Cat Grooming Basics

Before the economy went south last fall, 29-year-old teacher Bethany Clay took her long-haired cat, Charlie, to the groomer every six weeks. “He always looked so nice after his $45 bath with a comb,” says Clay. However, when she became worried about her job security, Clay began to eliminate extras from her budget. “I’m trying to save more these days, so I brought a comb that my groomer recommended, and I’ve been brushing Charlie out every week at home.”

Professional groomers may offer convenience, expertise and a more finished look, but your cat can also benefit from what you can provide at home. Debbie Felder, owner of the Granada Hills, Calif.-based Bowser’s Natural Pet Grooming and a product tester for grooming product company Bamboo Pet, offers tips on home care for your furry friend’s coat, skin, nails and teeth.

Brushing your feline keeps its coat shiny, stimulates circulation, gets rid of loose hair and keeping mats at bay. While shorthaired cats can be brushed approximately every 14 days, longhaired cats need more regular sessions, at least once a week.

“Cats have thin skin, so comb gently,” says Felder. “Make sure to check for mats, especially around the ears, where the oil deposited by human hands can lead to trouble.” Mats should be lightly combed out with a steel cat comb.

While cats clean themselves, even the most dedicated self-licker may need a bath to treat a skin condition, kill fleas or just deal with a big kitty mess. Felder recommends bathing your cat after brushing. She also suggests using a massaging showerhead while your pet is in a wire cage. “If you don’t have a cage, hold your cat by the back of the neck or ask a friend to help restrain the cat while you bathe it. Talk to it soothingly to keep it calm.”

Lay out your supplies in advance to streamline the process. These should include a showerhead or pitcher, shampoo and a towel for drying, since most cats will not tolerate a blow dryer. “Cats are very sensitive to chemicals, so use a shampoo specifically formulated for cats and rinse it out thoroughly. I don’t recommend conditioners: They leave the animal too greasy,” says Felder.

Regular human nail clippers work just fine on a cat, but Felder also recommends using a Dremel -- an electric, rotating stone that you can buy at any hardware store. “Have somebody hold your cat while you push on the paw to get the nail to extend,” advises Felder. Clip or file only the sharp tip, staying within the clear portion of the nail.

Teeth Cleaning
“You can brush your cat’s teeth, and it’s easy because they don’t have a lot of them!” says Felder. Still, your pet must be prepared for the process. Allow the cat to become used to your finger in its mouth over a few days. Start by flavoring your finger with tuna water and letting your kitty lick you before rubbing your flavored finger over its teeth and gums.

Next time, place a tuna-soaked piece of gauze over your finger, and rub the animal’s gums and teeth. Finally, introduce the toothbrush in the same way you did your finger, dipping it in something appetizing and letting your cat lick it. Flavored toothpastes will help keep the process tasty.

Rules for Good Grooming

  • Keep grooming fun. Approach your cat when you are relaxed and in a good mood. Don’t get frustrated. Talk nicely to your cat throughout the session.
  • Tread lightly. Learn from the mistakes of human groomers you’ve worked with. Be gentle with your hands, keep water at a comfortable temperature and don’t force your cat to remain in an uncomfortable position for too long.
  • Stop sooner rather than later. If your cat begins to resist you during a brushing or filing session, let it go. Finish another day.
  • Ask for help. If your cat just isn’t being cooperative or has mats you can’t tackle, a visit to a local groomer may be the solution. “Most groomers will be happy to demonstrate good techniques for you if you’re having trouble,” says Felder. This will help to keep you -- and your little love -- enjoying the togetherness of grooming time for years to come.

Protecting Your Home From Fleas

Fleas are the bane of many a pet owner. Even people without animals in their homes can become infested with these agile, fast-multiplying parasites. The minute any warm-blooded creature -- including you -- leaves your house, he or she becomes fair game for fleas or flea eggs, which can be carried in on shoes or via a breeze through an open window. A single female may lay up to 500 eggs during her lifetime, with egg production stimulated by blood meals. That means each time a flea bites you or your cat, many more fleas are in your future.

Scientists, however, recently discovered that the deadliest flea weapon is probably tucked away right now in your closet. It’s your vacuum cleaner.

But not just any vacuum cleaner is effective against fleas. There are certain vacuum size and weight requirements and particular places you need to target when cleaning. If you are concerned about fleas, as well as the potential health effects of pesticides, the following information may forever change the way you deal with pet parasites.

