As a professional groomer with over 20 years experience, I fully understand the exasperation of shedding hair. One of the best marketed pieces of equipment is The FURminator (and other similar knock-offs). Used correctly, can help "card" out excessive undercoat just like the carding and stripping knives used by professional groomers. The issue I have with it is the poor design, and that it does not come with adequate instruction in its usage. Because of this, in the hands of average pet owners, the Furminator ultimately does more damage than good.
Stripping/carding knives are designed with a quality thick blade with teeth on one end and a handle on the other end. The depth and spacing of the teeth will vary by model and make of the carding knife. The purpose of the carding knife is to comb out the excessive undercoat, while still leaving the outer protective guard hair. The tools are used at an approximate 30-45 degree angle to the surface of the pet's skin in a combing motion. The edge of the blade is a millimeter wide, so it is blunt. Even so, I always take new carding knives and scrape the edge on some concrete to ensure there are no sharp edges or burrs.
You would start with the widest and deepest toothed carding knife and successively use finer and narrower models (just like sandpapering) to get the finer undercoat or in shorter more sensitive areas (i.e. head). You know when to stop working an area when you can no longer feel or see longer fuzzy undercoat and the outer guard hair is laying flatter. My favourite quality brand is the Mars Stripping Knives. They last forever, have a wide variety of sizes, work well in tight areas, do a great job with out harm or damage, and the pets enjoy it. They are less expensive than the FURminator.
The FURminator has a thinner blade, and therefore a sharp edge, with tiny teeth. It is designed in the form of a rake, with the handle perpedicular to the cutting edge. Yes I said cutting, as this tool can cut and scrape. The handle design being perpendicular encourages the user to drag and use too much force in order to stay in contact with the hair since the teeth are very tiny. The action means the blade is dragging at a 90 degree angle to the hair, so it is catching and shredding the hair, not combing.
The FURminator is deceptive because it looks like you are removing a lot of hair, but what actually happens is you are scrapping and shredding the outer coat and undercoat hair along the top dorsal, with little focus on the areas that actually have more undercoat, like the hind end and mane. Because the FURminator is indiscriminate by design in which hair is being removed, a user doesn't know when to stop because hair will keep coming off until the damage has been done and bald/damaged areas are apparent.
I can always tell immediately when a pet's owner has been using the FURminator. The hair is literally shredded and the hair cuticles damaged. Because of this, these pets tend to mat more easily, as ragged cuticles absorb more dirt and snag on one another. Underneath, the skin is red and scrapped. Sometimes the damage is so bad that only alternative is to trim off the damaged hair, throw away the Furminator, and start over.
I teach a lot of grooming, and my first rule for newbies is to use a grooming tool on yourself first to understand how it works, feels, and how much pressure or finesse to use. If it is a tool you wouldn't want to use on yourself, chances are you shouldn't on a pet. Keep in mind human skin and hair follicles are twice as thick as a dog, and a dog's skin and hair is twice as thick as a cat. A cat's hair and skin is a 1/4 as fine as humans which makes them especially prone to tearing and damage.
If you want to keep your expensive FURminator investment, I suggest you dull the edge, use minimal pressure in the dragging action, use evenly all over the body, and use frequently for a very limited time.
Yes, your cat needs grooming.
Cats have hair and skin which is constantly in a cycle of shedding and renewal. Cats have very delicate skin and hair, about 1/4 the thickness in epidermis and hair follicle compared to our own human skin and hair. They are 30% more absorbent of chemicals, pollutants, dirt, etc. in their environment than we are. So why do we still believe erroneously that cats are self-cleaning?
Oh yes, they wash themselves. But lets look at this accepted "norm" with fresh eyes and common sense. They wash with spit to disguise their scent from larger predators. Their saliva contains a multitude of bacteria, AND 5 known allergens. This is why cat allergies are more common than dog allergies; you get a double whammy of dander (dead skin) and saliva.
Cats are also very greasy, more so than dogs, as they have an oil gland located along the top of the tail about two inches from the base of the tail. This is a hormonally driven pomade factory. In nature, the build-up of this pomade would be kept in check by swimming, rainfall and moisture from underbrush. For the indoor cat, the oil just keeps building up, creating a greasy coat that dirt and loose hair sticks to creating mats.
If you happen to own a ultra shorthaired cat, that is fit and young, you may not need to bathe your room-mate too often. But if your cat is overweight, long-haired or plush short-haired, has medical issues, or elderly, your cat and you will greatly benefit from a regular grooming schedule. A clean cat feels soft and smooth to the touch. Lumpy/chucky hair with peaks and valleys that separates into strands means your cat is in need of assistance. Mats are a definite sign of a problem that needs addressing as they will not disappear without intervention, and can be prevented by regular grooming.
