severe) in older cats, and that the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees (stifles) and ankles (tarsi) are the most commonly affected joints.”

(Published in International Cat Care, “Arthritis and degenerative joint disease in cats.”)

I prefer to groom senior cats on a two to four week schedule, so that mats don’t get the chance to form.  When shaving matted underarms and groins, it is difficult to avoid holding the elderly cat in a position that will put stress on their joints, since the skin must be stretched taut to avoid nicking their fragile skin.

The best option is frequent brushing and combing sessions with a cat groomer, so that the stresses of shaving can be avoided. Letting the cat live with mats is not an option.  Mats pull at the skin, prevent air circulation, and create fertile ground for infection.

It is far easier to gently brush fur and comb fur than it is to complete a full body shave.  Think of your grandmother (the nice one, not the mean one) . . . now call the cat groomer.

Cinnamon, I miss you!