How Your Vacuum Kills Fleas
According to entomologist Glen Needham, PhD, of Ohio State University, not much research had been done on how vacuuming kills fleas. He and colleague W. Fred Hink, PhD, were curious what happens to fleas after they’ve been vacuumed up. Dr. Hink decided to raise fleas at various life stages before placing them on a carpet. He then cleaned the area with a vacuum that had a permanent cloth bag fitted with a disposable paper inner bag. Both scientists were surprised by what they saw when they placed the bag’s contents under a microscope.

“There were all of these crispy little dead things that used to be live fleas,” Dr. Needham says. “Ninety-six percent of all the adult fleas had died, while one hundred percent of the flea pupae and larvae had died.”

Puzzled by the flea carnage, Dr. Hink conducted further experiments to determine what exactly killed these fleas. He ruled out the possibility that the paper bag wasn’t somehow toxic or that the power of the moving air did in the fleas. “We instead believe that the vacuum machinery itself, particularly the brushes, bangs up the fleas to such a violent degree that they perish,” Dr. Needham says.

He explains that all ticks, fleas, mites and many other parasites need water to survive. To preserve body moisture, fleas secrete a waxy substance that coats the outside of their bodies. Fleas often repair minor damage to the wax layer, but “the vacuum machinery must penetrate this protective layer to such a degree that wax coating is irreparable.”

Not Just Any Vacuum De-fleas
While the scientists didn’t test multiple vacuum brands, they theorize that older vacuums, with inner brushes and bags, work better at killing fleas than most of the “sexy” newer vacuums with less inner moving parts. Many of the newer vortex suction vacuums, for example, probably lack the punishing parts that cause fleas to kick the bucket.

If you have an older vacuum that still works, you may consider pulling it out for your flea-targeted cleanups. For the study, the scientists used a Royal Deluxe upright all-metal vacuum, Model M1010. Any vacuum that’s a similar size and shape will do the trick. If you don’t already have one, you can find them at your local appliance store or used models at, yes, your local flea market.

Best Ways to Foil Fleas
The scientists suggest these measures for keeping your home flea free:

  • Choose carpeting carefully Flea pupae spin a cocoon that can wind around carpet strands. This makes it very difficult to suck them up into a vacuum. Plush carpeting may therefore harbor more fleas, after vacuuming, than flatter, less fibrous carpeting. Since the latter is generally less expensive, you may get more out of your carpet dollars, at least in terms of cleaning for fleas, by purchasing such non-plush carpeting. Replacing carpeted areas with wood or some other type of solid flooring would be another option to consider if your budget could permit the switch.

  • Vacuum your fabric furniture  Couches and chairs may all contain fleas and other parasites, which can creep beyond the upper surface that you see. At least one a week, vacuum all such furniture thoroughly, particularly if your cat likes to snooze or rest on it. This will not only rid the furniture of fleas, but it will also remove flea eggs and future chances for infestation.

  • Frequently wash your bedding   Just as parasites can move into furniture, they may also live in your mattress. Mites are in many bedroom mattresses. Be sure to wash your bedding, including the mattress pad, at least once or twice weekly. Adding bleach to the wash cycle will help to ensure the demise of creepy crawlies.

  • Rotate your mattress  Parasites often rely on body humidity for their survival. “If you regularly rotate your mattress, it’s like sending insects to the desert,” Dr. Needham says. Experiments show that once the mattress is flipped, the bloodsuckers, initially on the top, die of desiccation. “For some reason, they don’t move back up,” he explains. Try to do the rotation twice monthly with a helper to make the task a snap.

  • Vacuum your mattress  Few of us vacuum our mattresses, but researchers advise that this should also be done on a regular basis. A good vacuuming once or twice weekly will help to prevent parasites. It will also ease your mind come bedtime.

  • Clean your curtains Fabric curtains can harbor parasites, so these too should be shaken outside and/or washed. If the fabric is fully machine washable, use a color safe bleach to boost the cleaning power. If the fabric isn’t machine washable, opt to dry clean your curtains twice yearly or more often, if needed. Hanging curtains in the bright sun can also help to dry up parasites and to sterilize the material.

