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Understanding Behavior for Successful Grooming

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  • Understanding Behavior for Successful Grooming

    I believe the most important skill needed for successful cat grooming is a solid understanding of feline behavior. By recognizing their unique needs and creating an environment suited for them, the stress-level for the cat and groomer can be significantly reduced.

    Cats thrive on familiarity with routine, environment, human/animal contact, sounds and smell. When exposed to variances with any or all of these stimuli, many cats will have a tendency towards Fight or Flight. A cat needs to feel a sense of control for confidence, calmness and cooperation. They prefer high places to perch which gives them a sense of security and authority over their domain. Cats are extremely frightened by noise and can potentially react in a violent way including flailing, scrambling, clawing, biting and/or jumping when exposed to new sounds, particularly loud, abrupt noises.

    Cats are incredibly sensitive to energy, all energy be it positive, negative, calm, assertive, aggressive, frustrated. To create the purr-fect environment, the following should be considered. A dog-free zone in a small room. Minimal distractions including outside activites and interruptions. Soft, calming background music. Minimal ledges, countertops and shelving. Quality lighting with mirrors. Tools readily available. A towel handy so the cat can hide under it if desired. Placing the table in a corner to limit the opportunity for escape. Some cats are highly food motivated. If the owner permits, offering treats throughout the groom during acclimation may accelerate the cat's acceptance of the entire process. As a consistent treat at the end of every groom, many cats will anticipate this positive offer. About 80% of cats have a fondness for catnip. The effect is usually relatively short, lasting for only a few minutes. After two hours or less, susceptible cats gain interest again. A few cats may become aggressive on catnip, so this should be given after the groom.

    Cats are contant communicators utilizing body language, scent, vocalization and energy transference. They utilize a complex combination of multiple subtle and obvious visual signs to relay a mesage and to avoid or end a physical confrontation. To accurately read cat body language look at the whole body including the face, posture and tail & whisker position. The groomer's body language is equally important for success and must always be non-threatening. Avoid prolonged eye contact with a cat. Slowly blinking while gazing into space above the cat while yawning may help a cat to relax.

    What are their eyes are telling us? Dilated pupils indicate the cat is stressed, scared, nervous, tense, apprehensive and/or defensive with a flight versus fight attitude. Narrowed pupils indicated offensiveness, aggression and a fight versus flight attitude. When the eyes are diverted, the cat is timid and looking for an escape route. Prolonged direct eye contact by a cat means a Challenge! Slightly closed eyes indicate a calm, relaxed cat.

    The ears are controlled by 32 muscles and a cat can swivel its ears 180 degress and move them up and down. When the ears are up and forward, panning around, the cat is alert and curious. If the ears are facing forward, but tilted slightly back, the cat is content and relaxed. Slightly tilted back means the cat is unsure. If one ear is flattened, the cat is ambivalent, often shifting the ear as it ponders its situation and/or surroundings. Positioned back and slightly flat indicates stress. Watch out when the ears are flat back against the head as this is a sign of possible aggression.

    Almost 10% of a cat's bones are in its tail. The domestic cat is the only species able to hold its tail vertically while walking. The tail is used to maintain balance in addition to expressing emotions. A motionless tail says the cat is calm. When slowly swaying, the cat is contemplative. If the tip of the tail is twitching, the cat is excited. But when the tail is lashing, the cat is frustrated and/or angry. Always allow the cat to move its tail as needed. It's a release for the negative energy the cat may be experiencing.

    Posturing is an obvious display of a cat's emotional state. If a cat is frightened, the hair stands up fairly evenly all over the body, but when the cat is threatened or ready to attack, the hair stands up only in a narrow band along the spine and tail. Defensive aggression is displayed by crouching with the legs pulled in under the body, laying the ears back, tucking the tail and rolling slightly to the side. The "Halloween" posture will likely signal an impending attack. A frightened cat may alternate between watching your moves and looking for an escape route.

    Vocalization is a key indicator of the mood, temperament and tolerance of the cat (and the groomer!). Tone of voice means a lot. Both cats and people use a slightly raised tone of voice to indicate friendliness while a lowered tone of voice indicates displeasure. Talking to the cat and using the cat's name often is important in establishing a positive connection. But note if the cat responds best when you speak or when you are silent and respect it's preference.

    Some physical facts:

    The normal heart rate for a cat is 140-220 beats per minute (2x that of a human). Normal body temperature is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Farenheit. Respiratory rate varies from 30 breaths per minute (in a sleeping cat) up to 100+ (in an agitated or injured cat). Their skeleton is comprised of 244 bones on average, with a range of 230-250.