The benefits of regular grooming include controlled shedding, reduced hairballs, less destruction from scratching, controlled dandruff, less cling-ons from the litter box, clean face and ears, and a pleasantly fresh room-mate who is much happier and affectionate from simply being clean. Cats are very narcissistic creatures!
Below I've posted a few photos of regular cats with different grooming issues. You'll see that it is both short and long haired, because yes, shorthaired cats do need grooming too. All these cats are indoor cats, and none of these cats are an extreme example of neglect. Rather they are cats whose owners needed some guidance as to the maintenance and long term care required to keep their companions in healthy condition.
After browsing the photos below, take a look at your cat with fresh eyes, and ask yourself, "Does my cat need grooming?"
Just for fun I put together a little infographic comparing professional cat grooming with old fashion spit and tongue.
If I licked myself all over would you hug me?
Grooming repairs are required or necessary if your cat is suffering or becomes unpleasant to live with. No different than your car, or your health, if you don't plan on regular maintenance, you are exponentially increasing the odds of an unplanned expensive repair bill.
For a cat owner, grooming repairs can include or uncover mat and pelt removal, imbedded nails, fecal removal, excessive shedding, parasites, dandruff, hair ball prevention, and ear and eye infections. When a serious problem is revealed, there can be another level of repairs required from your veterinary.
You can see how quickly a lack of maintenance can add up to very expensive repairs.
All of these repairs are easily preventable by regular maintenance visits. Figuring out the best maintenance schedule for a healthy cat depends on coat type, age, cat lifestyle, and your athome grooming routine.
In other words, there is a difference in service maintenance for a city driver vs. a highway driver, a fat cat vs. a fit cat, a new car vs. an older car, a young cat vs. an elderly cat, and so on.
If you have a cat in its prime or younger, fit and active, shorthaired, and you are willing and able to do regular athome combing, your cat may only need professional grooming once a season to help keep shedding under control and to wash away built up impurities and dander.
Once a season bathing is a bare minimum of any pet that shares your living space, just from a hygienic point of view. Does the shedding drive you crazy? Does your cat like to share its smelly bottom with you? Do those gross flakes fall off all over your house? Do mats just "suddenly" appear? Then your cat needs more regular maintenance.
If you have a cat that is older, longhaired, overweight, with medical issues or depressed, and you are unable to do regular combing, your cat may need a maintenance schedule of professional grooming every four weeks just to keep your cat from being a health hazard.
Don't begrudge me that our repair costs are going up. Why? Should a client who comes in for regular cat maintenance pay the same as a person who comes in once and a while with a repair job?
Repairs take longer (more time in the bath to get clean, more drying time, more combing time, more dematting or shaving), they are gross, and the cats (understandably) less cooperative. Time and effort = money.
For a certain percentage of clients, suggested regular maintenance falls on deaf ears. They assume a one time visit fixes everything. They are unwilling to realize cats, hair, skin, health, and environment are not static and constantly change. How to make them take notice of a chronic, but preventable problem? Hit them in the pocketbook. An unfortunate truth.
So to my regular clients, rejoice, as you are appreciated (and your cats appreciate you)!
To new clients, welcome, and let me get you on the right path after your first, and only* kitty repair job.
To my intermittent clients, you will be charged appropriately for your ongoing cat repairs.
In the pet grooming world, it's a dog-centric world out there. So while it is the norm to trim the hair on the paws of a dog, is it o.k. for cats?
There are a few things to consider; tradition and practicality.
The majority of dog breeds have the hair around their paws trimmed (if there is some) for practical working reasons. They are heavier and larger, the pads are deeper, and produce more sweat, therefore collect more dirt and debris around the feet. Think of the accumulative difference of snow or mud between cat and dog paws and you get the picture.
There are a couple of dog breeds that require hair on the paws NOT to be trimmed. The Pekingese and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are strictly indoor and formerly "palace" breeds whose hair slippers are prized (it's also prized for deadening the sound of nails on hard floors).
Cats, with shallow pads and being generally light of paw, do not accumulate the volume of debris and dirt comparatively unless they are already very dirty. Dirty greasy hair attracts more debris to stick to it. Regular bathing reduces paw debris.
Most people are unaware that cats have tactile hairs (whiskers) along the back ridge of the limbs and between pads. This provides feedback from the vibrations in the ground. If you feel uncomfortable about the notion of cutting the whiskers on a cat, than don't.
