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Cat Hair and Nail Maintenance

When it comes to grooming, cats are pretty good at taking care of themselves. But because he’s living indoors, your cat will need some help with grooming. Claws need to be trimmed and hair needs to be brushed. Grooming him once in a while can help keep your home nice and your cat happy. In this section, you’ll learn how to trim nails and brush your cat without a fuss.

Trimming Claws

If your cat accidentally scratches you or snags your shirt, it’s time for a trim. Trimming claws is one of the easiest things you can do to a cat. It can be much faster than cutting your own nails. Nail trimmers made especially for cats are the easiest to use. Stainless steel, high-quality models can last many decades.

Before you trim his front claws the first time, work with his front feet without any attempt to trim. Wait until he’s in a mood to be touched. Hold him or leave him in his bed while you massage his body, working your way to his feet. Massage his foot. Rub between his toes. Press on the pads of his feet to make the claws extend, and then release them. If he starts putting up a fuss, let go of his feet. Don’t give up too easily, though. Try again the next time you see him napping or relaxing.

After a few days of getting him used to having his feet touched, put the nail trimmer in the palm of your hand before you approach him. Hold his paw in one hand while saying “Good boy.” Gently squeeze the pad of the paw so that the claws extend. Talk sweetly to him just as you do when you massage his feet. Cut about halfway between the tip of the claw and the quick (where pink shows through). Begin by trimming only one claw a day. Gradually add more claws. Keep the experience positive by always ending before he gets fussy. Each time, reward him by massaging, petting, playing, or taking him on an outside walk. Eventually, you’ll only need to tell him how good he is by petting him for a few seconds after his trim.

Once the cat is used to getting trimmed, you’ll need to trim all claws about once a month. Be very careful when trimming a claw. Cutting into the quick causes bleeding and is painful. If you hurt your cat while trimming, immediately say you’re sorry and comfort him. Let him go. Play with him to distract him from what just happened. Try again the next day.

Don’t trim his nails on or around his post or cat tree. You don’t want him to make an association between the two activities.

If the cat growls, stop trimming, say nothing, and leave the room immediately. On the next day, cut two, or even just one nail. Leave on a friendly note, before he has a chance to growl.

For hind claws, use the same steps as above. Trim hind claws when your cat is sleeping or sitting quietly on your lap. Trim one or two claws in one sitting. As he gets used to the process, cut more claws. Eventually your cat will learn to love getting his claws trimmed. Cats love the attention! Some cats will start purring while getting their claws cut.

Even if your cat is declawed, his back claws will need trimming because declawing typically isn’t performed on hind feet. Declawed cats tend to bite more, and can be more sensitive about being handled than are clawed cats. You may need to provide food treats to distract your declawed cat during trimming. You also could try to cut a few claws while he’s asleep.


Any cat that has hair will shed. And longhaired cats get matted hair. Professional groomers can help you get rid of shedding hair and prevent matting, but it’s usually cheaper and easier to groom the cat yourself. It’s a good opportunity for quality time between you and your cat, and it’s less stressful if someone he knows works on him.

Did You Know?

A frightened cat will lose hair within seconds. It’s a safeguard so that when he gets into a fight, he doesn’t lose skin, too. When another animal grabs him with claws or teeth, his fur will come out easily and loosen the animal’s grip. You may notice that your cat loses a lot more hair at the veterinarian’s office than he does at home.

How Often Is Grooming Needed?

A cat’s grooming schedule depends on his hair length, hair density, the amount of time he spends outside, and whether he’s an only cat. Cats with long hair or extremely thick coats may need brushing once a day; others may only need to be brushed every one or two weeks. Cats who go outdoors roll in dirt or on concrete, which helps remove loose hair, so they may be able to go longer between grooming sessions.