    Cats have a visionary field of approximately 200 degrees compared to 180 in humans. Their hearing range reaches 1.5 octaves above a human's range and one octave above a dog. Their sense of smell is fourteen times superior to a human's with twice the number of smell-sensitive cells in their noses. In addition, they have a scent organ in the roof of their mouth commonly referred to as the Jacobson's Organ. Cats possess numerous touch receptors including the whiskers, paw pads, skin & coat. Whiskers, or vibrissae, are used to assist the cat with navigation and sensation. On average there are twenty-four movable whiskers in four rows on each upper lip on both sides of the nose, a few on the cheeks, above the eyes, on the chin, the inner wrists and the back of the legs. Loaded with nerve endings, these whiskers provide an enourmous amount of information about the environment.

    The teeth are highly specialized and the "fangs", or carnassial pairs, effectively shear meat. The tongue has small, sharp, backward-facing hooks called papillae. There are approximately 60,000 hairs per square inch on the back of a cat and about 120,000 per square inch on its underside. The coat consists of three types of hairs: 1. Primary, or guard hairs, are the thickest and are straight and taper evenly to a fine tip 2. Awn, or secondary, hairs are thinner and possess swelling below the hair tip 3. Down hairs, also a type of secondary hair, are the thinnest hairs and are envenly crimped or undulated.

    Some interesting facts:

    The ancestor of all domestic cats is the African Wild Cat. In 1987, cats overtook dogs as the number one pet in America. A cat's brain is more similar to a man's brain than that of a dog. A domestic cat can sprint at about 31 miles oer hour. Cats lack a true collarbone and can generally squeeze their bodies through any space they can get their head through. Cats lick people as a sign of affection. If your cat is near you and her tail is quivering, it's the greatest expression of love your cat can give you.

    Cats are quite amazing!!! While this is simply an overview of cat behavior and physical attributes, I hope you'll find this information interesting and useful. Cat grooming is not the same as dog grooming, not even close. While you may use many of the same products and tools with cats as dogs, the handling & restraint techniques and environment are totally unique to their specific needs.

    Purrs, love and happy cat grooming to all!!!!


  • #2
    Thanks Seleste, this is a great post. I just groomed a new cat yesterday, the owner was afraid that the cat would be difficult, she said the cat was matted. The cat just had a few knots that brushed out easily. The cat walked back and forth on my table rubbing up against me while I was brushing her. She never purred but she didn't hiss or swat me either. The owner was thrilled with the results.


    • #3
      Great Cat Information!

      Thanks Seleste! I'm new here and I really enjoyed your cat information. I own four fabulous felines and I learned quite a few things from your post! My husband and I took in our newest cat as our Christmas present this year. She is a little persian rescue cat. We think that she must have been badly abused before her rescue. She was very thin and covered with scabs when the rescue got her. We are so glad that she is adjusting so well to her new forever home! My husband is a real "cat person"! All of our cats come when he calls them. They also "talk" back to him when he talks to them. It's really cute. The cat rescue person was in disbelief when she heard how well our new rescue "Bijou" was doing. She said that she would ask us to foster rescue cats if we didn't live in a city so far from her. Anyway I am wondering if you have ever tried using hormone aromatherapy for calming cats? I just heard about it in the information that we got when we adopted Bijou. I thought it might be helpful once I start grooming, if I ever groom a cat. Thanks for your information.


      • #4

        I wondered the same thing, isnt there something on the market with the pharamones that can be plugged into an outlet that will release them?

        Would it work though for a cat that is with you for a grooming for lets say 2 hours?

        I wish there was some research on this.


        • #5
          You're all very welcome!! I'm so happy you enjoyed this post. Let's keep the cat talk going!

          I avoid most aromatherapy because cats are so incredibly sensitive. I haven't found enough good information about it relating to cats. I've had a couple of clients use Bach's Rescue Remedy (flower essences) and it seemed to help.

          I do use the Feliway electric diffuser in my own home (7 cats - I know, I truly am the Crazy Cat Lady) and when I'm grooming. It covers about 500 to 600 square feet. It also comes in a spray which is great for cats that don't like their carrier or car ride. You can spray the carrier a couple of times just a few minutes before you load the cat into it. Feliway mimics the cat's facial pheromones which reportedly "creates a state of well-being and calm" (quote from the actual package insert from the Feliway diffuser). It doesn't work miracles and it certainly doesn't work for all cats. But it also has no adverse side effects so it's safe. Do a web search for Feliway and you should find some useful information.

          toomuchfunbnme, Congratulations on your new furry family member, Bijou! It sounds like she's very lucky to have you and your husband. I also talk to my kitties and they certainly talk back. Not like my Siamese, Seleste, who I've miss everyday since she went to the Rainbow Bridge 8 years ago. Now she and I had some lengthy conversations! It just amazed my husband when we first got together. He would say, "she seems to really understand what you're saying". Cats are so intelligent and they do communicate with us in lots of ways.

