Monday, March 10, 2014

Dirty fur blues: How do I keep my cat clean and still be friends?

Beautiful Zoei


One of our clients asked a great question of us:

I have a question that other cat owners may have: How do you shave kitty's bum and still have kitty like you afterward? We bought clippers and have all the length attachments. When it comes down to it, when kitty cries, I stop trimming.

Our particular situation is Zoei. Her fur is long and when she uses the litter pan, I think she sits right on the litter. It must be difficult for her to hold the stance with one back leg. The result is damp fur and (worse) poo-fur around her bum. We've learned that the deeper the litter, the less mess on her. In the meantime, we use a warm washcloth when necessary. She doesn't like that so we may as well trim her fur. How can we do that with the least amount of invasion? Thank you!!

Exclusively Cats responds:
There are a few things that you can do.

1) Acclimation and desensitization are the key. One of our technicians has been working with my her own new kitten at home, just to get him to accept a comb, let alone the clippers she foresees in his future. Here is what she did:

At first, all Miles would do was bite when the comb came near him.
"When I started, I couldn't get the comb near him - he would flip around and grab my hand and bite me every time I came near him with a comb. Forget trying to comb him while he was in my lap or on the floor - he would roll over and come at me, all points bared - teeth and claws. Fortunately, he had another issue that helped me acclimate him to combing. He also liked to jump on the kitchen table - preferably when people are eating - and steal food. Since he hated combs so much, I thought: "Aha! Two birds, one stone! Either he will end up letting me comb him or he will stop getting on the table!" and started combing him on the table.

"At first, it was just like the floor - teeth and claws - but with food involved. Then, rather than
After 2 months, Miles allows combing, while on the table.
deterring him from the table, he started letting me comb his head, then his mane, then his shoulders, then the base of his tail, then under his tail, then his armpits, and now he is finally letting me comb the tip of his tail (over the course of 2 months). Now he jumps up on the table and lies down, then bats at the comb that I keep there, and looks at me expectantly. I hope that someday, I can start introducing the clippers, because I know he will need it.

"This is my continued plan: I will start by combing him with the clippers sitting nearby (not running). Then I will comb him with the teeth of the clippers (not running). Then I will comb him with the clippers sitting on the table nearby (running), then I will try using the clippers normally, but not shave close to the skin. Then I will attempt to shave close to the skin. I will likely always have to do this on the table, but perhaps I can move him to the counter, or a bathroom counter or another table besides the dinner table. I may have to involve food - no, I will almost definitely have to involve food!"


We don't know if Zoei will let you comb her (or how much of her you can comb) but if she already loves combs, start combing her with the clippers present, next to her. Reward any progress she makes, and don't try to push her too far at each session. Do this daily, or at least every other day. Develop a routine and stick with it, and with baby steps, she will gradually come around.

2) If she is cooperative but vocal, it may help to give Xanax in preparation for grooming. A doctor would have to determine if it is appropriate for her case to use Xanax, but we do use it regularly for cats that are stressed an uncomfortable, for car travel and vet visits. We just gave a dose of Xanax to a calm kitty that is here today because he is stressing out over using his litterbox.

Feliway is another calming product that you can try. Many anti-anxiety treatments take time to build up in the system, but Feliway and Xanax can be used for short term stresses.

3) We are trialing a Thundershirt for our hospital cat, Mr. B, for anxiety issues. We don't have a strong recommendation for this product, yet, but we know that many dogs benefit from this product. We can keep you informed about what our experience with it is.
The Thundershirt may decrease a  cat's anxiety in stressful situations

4) If worst comes to worst, and you just can't do it at home, a professional groomer may be in order - either a groomer that comes to your house, or one who has a brick-and-mortar store that you can visit. If she is still traumatized by a professional groomer, you can schedule her to come in and see us for a trim. Some cats that are terrible at home will be fine here (The same technician who is training her little guy to accept the comb had a cat that she had to bring in here for rear end trims. She kept herself clean until she was quite old, and was too set in her ways to acclimate, but when she came in to the hospital, she was perfectly quiet and docile for her trims). Other cats may benefit from a very short anesthetic experience for their trim.

Whatever the best solution ends up being for you, give LOTS of treats and affection when she makes progress, and she may become more accepting over time.