Brushing your cat regularly is an often overlooked but important task. Regular brushing not only keeps fur from getting tangled and matted but also encourages good circulation and allows you to inspect for any issues such as fleas, worms or injuries.
The trick is to make sure you’re doing it right. (Hint: If it takes you 1 minute and you’ve barely got any hair off, you’re doing it wrong.)
For some tips on good brushing technique, I talked with Melissa Linhares-Upton, groomer at The Wicked Groom in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
1. Figuring That Cat’s Self-Grooming Is Enough
Many people see their cats grooming constantly and assume it’s enough. Well, it’s not. “The biggest mistake people can make is not brushing their cat, especially when their cats are older,” says Linhares-Upton.
There’s too much hair for a cat to take care of on his own. He needs help removing excess hair, especially during heavy shedding seasons. As a cat enters his senior years, it becomes even more difficult to keep himself clean.
So brush your cat frequently. Linhares-Upton advises brushing at least 1 or 2 times per day for longhaired breeds and 1 to 3 times per week for the shorthaired cats. Brush more often during a high shedding season.
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2. Using the Wrong Brush
Before you begin, make sure you have the right tool in hand. There are many types of brushes and combs out there, so do your research.
My cat, Harrison, has a ton of hair. It’s long, dense and prone to matting when I don’t brush it. If I were to use a comb or brush designed for shorthaired cats, the shorter teeth wouldn’t reach down into his undercoat. The brushing would be fruitless — I’d be missing lots of loose hair.
Most brushes and combs are pretty cheap and totally worth it.
3. Brushing Against the Direction of the Coat
Some people (and even some groomers) say you should brush against the direction of the fur.
But not so fast. Reactions on this are mixed, but Linhares-Upton advises against it: “I think it pulls more when you go against the grain, kind of like when you were little and someone pulled your hair into a ponytail too tightly. It made you want to stand on your tiptoes, and it hurt.”
Most cats are not a fan of having their fur brushed away from its natural direction, and you could earn yourself an annoyed swipe. If you use this method, think about brushing with the fur’s natural direction but then using a blower to go against it.
Linhares-Upton uses exactly this method. “When I use the blower, I go against the coat because it helps remove loose hair,” she says. “But I always brush with the coat.”
When you’re deciding which way to brush, take into account your cat’s personality. Some cats won’t mind being groomed in any way you choose, but others prefer not to have you mess up their ‘do — and they won’t hesitate to let you know you’ve annoyed them.
4. Trying (Unsuccessfully) to Remove Mats Yourself
Some mats are loose and easily detangled with regular brushing, but others are hard and firmly entrenched. Don’t try to simply rip them off your cat. It will hurt him, and he will come to mistrust both you and the brushing process.
If you are uncomfortable with removing mats, take your cat to a professional groomer to have them clipped off.
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Many veterinary clinics use clippers during checkups to help out, but they frown on appointments geared only toward mat removal. Plus, you’ll pay the regular fee for the vet visit, so going to a groomer will probably save you some money.
Brushing regularly keeps your cat cleaner, improves circulation and health, and allows you to monitor for fleas, ticks or injuries that you might not notice otherwise.
Cats who are brushed regularly also swallow less hair, which means you’re going to be spared one of the worst sounds your cat will make: the dreaded hairball hack.