          Misty, don't you just love it when you're prepared for a mess and the cat really isn't in bad shape! I'm glad your groom kitty was so good for you and her mom was pleased. Personally, grooming cats gives me such a sense of pride and accomplishment. It means the world to me when I can groom a cat that the owner doesn't think will tolerate grooming and report back that their kitty did great!

          On the flip side, you're sure to meet some cat parents that either don't realize how bad the coat is matted or won't want to be upfront with you about it. I have a simple rule: If I can't easily comb the mat from the coat it gets shaved. No discussion. Cat grooming must be as positive as possible for the cat and the groomer. Trust from a cat can be difficult to earn. Once you break that trust by inflicting pain, you may never get it back. But you can definitely increase the level of trust with every groom by always be respectful and compassionate.



          • #6
            Do you happen to know if feliway and comfort zone are the same thing? Or can you only use one for dogs and one for cats?


            • #7
              Excellent Information

              Thanks Stacey, aka crazy cat lady!

              This is great info! Yep, the phermone product that I was thinking of is Feliway. I may give it a try.

              Seleste sounds like a precious friend. It is so hard to miss someone who has touched our hearts like that.

              I am wondering, do you also groom dogs, or do you only specialise in cats?

              Do you have a favorite cat shampoo and product line? Also do you recommend any products for keeping my Bijous little flat face clean from tear stains? The rescue lady recommended using contact cleaner, but the stains are starting to take over! Maybe my well water is causing this?

              Thanks for starting this great post and for sharing your information!


              • #8
                Crazy Cat Lady

                Ha! I love that title! I found a crazy cat lady action figure online and realized it only had 6 kitties. I asked my co-workers what that made me since I have 7. They said I'm in a class all my own! hee hee Not sure it was meant as a compliment, but I took it that way!

                Comfort Zone and Feliway are the same product. The packaging says "Comfort Zone with Feliway" for cats and "Comfort Zone with D.A.P." (dog appeasing pheromones). I found their website by searching ~ comfort zone for pets ~. I get Feliway through the vet clinic where I work and it's manufactured by Veterinary Products Laboratory. The packaging is completely different from Comfort Zone, but I believe it's the same product. Maybe just different manufacturers or distributors. It's definitely two separate products for dogs and cats.

                Seleste was the best cat in the world and my true soulmate kitty. We bonded so closely. I love all my cats dearly, but she was that very special one. I'm sure you know what I mean.

                I'm a cats-only groomer. It's the best career and I totally stumbled into it. Lucky me! I love dogs, too. But cats are my passion, no doubt about it. I like a few different shampoos. Grimeinator is awesome for greasy coats, which a lot of cats have. I use it as my first shampoo often then usually follow-up with BioGroom or Espree. I also like DVM HyLyt shampoo for normal to dry coats.

                I want to try some other shampoos, but I hate trying something new only to have it leave the coat in poor condition. Last time I tried a new shampoo, I'm pretty sure it was Best Shot, it had horrible results. The poor Persian was matted within a couple of weeks. I ended up comping his next groom and went back to my usual choices. I also tried Les Pooch but it was so fragrant it gave me a headache. Cats are really sensitive to smell.

                I do love Chris Christensen's After Bath Rinse and use it on almost every cat unless they're already super oily or they're getting a medicated shampoo. And their ButterCombs are simply the best I've ever seen. I especially love their Fine/Extra Coarse comb. The teeth are really far apart and great at getting through Persian, Himalayan and other dense-coated cats. EQyss makes a Cat Mist Rehydrant Spray that's awesome. Helps with combing, detangling and eliminates static without silicones or heavy perfumes.

                As far as the eye stains, I hope you meant contact saline, not cleaner. OUCH! Even a simple eye wash is fine. I found a recipe for Eye Envy, a product used to eliminate the staining, online a couple of years ago, but have never tried it. I'd be happy to email it to you if you like. I don't think it's appropriate for me to post it here since I can't speak for its true effectiveness. PM me if you want me to send it to you. Also, providing bottled water will make a big difference not only with the eye staining but also with the overall skin and coat condition.

                Okay, now that I've written another novel I'm gonna bring it to a close. Thanks for your encouragement. I'm happy to talk cats anytime!!!



                • #9
                  I needed to read something like that. I totally respect you for your knowledge of cats and their behavior
                  "Whoever Said That Money Can't Buy Happiness Forgot About Puppies"


                  • #10
                    Thanks and Wow!