Choosing Grooming Tools

  • Brushes and combs come in a wide variety of natural and synthetic bristles, wire, plastic or rubber. The type of brush or comb you use depends on what your cat likes and the type of tool you feel works best. Some people believe the bent wire brushes are more effective at collecting hair, others prefer shedding combs such as the FURminator.
  • Stainless steel pet combs are good for getting tangles out of long hair. Brushes are nice for a lighter touch.
  • You can use scissors to cut out clumps of matted hair. Always hold a comb between scissors and skin to prevent accidental cuts. For more safety, use scissors with rounded tips.
  • A shedding blade, which is a hoop-shaped strip of metal with a sawtooth edge and an attached handle, is good for removing fine hair. Use a damp rag to collect the hair the blade picks up.
  • A shedding comb, looks like a miniature rake with small tines. Combs such as The FURminator, does an excellent job of removing fine hair.
  • You can dampen a chamois cloth, spread it out on your open hand, and rub it firmly over the cat’s coat to remove loose hair. Keep the cat away from drafts until he’s dry.
  • Some hair can become so matted that a comb and scissors simply won’t work. If you brush your cats regularly, you should be able to prevent this. If necessary, you can use electric shears to remove matting close to the skin, but be careful. It’s easy to nick him.
  • Your fingers also make for great ‘grooming tools’, especially for shorthaired cats. Remove loose hair by roughing up your cat’s coat with your fingertips and then stroking it back down. Use a damp cloth to pick up any loose hair.

Grooming How-To’s

  • Find a time when your cat is in a loving mood. Put him on your lap, on his bed, or on a counter with a towel underneath him. Pick a space big enough for him to stretch out.
  • Rub him in his favorite spot to get him in a good mood. If he starts getting in a bad mood, stop grooming for the day.
  • Start with the neck, chin, and head, or wherever his favorite places are. If he tries to get up and walk away, gently push him back down and immediately resume grooming. If he gets up again, let him go.
  • Start brushing slowly, with the grain. Take short strokes, lengthening them as he relaxes. If you use a shedding blade or shedding comb, start with short, slow, raking motions, moving with the grain, to remove the loose hair.
  • Once you’ve gained his trust, try a new area of his body that he’s willing to let you brush.
  • The legs on shorthaired cats shouldn’t need much grooming.
  • Keep the grooming pleasurable for him. Be gentle and talk to him while you work.
  • Stop the grooming session before he becomes agitated or before you brush him bald (which is easy to do if he really likes to be brushed.). Too much grooming can make some cats moody, which is something you need to avoid. Gently massage him again, tell him what a good boy he is, and slowly walk away. Leave him with a positive image about grooming.


Because shampoo removes the natural oils from cat hair, you should bathe your cat as little as possible. Regular brushing prevents the need to shampoo a cat. Try to only shampoo your cats if they’re really dirty, smelly, or if that particular breed demands more washing. Otherwise, you average cat might do just fine with shampooing every four years. A cat that has body odor all the time may have a serious health problem; see the veterinarian if you have any doubts.

If you do need to shampoo him, be very careful not to get water near his nose. Cats can easily get a cold or upper respiratory infection that way. Shampoo as gently as possible, using very little shampoo. (Earthbath Cat Shampoo is gentle, safe, natural and smells nice.) Keep the water on a warm, low, gentle flow. A hair dryer startles most cats, so towel-dry him as soon as he’s rinsed. Keep him away from all drafts until he’s completely dry.

Special Support for Double-Declawed Cats

If your cat has both front and back claws removed:

  • Inspect and clean his ears a few times each year. (See “Cleaning Ears” in Giving Medical Treatments to Cats.)
  • Brush and groom him frequently. Help him maintain his coat by letting him roll around on a hard, rough surface. Cats like to groom themselves outside in the dirt on a sunny day.
  • Scratch his chin and head more often. Rub his face and neck more. Don’t massage him in places he doesn’t seem to like.
  • Install a Kitty Korner Komber Self-Grooming Aid for Cats. This plastic brush attaches to the corner of a wall and can help a double-declawed cat scratch the difficult places. It’s found in most pet stores.

Helpful Hints

While brushing, inspect your cat’s body for abnormalities such as lumps, swelling, or scabs. Report any problems to your veterinarian.

If you have more than one cat, they can groom and play with each other, which helps with both grooming and exercising.

Shopping List

  • Brush
  • Comb
  • Shedding blade/comb (The Furminator is a great shedding comb.)
  • Towel


  • Chamois cloth
  • Rounded scissors
  • Electric shears
  • Shampoo (Earthbath has great shampoos for cats.)

See Cat Products for more cat grooming resources.

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