By Dr Reeja George P.*
Cats, in general, are very tidy and meticulous about their appearance. They spend hours engaged in their own personal beautification process. Nature has endowed them with specialized tools for this purpose, the most versatile of which is cat tongue that has a small spined surface and assists the cat in her attempt to remove shed hair, dirt, and other debris from every nook and corner of her body. Because of these reasons, cats do not really require to have very extensive brushing sessions. However, in case of medium and long-haired breeds, there is a greater chance for her hairs to become tangled and dirty, and though she is the ultimate expert, your help could go a long way in assisting her in her attempt to beautify herself.
Helping Her Out!
Though cats are experts in this, human intervention through a brushing session does have quite a number of benefits. This exercise is a time for close bonding between you and your kitty, a golden opportunity for you to have a first-hand check on her hair coat, her skin, her eyes, ears and nose, and also to keep yourself alert for any tell-tale signs of our dreaded enemies – those ghastly ear mites, fleas, ticks, and of course any suspicious and worrisome lumps or bumps. Brushing in cat, as in any other species, stimulates the sebaceous glands in her skin to produce a crucial oily secretion sebum, which is very important in keeping cat hair waterproof besides ensuring that her skin remains supple. Brushing helps to maintain the shine on her coat. Human intervention is also more efficient when compared to kitty’s tongue in completely removing shed hair. You can imagine for yourself how much time and effort she would have to take to complete this exercise with her tongue if you quietly observe her. Your intervention could assist her efforts and make a better and more complete evacuation of those fallen hairs, thus preventing matting and tangling of hairs and of course, the formation of those hair balls.
Catch Them Young
Socializing the kitten to human touch is a very important step to make her at ease later on in life. When you get a kitten, it is important that you take steps to get her used to the brushing routine as well. Toothbrushes are good brushing beginning tools in this regard. Make it a soft one and start by gently brushing her face and back. Keep initial sessions short, increasing the length of sessions as time passes so that she gets used to it and in the process, proceed from toothbrush to a brush as well. Gradually, make it a daily playful routine and she will get used to it, enjoying the idea as time passes. Remember to brush in the direction of her fur.
Getting About the Hairy Business
As always, taking her into confidence is the trick. Brushing should begin with the usual introductory sniffs of the brush that you propose to use. Allow her to sniff at it and rub her face on it, as she proceeds to mark it; her chin has patches of sebaceous glands, which secrete oily sebum that she uses to mark her things making them smell ‘kitty’ so that she can identify with it. Then, slowly stroke her with the brush. Her face would be the starting point. Cats generally like being stroked on the face, so you could begin here on her face, cheeks, and head and then proceed to rest of her body. Watch her reaction, and of course, don’t miss those crooning purrs of parental affection as you slowly proceed down between her shoulders and towards her back. All the while, you should reassure her about the brush being her own friend, stopping in between the brush sessions and offering her a smell of the brush so that she feels reassured. As you move towards the tummy, exercise a little caution as kitty generally regards this area strictly as a no entry zone! Tummy area will require a little more of time. May be one brush, one reassuring smell of the brush, then again, a brush of the tummy coat, and again a smell of the brush. She may like to rub herself on the brush instead; that’s quite a good idea – allow her and see how it’s working. Whatever the case, always remember that she is basically a bit timid and watch out for her reaction; depending on your cat’s temperament, keep the session timed to her patience with the brush, remember the areas that you have missed and try to get there in next session.
Is She Happy?
Any interaction with kitty should be carefully monitored for any discomfort and the brushing sessions are no exception. A cat parent who has been bonding well with his or her cat would know when she’s feeling a little irritated. It’s better not to stress her out. Watch out for any signs of discomfort such as rippling of her skin or twitching of her skin, especially on her back as you groom. Also look out for any tail signs of her temper being frayed, such as thumping or swishing of her tail. Irritation can also be reflected in the sharp way she turns her head towards your hand or the brush, flicking of her ears, and of course her all too familiar hissing or growling.
There are many options from which you can choose. There are curved and slanted slicker brushes with very thin hooks, which are ideal for medium to long-haired cats and these are generally used to remove dirt and loose hair. Then, also available is the dual-sided brush with two kinds of brush types on its sides, a fine-toothed side and a soft bristle side, which is suitable for both the short-haired cats as well as the medium-haired ones. Then, we have a brush that comes in the form of a mitten that can be worn by cat parent and brushing can be done by stroking the cat and in the process using the rubber toothed inside to remove those loose hair and dirt. This is good idea for first handers. Then, there are bristle brushes that come with soft bristles and are suitable for grooming all hair types.
Whatever the case, remember that she has to enjoy the experience. This will take time and its better to start early. The benefits of your intervention in her beauty routine lies in the possibilities that these sessions offer for bonding with her and also having a check on general wellness of her body.
*Author is an Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary and AH Extension, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Thrissur, Kerala 680 651