                    Thanks Stacey,
                    You are really talented and knowledgable about cats! (I hope that you did not mind the crazy cat lady joke. I was just kidding around). You are really more like the cat whisperer! This is really great information to know about cats. I have four cats now, since we rescued Bijou. Our first three cats are all super easy to care for. Once in a while our big boy "Chubbs" will get matted all of a sudden on his back and my husband and I will trim him with the clippers and blend his coat evenly. He has thick, short white fur and he looks really good with his haircuts. For Bijou's eyes I did mean contact saline and not cleaner. Ooops. I hope that no one reads what I wrote and trys it! Yikes! I need to be more careful when I write stuff! I will IM you for the recipe that you talked about. I'm going to give the products that you recommend a try. I have never heard of the Butter Combs. I'm going to check them out. I need to get some new combs and brushes. BTW we call Chubbs, "Butter" part of the time. Other times "Butter Chubbs" Ha Ha. Thank you so much for all of this great information!


                    • #11
                      Cats Rule!

                      Thanks so much! I'm totally fascinated by cats, especially understanding their behavior. I believe that is the real key to working safely and succesfully with them.

                      toomuchfunbnme, I was pretty sure you meant saline but wanted to clarify just in case someone did try to use cleaner. I wasn't offended at all by the Crazy Cat Lady statement. I wear that badge proudly!!!

                      Try the EQyss spray on Chubbs. It's really great and helps to comb the coat easier. You might also want to use a little baby powder or corn starch on his back. Sprinkle some on and pat it in with a boar bristle or goat hair brush. Let it sit for a few minutes, then comb through followed by a light brushing with a soft-pin slicker. This will absorb some of the excess oil which is likely part of the source for his matting. Being a big ole "Butter Chubbs", I'm sure he can't reach that area to groom himself. BTW, I love his name! Too Cute!

                      I hope everyone will feel inclined to start new threads with any specific cat questions, concerns, tips and stories. As a groomer I've had a heck of a time finding good information regarding cats. It's such a dog-dominated industry. I'd love for this to become a great resource about cats for all of us. Particularly with an emphasis on compassion and respect for cats.



                      • #12
                        from 1 crazy cat lady to another

                        hi stacey
                        i L-O-V-E cats im owned by 13 and care for a feral colony,ive been grooming cats for 8 yrs now,i have a question for you do you work alone?and do you use a gh on cats i have a gh,but cant figure out how to use it on a cat,im leery of using any restraints on a cat,but i do have some that are quite mobile on the table,and what kind of products do you use when theres alot of static in the air
                        thank you


                        • #13
                          Hello fellow crazy cat lover!

                          Hi Trish,

                          Yipee!! Another cat lover! You've certainly got me beat with 13! Wow! That's a lot of love and purring. How awesome. Those feral kitties are really lucky to have you, too.

                          I do work alone 99% of the time. I used to work with an assistant, but when I didn't have one anymore I had no choice. And I actually found the cats responded better when it was just me. My assistant was great and a true cat lover, so it wasn't her. It was just having to deal with two people instead of one that added another level of stress.

                          I haven't used the GH on a cat, but I know Helly and a few other members here have with success. I think the GH might have a cat specific restraint device. Does anyone else know?? I prefer no restraint other than an Elizabethan collar, and that I only use on rare occassions and usually for a short period of time. If I'm working with a cat that won't quit moving on the table, I put it in my lap. It's easier for me to use my body, legs and arms to manipulate the cat in my lap than it is to chase it around the table.

                          At the first salon where I worked we had a large humidifier in the grooming/bathing room. This cut a lot of the static. But it may not be practical in a mobile unit. I do love the EQyss Cat Mist Rehydrant Spray. I used to use BioGroom's antistat spray, but I prefer EQyss. It not only cuts the static, but gives the coat a wonderful finish. I buy it through Pet Edge, but would love to find a supplier that carries it in a larger size than 8 ounces.

                          Hope that helps!



                          • #14
                            Here's a little hint I learned from a cat breeder. Instead of using corn starch or baby powder, use corn flour. Corn flour is also called Masa Harina. Texture wise it's not as fine as corn starch, but not as coarse and corn meal. Because it's not as fine as corn starch, it brushes out more easily. You can also toss a handful of baking soda into the corn flour to freshed up a coat.

                            If you do use baby powder, be sure it's corn starch baby powder and not talc. Talc is bad news.


                            • #15
                              Great advice

                              Thanks for clarifying that about the baby powder needing to be corn starch, not talc. I should have been more specific. I didn't know about the corn flour and baking soda trick. That's awesome! I'd love to find a respectable breeder to work with to learn all their secrets!!