The Future of Home Flea Control
At present, Dr. Needham is investigating a new technology that will allow people to have their high tech, sexy vacuums and still be able to kill fleas, as well as destroy fungi, bacteria and germs. Such systems use ultraviolet radiation to zap the pests dead. “It may revolutionize cleaning,” he says, “and the federal government is also interested, since similar devices may be used in the event of a bioterrorist attack.” He adds that both upright and hand-held UV-based vacuums should be on the market in the not-too-distant future.

Cat-Ching: Careers for Cat Lovers

Are you eager to spend more time with cats? If the answer is yes, you have something in common with online cat boutique owner Esra Gulenc of Houston, Texas. Back in 2003, Gulenc's job meant 40 hours a week away from black medium-hair Supercat and tabby Alexander the Great. She wanted more quality time with the kitties, but also needed to earn a living. Gulenc decided to use her passion for cats, as well as their paraphernalia, to create an online store tailored to felines.

Today, Felinerina both pays Gulenc's rent (for her home and two separate offices) and lets her indulge in an almost daily, worldwide search for unique kitty booty. “I do what I love, but to make sure I had a chance at being successful, I did my research and found my niche,” she explains. The success was not overnight. It took a year and a half for Gulenc to turn a profit. It was worth it for the ultimate payoff: “My cats can come to work with me!”

Gulenc is only one cat fancier to turn her passion into profit. Here, other cat-lovers turned cat-professionals offer advice on what it takes to develop cat-ching.

Cat Sitter
Although it requires little capital, becoming a cat sitter is no small commitment. To build a business, you'll need to be available at times when pet owners leave town. “You're 24/7, and you're definitely home for the holidays,” says Jill Weiner, owner of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based A Friend Pet Sitter. “You have to go into it knowing that you're on a different schedule than the rest of the world.”

Weiner's work entails 30-minute home visits during which she might clean kitty litter, refresh water and food, play with a cat, or administer medication. It also includes becoming bonded (that is, insured for inadvertent damage to a client's property), hiring employees, meeting with cat owners interested in her services and marketing her company. “You need social skills and personality,” says Weiner. “You can't forget that it's a service industry.”

The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters is the trade organization for pet sitters, providing tools and education to help its members' businesses. The association also provides certification, although this isn't necessary to start a cat sitting business.

Cat Behaviorist
Cat behavior consultants work with pet owners and their felines to strengthen those relationships. But they begin, first and foremost, with a curiosity about what makes cats tick. Jackson Galaxy, a cat behavior consultant in Redondo Beach, Calif., explains that an aspiring behaviorist spends a great deal of time observing cats. Galaxy did this by working at shelters for many years and by reading veterinary studies and books on cat behavior. “You start to get ideas as you watch the cats and the reading helps you develop your point of view,” he explains.

If learning in the trenches is not for you, more formal training is available, as well as certification, through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. You can find out about both of these at their websites. Like with pet sitting, marketing is key, as are people skills. The animal may be your client, but it's their human companion who does the hiring.

Perhaps the most effective way to market yourself is to get to know other cat professionals (veterinarians, groomers, pet store owners, cat sitters) in your area. Call them to set up meet-and-greets at their offices and provide them with your credentials and a list of your services. When their clients need a behaviorist to consult with, your card will be a paw swipe away.

Cat Trainer
You know you're a born cat trainer when “you eat, sleep and breathe cats,” says Karin McElhatton, a certified animal trainer and owner of Los Angeles-based Studio Animal Services. “You have to be totally happy to spend all your waking moments thinking about how to get cats to do things.”

If that sounds like you, finding a cat trainer who allows you to apprentice is the next step. This is no Donald Trump-style quickie process. A trainer-in-training can apprentice for as many as two years -- without pay. “You need to have an alternate means of support while you're learning,” says McElhatton.

Once the apprenticeship is complete, a cat trainer will most likely work for an animal talent agency -- training cats for stage, print, or television and film roles. (It's rare to be hired privately as a cat trainer, as most owners are not willing to pay someone to train their pet to roll over.) It's important to note that a cat trainer's responsibility doesn't end when he or she leaves work. The trainer is usually responsible for the care, including the housing, of the cats.

While more costly than hands-on education, certification from animal training schools is also available. To learn more, visit the Search 4 Career Colleges website.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is always hiring. The job might entail administrative, marketing, web design or many other types of work. The Society has offices and clinics throughout the country and is in constant need of staff. “There's no one skill set required to work at the ASPCA,” explains ASPCA senior vice president Gail Buchwald, “but a good starting point is a love of animals and a commitment to animal welfare.”

