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Cat Grooming 101: Your Complete Grooming Guide

Written By
10 min read

Updated - Aug 23rd, 2022

Key Points

  • A regular grooming routine can help keep your cat’s coat, skin, and teeth healthy.
  • A complete cat grooming routine may include brushing, bathing, ear cleaning, nail trimming, and teeth cleaning.
  • A well-groomed cat is typically healthier, has less trouble with hairballs, and has a reduced chance of developing of dental disease or skin problems.
  • With the right tools, home grooming can be a totally doable and enjoyable experience.

Cats are known as fastidious groomers. From licking their fur to purrfection to taking care of business in a litter box, it’s easy to feel like our cats have themselves covered in the grooming department – but every cat needs to be groomed once in a while.

Cats get into stinky stuff, get sick, or get dirtier than usual, which is when loving pet parents come to the rescue.

If this is true for you – you’re in luck! We’re walking through an at-home grooming routine complete with special cat grooming tips and tools to keep your furball looking and feeling good.

Cat grooming 101

Even cats who meticulously groom themselves can develop hairballs and tangles; their nails can get a little too sharp, and their teeth can build up some plaque. This is especially true for older cats who have a harder time grooming due to declining health. This is where some routine at-home grooming can really help. 

Regular grooming allows you to check your cat for lumps, injury, fleas, and skin irritations, catching health issues early. It can also help create a stronger bond between the two of you! (If your kitty likes being groomed, that is.) 

But what tools do you need? And how do you go about getting your cat comfortable with a grooming session?

Cat grooming supplies checklist

While there will be some variation depending on your cat’s unique needs, here are a few grooming supplies we recommend keeping on hand:

Fur care

  • Brush
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Washcloth or wipes
  • Cotton balls
  • Towel

Dental care

  • Toothbrushes, finger brushes, or cotton gauze
  • Toothpaste

Claw care

  • Nail clippers
  • Styptic powder to stop nail bleeding

Tip: If you don’t have styptic powder, corn starch will also work to stop the bleeding.

Ear care

  • Ear cleaning solution
  • Cotton balls or gauze

Plus, their favorite cat treats if they’re food motivated!

How to select the right cat grooming products

Cat brushes

From long-haired cats to short-haired cats to super-shedders, there are different brushes to meet different needs. How do you find the best brush for your cat? Here’s the scoop on the different types:

  • Pin brushes or slicker brushes remove dirt, tangles, mats, as well as dead hair and skin cells. These brushes are effective for long-haired cats, medium-haired cats, and short-haired cats.
  • Bristle brushes also remove dead hair from your cat’s coat, but they also leave a glossy finish by evenly distributing the natural oils from your cat’s skin. If you have an older, more sensitive cat, the bristle brush is a gentle option.
  • Metal combs help you tease out tangles and mats without pulling on your cat’s sensitive skin when used properly.
  • Shedding brushes work well during shedding season to decrease the amount of dead hair your kitty may ingest, causing hairballs. The Furminator is a good example of shedding brush.
  • Cat grooming gloves remove loose hair simply by petting your cat.These work especially well for cats with sensitive skin.
  • De-matting combs will allow you to rake matted fur, splitting them for easier removal without needing to cut them out and risk cutting your cat’s skin.

Nail trimmers for cats

Cats have tiny claws compared to dogs, but those claws grow very sharp and need regular trimming. Blunt scissor-type nail clippers won’t squeeze your cat’s claws, which helps avoid damage and leave a clean cut. 

Tip: Thinking about grabbing your dog’s clippers? Not so fast! Some dog clippers can be too large and damage a cat’s nails or cut too much off, making it easy to hit the quick – aka the blood vessels and nerves in a cat’s claws. 

Cat shampoos and conditioners

First things first – never use human shampoo on your cat! The chemicals and fragrances in them can cause skin irritation, dry out the natural oils in their skin, and may contain toxic ingredients.

Natural shampoos and conditioners designed specifically for cats are best. You’ll want to dilute the shampoo to one part shampoo and four parts water before bathing your kitty.

Tip: Some cats never get used to being bathed and would prefer a damp cloth bath or the use of bath wipes made specifically for cats. If this is your cat, skip the stress and use wipes or a damp washcloth to clean them.

Cat toothbrush and toothpaste

Cats don’t particularly enjoy having their teeth attended to, but it’s important. Like shampoos, never use human toothpaste or supplements on your cat. There are plenty of veterinary-approved products available online or in pet supply stores. 

Pet toothbrushes, finger brushes, gauze pads, or even a cotton swab can help you keep your cat’s mouth free from food particles that cause bacterial growth. Pet-designed toothpaste is also available in kitty-approved flavors to help rid their mouths of plaque and tartar buildup. Chews and toys help rub and scrape plaque and soft tartar off a cat’s teeth.

Cat ear cleaners

Outdoor cats, cats with excessive ear wax, or cats with a lot of hair in their ears may need to have their ears cleaned on a regular basis. Natural ear cleaners are available to help keep those ears healthy and clean. Mineral oil and cotton balls can also clean your cat’s ears. 

Tip: If you suspect your cat may have ear mites, don’t attempt to clean them. Instead, see your veterinarian.

Now that you have your kitty grooming kit on deck, it’s time to groom your cat!

Complete home grooming routine for your cat

Step 1: Helping your kitty get comfortable

Your cat needs to be comfortable having their body handled for grooming purposes. To help ease them into it, run your hands around your feline’s body, giving them loads of praise. Your cat will probably enjoy this but watch for signs of discomfort or annoyance like tail swishing or growling. If that happens, try going slower, but don’t give up!

