By Dr. Becker
Many cat lovers are especially drawn to long-haired kitties, because let's face it, they're magnificent to look at! And there are few things softer and more luxurious to the touch than a well-maintained feline fur coat.
What many novice long-haired cat guardians aren't prepared for, however, is the upkeep their pet's coat may require. Even though healthy cats habitually groom themselves and are fastidious by nature, many long-haired kitties need a little or even a lot of extra help keeping their coats beautiful.
How Much Grooming Help Your Cat Will Need Depends on Several Factors
How much grooming of your cat's coat you'll need to do depends a great deal on the type and texture of the fur, as well as your pet's age, lifestyle and health status. For example:
- Some long coats never develop so much as a tangle, while others become matted overnight. Generally speaking, the softer and silkier the coat, the more upkeep it requires.
- Older cats may lose interest in grooming themselves, especially if they are experiencing age-related cognitive decline (kitty dementia).
- Overweight kitties often have a difficult time grooming the back half of their bodies, including the area right under the tail where bits of poop and litter can stick to long hair.
- Kitties with "pushed in" faces, known as brachycephalic breeds (Persians and Himalayans, for example), often need the area around their eyes cleaned to prevent tear staining and infections in the folds of the skin.
It's a good idea for any owner of a long-haired cat to prepare to spend some time helping their pet with grooming chores. Your kitty's coat may only need some TLC once a month – or you may need to tend to it daily to keep your cat looking and feeling good. Fortunately, many kitties absolutely love being brushed or combed, and many who are initially hesitant can learn to enjoy the process as well.
What About Bathing a Cat?
Some cats, and long-haired cats in particular, occasionally need baths. A greasy or sticky feeling coat is one reason a bath may be required. And when an overweight kitty can't properly groom the back half of his body, baths are often necessary for sanitary purposes and to keep the skin healthy and free of infection.
But unless your cat is one of the very few who actually enjoys being immersed in water, attempting to bathe her will be considerably more challenging than running a brush or comb through her coat.
I always encourage new kitten owners to introduce their pet to bathing while they're very young. Once a cat reaches adulthood without ever putting a paw in a sink or tub of water, bath time becomes a much trickier proposition.
If you'd like some instruction on how to bathe a cat, view my video and article "By Popular Demand: How to Bathe a Cat and Live to Tell About It." In the video, I bathe one of my own cats, Enzo, for the first time in his life, and I walk viewers step-by-step through the process I follow.
Should I Have My Long-Haired Cat Professionally Groomed?
My general response to this question is, "Only if absolutely necessary."
Think about how stressed most kitties are just riding in the car, visiting the vet, or getting a bath in their own home. It's easy to imagine how traumatic it could be if your cat suddenly found himself in a cage of all things, in a noisy, strange location that didn't smell friendly, where he is subjected to immersion in water, followed by a blow dry and brush-out by a complete stranger. I've never met a cat that would not hate the experience.
However, if you find yourself in a situation where your long-haired kitty is in dire need of a makeover and you just can't manage it on your own, try to find a mobile or in-home groomer who is very experienced with cats. The biggest advantage to having a groomer come to you is that your kitty won't be exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of other animals during what will be a stressful event. It also saves you from having to drive her anywhere.
The next best thing would be a grooming shop close to home with experienced cat groomers and cat-only hours or days of the week. Just as some veterinary clinics have evolved to be feline-friendly, some grooming shops have as well.
You might also want to visit the website of the National Cat Groomers Institute of America (NCGIA), which offers training and certification to groomers interested in improving their cat grooming skills. You can enter your location and find NCGIA-trained cat groomers in your area.
A Word About Long-Haired Cats and Hairballs
Cats with long coats are more likely to develop hairballs than short-haired kitties. Regular brushing or combing will help control how much dead hair and debris your pet swallows during grooming, which should reduce the number of hairballs you encounter with your bare feet in middle of the night.
However, I want to issue a word of caution here. Don't assume hairballs are "normal." And don't make the mistake of assuming a long-haired cat that vomits regularly is troubled only by hairballs. Your cat's digestive tract is built to handle a certain amount of fur – both the fur she pulls off herself during grooming, as well as the hair attached to prey in the wild.
Most cases of hairballs are the result of too much ingested hair, a moisture-deficient diet, a problem in the GI tract, or a combination. Skin conditions caused by allergies, infections or parasites can cause excessive shedding or excessive grooming, both of which can result in too much ingested hair.
Cats on dry food diets aren't getting the moisture their organs need to function efficiently. A GI tract that is moisture-depleted is less able to transport a hairball than the digestive tract of a well-hydrated cat eating a species-appropriate diet.
A digestive tract compromised by an inflammatory condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), parasites, foreign objects, cancer, or another serious disorder may not be able to process even normal amounts of hair. A chronic hairball problem should be investigated by your veterinarian, since there could be an underlying disease requiring treatment.
Remember: chronic vomiting in a cat – even a long-haired one – is not normal. It's important to identify the root cause of your kitty's digestive dysfunction and work with your holistic vet to resolve it, and sooner rather than later. This will help prevent more serious GI issues down the road, like IBD, which in cats is linked to lymphoma.