While employees work with and for felines and canines, volunteers do have the opportunity to work in a cats-only capacity as “cat socializers,” spending time with cats waiting to be adopted. Buchwald points out that “for an animal lover, there is no greater privilege and no career as gratifying as helping animals in need.” For job postings, visit their website.

Cat Groomer
Sure, a cat can bathe itself, but tooth brushing and mat extraction are out of its range. For these procedures, as well as others involving tools and ointments, a visit to the cat groomer is in order. Groomers give baths and blowouts. They comb and brush hair, not to mention cleaning the wax out of kitty ears. Groomers offer valuable advice on how to reduce shedding. They are often the first to identify skin and hair problems in cats.

While pet groomers do not need to be licensed, most earn diplomas from pet grooming schools. These schools offer courses as short as six weeks or as long as one year, depending on how much a student wants to learn about pets and their needs. Equally as important as the course work is “a love of cats,” says Leigh Ann Gray, a cat groomer at AAA Pet Grooming in Sparta, Mich. “Cats that don't like to be groomed can really freak out, and that can be dangerous. So you need love and patience.” On the upside: “Cats are good listeners! You can carry on a conversation while you bathe them and they are attentive no matter what.” For more information, visit the Pet Groomer website.

Embarking on a cat-centered career -- in any area -- requires time and effort. But none of the cat careerists above has any regrets. “I got into cat sitting because I couldn't have a cat in my apartment,” says A Friend Pet Sitter's Weiner. “Now I have more cats in my life than any single apartment could hold.”

In the Tub with Tabby

While many cats aren't big fans of swimming or bathing, it's a myth that all cats have an aversion to water. Many are fascinated by it. "Some will play in water, splash around with their paws or drink directly out of the faucet or toilet if given the opportunity," says Kirsten H. Jeffers, DVM, a senior veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in Orland Park, Ill. In fact, tigers, one of the largest members of the cat family, actually swim in rivers and lakes in the wild.

While domestic cats will usually avoid deep bodies of water, many like to play in the shower or bathtub when their owners are done. Still others can swim in shallow pools if they've received training. There is no need for your cat to become an Olympic swimmer, but getting your cat used to water can help if you need to bathe your kitty due to severe flea infestation, pet dander problems or for other reasons when your vet may feel that a nice, warm bath for your feline is in order. Here are seven tips to help your cat become a little more water-friendly.

Start young Ideally, you'll want to get your cat into the water when it's a kitten. By familiarizing your cat with water at a young age, you'll have better success as your pet ages. "If the cat is introduced to the bathing process as a kitten, the whole experience can, and will be, better," says Dr. Jeffers.

Never force water on your cat If you have a full-grown cat, introduce it to water slowly and gently. "Try letting a trickle of water run in a sink and see if your cat plays with it or drinks from it," suggests Dr. Jeffers. "Never force the cat near the water if it appears to be frightened. Let the cat approach it at its own pace. Forcing the cat can result in injury to yourself or to the cat, which may bite you out of fear."

Add rewards If your cat remains hesitant about being bathed, break the bath-time process down into small steps, says Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Denver, Colorado. To start, rub the cat with a damp towel with one hand. In your other hand, place some cat food. The cat will associate the feeling of skin dampness with a treat and it will be more apt to try it again.

Try placing your cat in an empty bathtub Next, pick the cat up and allow it to eat from a bowl of tuna placed next to the tub. Pet the cat repeatedly. "Owners should brainstorm ways to make the bath experience more comfortable to the cat," says Hetts. "The idea is to expose the cat in a gradual way instead of running water in a bath and having it yowl and scratch at you."

When in doubt, add medication If your cat can't stand the water, yet your veterinarian recommends that you bathe your pet for medical purposes, consider asking your vet for a short-acting anxiety medication to help make the process go more smoothly. "If you have to do repeated baths, they'll get progressively worse if the cat hates the water," says Hetts.

Be safe in the pool Cats should always be supervised when they are near bodies of water, even a slightly full bathtub. If you have a backyard pool and your cat could access it, however, constant supervision may not always be possible. As a safeguard, consider getting a pool alarm. This safety device consists of a speaker-like base station and a lightweight pet collar that your cat can wear. When the collar gets wet, the base sounds an alarm. Hetts concludes, "No matter what, it's up to you to make sure your cat's safety is guaranteed."