Cat breed standards prize the toe tuffs of cat's paws. They are fluffed up and accentuated during cat shows. But is it practical for pet owners? My advise is if it is causing a problem such as spreading letterbox debris (which can be controlled by having clean paws from regular bathing), or lack of traction for the elderly, have it trimmed. Just be aware you are trimming whiskers and creating a sharp blunt ends instead of a natural supple tapered point.
Dog groomers will automatically trim your cat's paws because that's the norm for dogs. A knowledgeable certified cat groomer won't trim toe tuffs unless you ask.
One of the risks of deciding to do a lion trim is that the hair may grow back irregularly or not at all. This is an excellent article by Cynthia Bauer MS, DVM that explains why it can happen.
Cat bites are very, very serious. While a dog bite may look messy and sore from bruising, a cat bite is insidious. As many doctors have told me, there is no such thing as a little cat bite, because 80% of cat bites become infected.
As a professional cat groomer, I handle many cats of different temperaments through a regular working day. Part of my job is to control and minimize risks for the visiting felines, coworkers, and myself, while giving some guidance to owners. Cats usually bite as a defensive reaction due to fear. Grooming requires intensive and for some cats, intrusive handling because we have to work in some very personal zones to address grooming problems. Mitigating fears is a large part of what a professional cat groomer does to make the grooming process go quickly and smoothly. No one should ever risk handling a fractious cat beyond their comfort zone, but even still, bites can still happen.
Cats are lightening fast, flexible and dexterous, and sport eighteen weapons of mass destruction (claws), plus fangs. Cats vary hugely in their tolerance for handling, and their trust in humans. Do not be fooled into thinking that gloves or cat muzzles can protect you. Cats can easily bite through both. A cat's teeth are perfectly designed to puncture, and deposit bacteria, leaving it to brew deep under your skin.
Inside a cat's mouth there is a lot of different bacteria that is capable of causing tissue infections in bite wounds. One of the most common bacterium is the highly pathogenic, Pasteurella multocida. An infected bite wound will become red, swollen and painful within hours, and the infection can spread through the surrounding tissues. This condition is called cellulitis. It can also spread through the blood to other areas of the body, causing a condition called septicemia, aka blood poisoning. Infected people may suffer from fever and flu-like symptoms, tissue loss, and rarely, can even die without proper medical treatment. The elderly, children, and immune suppressed people are particularly at risk for infections.
More than a couple of my colleagues have received cat bites that have turned into serious infections. What looked like a small puncture on the hand turned into a flaming infection in the blood stream up into the arm. Weeks of I.V. transfusions of antibiotics at the hospital became necessary to stop infection and further tissue damage. Some needed physiotherapy to regain lost hand strength. One required emergency surgery to prevent further tissue damage. An ignored cat bite can put you out of work for weeks or end a grooming career.
So what to do if you are the receiving end of a cat bite?
Remember that antiseptics only reduce microorganisms on the surface of the tissue and what are needed are antibiotics to treat infection within the tissues. Hydrogen peroxide is counter productive on punctures and antibiotic ointment doesn't work sitting on the surface while bacteria breeds and spreads below within your tissue and possibly your bloodstream.
Bottom line: Never treat a cat bite lightly.
Cat scratches are also cause for concern, and that will be discussed in my next blog about cat scratch fever.
You love your cat, and you want the very best for her. You don't want a trip to the groomer to turn into bad experience, or a bad result. This makes most cat owners understandably hesitant, and sometimes even wait too long before seeking professional help for a grooming problem. Here's 7 points to either look for, or ask about when you are looking for the right place to have your cat groomed.
1. No dogs. This means the business has made special provisions for your cat to have a quieter, less stressful experience. Whether it's cat specific grooming days, hours, separate work-space, or a feline exclusive business, this establishment has made an effort to put kitty at ease while it's visiting.
2. A certified cat groomer will insist on bathing your cat as part of the grooming. Grooming means cleaning, actually washing away impurities that cause the hair to mat, plus other debris like the flaky dried saliva people mistake for dry skin, or smelly bottoms. Bathing benefits the long-term health and hygiene of your cat. Water-less sprays or wipes just leave more debris in the hair. Would you use the same approach to clean your hair? Groomers who avoid bathing cats are either inexperienced, or misinformed.
3. A certified cat groomer will offer you choices and solutions for your grooming challenges depending on your lifestyle, grooming issues and budget. Yes, I said choices. There are a variety of styles beyond just shaving to resolve issues from mats, hairballs, excessive shedding, dandruff, etc. They will also recommend long-term solutions or schedule to put your kitty issues at ease.
4. A certified cat groomer is knowledgeable about cats. This means they can identify more than just three cat breeds. They can name the viruses your cat is vaccinated for, they can tell you about where breeds originate from, personality traits, colours and coat types, etc. In short, a pro cat groomer knows as much about cats, as a dog groomer should know about dogs.
