Cat Grooming: Brushing, Bathing, Nail Clipping, and More

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2023
4 min read

There’s nothing like a little pampering to make your pet feel amazing and look like the star they are! Most cats naturally groom themselves frequently — you’ve probably watched as your pet gave themselves one of their daily baths. However, as tidy as cats normally are, sometimes they’ll need a little help to feel or look their best. 

The process of grooming your cat should be fun for you and for them. Try to schedule a grooming session for a time when your cat is already calm and sleepy, such as after dinner. You should also be in a good mood — your cat will notice if you’re grumpy or stressed during the grooming session, and this can stress them out in turn.

Your cat may become impatient with all the attention the first few times you groom them. Keep your first few sessions short, just five or ten minutes. Once your cat is used to the routine, you can gradually lengthen the amount of time you spend keeping them clean. 

You can also use this time to help your cat get used to being handled. Play with everything from their ears to their feet so they aren’t as stressed if this happens in the future!

You don’t need to push your cat to accept grooming, either. If your cat seems upset or stressed, take a break and try again later. If you need to bathe your cat, get someone to help you out so it goes quickly. Never hesitate to praise your cat or give them treats if they behave well during grooming. 

Cats need regular brushing to keep their coats looking tidy, especially if they have long fur. Brushing also helps remove dirt and tangles while spreading healthy oils throughout their coat, keeping their skin and fur healthy and getting rid of irritation. 

Cats with short hair only need to be brushed once weekly. 

  • Use a metal comb to loosen dead fur, starting at their head and working toward the tail. 
  • With a bristle or rubber brush, do the same thing to remove the dead hair. 
  • Always be careful around your cat’s face, belly, and chest. 

Long-haired cats need a little more care and should be brushed daily. 

  • Start at your cat’s legs and belly, and slowly work your way up. 
  • Brush the fur in an upward motion to help lift and clean it.
  • Finally, part the fur on your cat’s tail down the center, then brush each side individually.

If your cat needs a bath, you’ll know. They will either feel oily to the touch, or they will have gotten into something smelly or sticky. In these cases, you’ll need to get a brand of shampoo made for cats and give your cat a real bath.

  • First, brush your cat as much as you can so the hair doesn’t clog your drain. 
  • Next, put a rubber mat in your bathtub or sink so that your cat feels comfortable standing up. 
  • Fill the sink or tub with a few inches of warm, not hot, water. 
  • With a pitcher or gentle spray hose, get your cat entirely wet. Avoid their face, particularly their ears, eyes, and nose. 
  • Carefully rub on a small amount of shampoo, working from neck to tail. 
  • Rinse off all the soap, avoiding their face. If you do get soap on their face, make sure to get it all off. You can use a wet washcloth if needed.
  • Dry off your cat with a warm, dry towel, then keep them somewhere warm for the rest of the day. 

Your cat’s claws are often something you don’t think about until you get a pointed reminder that they’re too long. If you only pay attention to your cat’s feet when it’s time to trim their nails, then your cat may be upset at the unusual feeling. 

To make everything easier, play with your cat’s feet when you’re not about to trim their nails. This helps them get used to the feeling so that they feel safe. It doesn’t hurt to praise your kitty and give them lots of treats while playing with their toes, either. After a couple of weeks of this, your cat will likely accept nail trims calmly.  

When it comes to the trim itself, here’s what to do:

  • First, gently squeeze the top and bottom of your cat’s foot until their claws emerge. 
  • Use a dedicated cat nail trimmer to cut only the white tip of your cat’s nails. 
  • Never cut the inner pink area of your cat’s nail; this is the quick, and it contains nerves and blood vessels.
  • Have styptic powder on hand in case you cut the quick by accident. Styptic powder will stop the bleeding quickly.