When handling their paws, put pressure on their toes and toe beans to extend their claws. If your cat pulls back, try handling them with less pressure until your cat becomes more comfortable with it.

Once your cat knows that all that extra attention is fun, it’s time to try your hand at grooming them. If you need your cat to mellow out a bit more, try playing with them right before their grooming session to tucker them out.

Tip: Let your cat explore the tools you’re going to use, offering treats as they sniff out each object.

Step 2: Trimming your cat’s nails

Nail trimming as a first step may be intimidating, but your cat hasn’t gotten too many buttons pushed yet, which may reduce your chances of getting swatted! In any case, here’s the skinny on how to trim your cat’s nails:

  • Swaddle your cat with a towel to help keep them still, or simply hold them on your lap facing away from you.
  • Check out your cat’s paws, looking for anything stuck in between their toes such as hair or kitty litter that can cause irritation.
  • Look at your cat’s claws, and identify the pink part of the nail near the bed – aka the quick – you want to avoid hitting that. It will bleed, and your cat will experience pain.
  • Hold their paw in one hand and clip with bladed nail trimmers with your other hand. You want to clip the nail in the same direction as the curve and only cut the sharp tip. 

Tip: Some cats may not like the sound of the clippers and get very feisty. If so, get them used to it by holding them while cutting a piece of dry spaghetti with their clippers. Alternatively, a good scratching post can do wonders for keeping sharp claws at bay!

Step 3: Brushing your cat

Most cats enjoy regular brushing sessions, but every cat has different needs. Long-haired cats and medium-haired cats need brushing once or twice a week, whereas short-haired cats typically only need a weekly brushing. A slicker brush or pin brush works well and massages the skin effectively without pulling out healthy hairs.

Here are some general pointers:

  • Brush your cat’s hair in the direction it naturally falls, not against it. 
  • Brush gently around their chin, chest, belly, and don’t forget that tail! 
  • Use your comb to detangle and remove mats. If there are some large or stubborn mats in the friction areas like behind the ears, the armpits, or near the tail, a de-matting comb can break them up enough to comb them out. 
  • If you have especially stubborn mats, don’t cut them out because you risk cutting your cat’s skin. Instead, try talcum powder!

Step 4: Bathing your cat 

As we know, cats are pretty self-sufficient, so regular cat baths aren’t entirely necessary for healthy adults. However, every once in a while your cat may get into something sticky or smelly that warrants a bath. Here’s what to do if that day comes:

  • Gather your supplies like cat shampoo (remember to dilute it), a washcloth, cotton balls, and a towel.
  • Fill the sink or tub with warm, not hot water, about 3-4 inches. 
  • Place your cat into the water, followed by lots of praise and treats until they relax.
  • Once relaxed, wet them thoroughly, remembering the belly, chest, and under the tail.
  • Massage in the diluted shampoo and rub it into the entire body, legs, and tail. You can rub the lather into their neck but stay clear of the face and ears. A washcloth will do just fine here.
  • Rinse the shampoo out of their fur, ensuring it’s all out. Any leftover shampoo or conditioner can cause skin irritation. If your cat is very dirty, you may have to repeat the process to get the fur really clean.
  • When you are done, wrap your cat in a towel and dry them off. Once your cat’s fur is dry, comb it gently to remove any tangles. 

Tip: You can place cotton balls in your cat’s ears to keep water from entering the ear canal.

Step 5: Cleaning your cat’s ears

There isn’t a huge need to clean your cat’s ears regularly, but if you notice they look a little dirty or have a funky smell, it’s worth taking a peek. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian how often they think your cat’s ears should be cleaned.

When it comes time to clean your cat’s ears:

  • Prep your tools! You’ll need a cotton ball and a feline-safe ear cleaning solution. You can find most available online or in pet supply stores, but if not, a cotton ball moistened with mineral oil works, too! 
  • Squeeze solution as directed into their ear.
  • Massage the base of their ear for about 30 seconds to break down ear wax.
  • Let your cat shake their head! This will help move fluid out of their inner ear.
  • Use your cotton ball to lift any remaining wax and dirt and debris out of their ears.

Step 6: Cleaning your cat’s teeth

Though dental care can happen anytime (and we highly encourage it does!) it’s always nice when you can tack it onto your grooming routine. More cats than you think develop periodontal disease, which can cause many more health problems than just smelly breath. 

The most effective way to clean your cat’s teeth:

  • Ready a cat toothbrush, finger brush, or some gauze and cover it with pet-safe toothpaste
  • Brush your cat’s teeth making sure to get their gums as well
  • If your cat won’t let you touch their mouth, you can provide dental chews to ensure you’re still looking out for your cat’s dental health.

As you can see, grooming your cat in addition to their self-grooming is important! But it isn’t for everyone or every cat. 

If you find that these steps aren’t feasible for you and your cat, that is completely fine! This is exactly why professional cat groomers exist and they are more than happy to help you. Grooming looks different for every cat and their owner – the most important thing is that your feline friend is happy and healthy.

Just like a good grooming routine, a good cat insurance plan is a big part of responsible pet care. The last thing you want to worry about is how you’re going to pay for your cat’s care when they’re sick or hurt, which is why Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans pay 90% back on eligible vet bills. 

Want to see for yourself? Fetch a free quote today! 

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!