5. A certified cat groomer is transparent. They will tell exactly what they can or can't/won't do. They won't hem-and-haw. As Yoda so famously said "Do, or do not. There is no try". They'll talk you through the entire process; what they do, and why. They'll let you have a look around their facility and ask questions. They'll point out the little differences that make their grooming facility cat friendly, for example, the products they use and the grooming tools. You won't be able to participate in the actual grooming process (due to insurance policy coverages), but they won't mind if you want to watch.
6. A certified cat groomer has credentials. Whether it is diplomas of certification on the wall, a portfolio of a body of their own grooming work, or insignias of memberships. They'll post recent pet industry events they've participated in. Don't rely on just photos on a website. These are easily stolen. Ask for proof their credentials.
7. A certified cat groomer won't do dog-centric trimming. This means shaving the legs, the face, trimming whiskers, or trimming pads (although triming toe tuffs can be done on request, it is considered a faux pas by cat fanciers). There are sensitive whiskers that run along the back of the forelimbs and interspersed in the toe tuff hair. The legs have very delicate ligaments and tendons prone to nicking. There is no professional justification in shaving any of these areas.
Dirty? Yes, contrary to what most people believe about the indoor lifestyle, in my professional cat groomer experience, the indoor cats are dirtier than the indoor/outdoor cats. Before you pou pou my statement in disbelief, read further.
All animals appreciate being clean. It's vital to their long term health. In a natural environment, on their own time, cats will seek out light rainy days, roll in snow, sit under downspouts, and are not adverse to the occasional swim. They do this to rinse away impurities and simply because it feels good. So the old myth about cats grooming themselves was largely helped by the fact that they seeked bathing themselves regularly, and didn't reply just on spit. Unless a indoor/outdoor cat has mishaps with unnatural products, like motor oil, or has extra long hair, they can stay in relatively decent condition during their prime years, needing a bath only occasionally.
An indoor cat does not get the opportunity to rinse away the layers of food, or litterbox debris. In fact the natural oils in the hair plus salvia can just keep building up until dirt and loose hair get stuck together creating mats. The indoor environment also means indoor lighting and thus, shedding year round. Your feline roommate is also slathering themselves daily with saliva which has five known allergens. Would you live with someone who never properly bathed? This is why so many cats are attracted to water dripping from sinks. They want to be clean. The trend to keep cats indoors puts the onus on us to regularly have them properly groomed and bathed so they can be as clean as they naturally like to be.
Keeping cats indoors is a prudent decision because the indoor/outdoor lifestyle is fraught with dangers like feline viruses, vehicles, predators, getting lost, and malicious humans. "Catios" are a great, safe alternative for the cats who love the outdoors. Indoor cats live an average of three times longer. As a responsible pet lover, I wouldn't let a dog roam free, and neither would I let a cat. My pets are bathed regularly because they share my living space, they stay clean and healthy, and I can enjoy cuddling them anytime!
During the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we often forget our cats need to receive guests too. We include our dogs in the festivities but not our cats. Why is that? While many cats prefer to hide during holiday home invasions of their territory, their presence is still felt and known by your guests.
With one quarter of your guests allergic to cats it makes sense to wash away the offending dander before they arrive. You want your guests to be comfortable, enjoy their stay, and not be in allergenic misery the whole visit. You just know that when the lights are out, to a-mews itself, your cat will visit the most allergic person while they are sleeping, or curl up in their luggage. Washing also gets rid of any tiny particles of litter box debris they spread anywhere they stroll...like the kitchen counters or tables.
Your guests may not be aware of the favorite cat chair until they are covered with the hair left behind, or your guests may unwittingly collect swirls of cat hair on their telltale dark socks. A hairy Christmas just shouldn't be on the menu. A cleansing bath, de-shed treatment and professional blow dry can take care of that. You may even consider a hair trim for the holidays.
Holiday wear and decorations with it's sparkles and textures can be very enchanting for your cat's curiousity, but beware the damage that can be wrought with untrimmed nails. A nail trim or nail caps can take of that problem especially in festive holiday colours!
If your cat is a socialite and loves to join the party, a soft, clean and fluffy-fresh cat is a joy to behold. Your cat will not be well received if it is smelly, greasy, or decorated with dandruff, or offending mats of hair. A clean cat is also a happier, more social cat.
Use common sense and protect your cat concerning open doors, alluring tinsel, poisonous plants, electrical cords, and decadent food over the holidays. Wishing everyone a safe and festive holiday season!
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Janet Wormitt, CFMG CFCG
Cat-a-lyst and Ad-vo-CATe