Although most cats do a credible job when it comes to keeping themselves well-groomed -- better than a great many humans, in fact -- even the most proficient can use a little help on a regular basis. For some cats, help's not really an option: Cats with long, silky coats or those who are old or ill need help to keep everything just so.
Introduce combing, brushing, claw-trimming and bathing into your cat's routine slowly, building up his tolerance over time. Watch for early signs of annoyance while you work with him, and call it a day when you see them. The tail provides the clues: Rapid flicking is the sign of a cat who has just about had enough. Don't push further: You could get scratched or bitten.
Start your cat's grooming regimen with combing and brushing. For short-haired cats, all you need is to run a fine-toothed comb through his coat to collect any stray hairs and then brush to bring out the gloss. For shorthairs, bathing is a judgment call: If someone in your home is allergic to cats, rinsing your pet weekly will help; otherwise, you can move on to nail-trimming.
Long-haired cats need a little more attention. Part the coat in sections and gently comb through all the tangles. For mats, work a little cornstarch in and tease them out. The worst mats will have to be sliced through with scissors or even cut out. If your cat is nothing but mats, the kinder course is to have a groomer shave him down. Some longhairs have problems with mats under their tails and between their legs, allowing litter, urine and feces to collect there. Keeping the coat trimmed short in these areas will solve this problem.
No matter what your cat thinks, bathing won't kill him -- or you either, for that matter. A kitchen sink with a spray nozzle is easiest on your cat and your back. Flea shampoos meant for dogs can be dangerous for your cat, so use a product designed only for cats. A towel or a small window screen in the bottom of the sink will give your cat something to sink his claws into -- besides you, that is -- and make him feel more secure.
Take a firm hold on your cat at the scruff of his neck and ease him into an empty sink. Hold the nozzle close -- cats don't like to be sprayed -- and wet him down thoroughly with warm water. Lather him up, then rinse thoroughly and follow with a cream rinse or detangler if your cat has long, silky hair. Towel him gently dry and then let your cat stalk off haughtily -- he's earned it. Keep him where it's warm until he's completely dry.
Now, what about those claws?
Trimmers come in either guillotine- or scissor-type, and it really doesn't matter which you use. You'll need one other thing, though: Kwik-Stop powder, which will stop any bleeding should you accidentally nick the vein inside the claw. Press gently on the paw to expose the claw, and look for the pink vein in the center. Cut just beyond the pink line, or, if you can't really tell where it is, cut just the hook of the claw away. As always, be aware of your cat's body language: If one claw is all he'll tolerate, try another tomorrow.
Follow every grooming session with praise, play or treats. If you're consistently positive and patient, your cat will soon learn to tolerate -- or even enjoy -- your grooming time together.
PETS ON THE WEB: Breed rescue is a national grassroots effort by responsible breeders and others fanciers of purebred dogs to give homeless purebreds another chance. If you have your heart set on a particular breed of dog, you can find some wonderful pets by contacting volunteers who work to rescue, foster and place that breed. Most dogs are spayed or neutered and current on their vaccinations when offered for adoption, and the cost is usually just enough to cover the expenses of those procedures. To find out more about breed rescue, visit the American Kennel Club's Web site (http://www.akc.org), and check out their National Breed Club Rescue Network, with the names and phone numbers of contacts for each of the AKC's nearly 150 breeds.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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