Cat Husbandry: How to Groom Your Cat, Trim Their Nails, and Give Them Medication (PPiC Ep12)

Zazie and Kristi chat about how to groom cats, what to do with matted fur, trimming cats' nails, and how to give meds to cats.

Kristi Benson (left) and Zazie Todd chat over Zoom for The Pawsitive Post in Conversation

By Zazie Todd PhD

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Watch episode 12 of The Pawsitive Post in Conversation on Youtube or below, listen via your favourite podcast app or below, or scroll down to read some of the highlights.

Husbandry for cats

In this episode we chat about how to groom your cat and how to deal with mats, as well as how to trim your cat’s nails. We discuss the many reasons why it’s important not to “declaw” your cat and how it’s really like an amputation. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and we talk about the kind of post to provide to keep your cat happy.

We also discuss the tricky topic of how to give meds to your cats, including pilling, towel-wrapping, and tricks to make meds easier. Along the way we share stories about our own cats and of course a few tips for dogs as well.

At the end we chat about the books we’re reading. 

Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy by Zazie Todd is available from all good bookstores.

All of the books mentioned in the episode are available from my Amazon store.  

The Paw Project: Cats’ paws need their claws 

BC’s 2018 ban on declawing cats was good news for cats, study shows  

What kind of scratching post do cats prefer?  

Caring for a diabetic cat gets easier with time, study shows  

How to give your cat an insulin injection (iCatCare)  

How to train your cat to use an asthma inhaler  

Teach any cat AeroKat (iCatCare)  

How to clip your cat’s claws (iCatCare) 

Two people giving a cat a pill (iCatCare) 

Medicating tips and tricks (Fundamentally Feline)  

Comfort cats in a towel wrap (Dr. Sophia Yin)  

Fresh and Fearless: Basic Grooming Made Easy (Kristi Benson)

The Books

Kristi’s recommendation is Red, White and Royal Blue: A Novel by Casey McQuiston. 

Zazie recommends Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls by Angela Sterritt.

The books are available from all good bookstores and the Companion Animal Psychology Amazon store

Highlights of the conversation on cat husbandry

Z: Let's start with talking about how often we brush our cats and how we do that, because one of my cats Harley absolutely loves to be brushed. And it took me a few years to discover this about him because he's a short haired cat and he didn't really need brushing. My other cat Melina is not very happy [about it], she will accept it but it's not something that she particularly loves. Harley just naturally loves it, Melina doesn't love it. 

But Harley likes to be brushed every day it turns out. And he has a good internal clock so he knows what time it is when it's time for him to be groomed, which was actually just now, and he will come and meow at me and say it's time for me to be groomed. And that meow is a slightly different meow from when he's meowing because it's time for his meal time. So he has to be brushed out at this set time in the morning, that's when he expects to be brushed, and he also does kind of need it because he sheds a lot. Even though he's short-haired he does shed a lot. Even when he's just been brushed he still sheds a lot, and he's getting on a bit because he's 14. Older cats often need a bit of grooming even if they didn't before. So for him it's every day. 

For Melina, she comes and looks when I'm doing Harley and sometimes she's like okay you can brush me a little bit and I have to do really really short strokes with the brush, kind of like you know if a cat was licking another cat there'd be really short licks. So they have to be really short whereas with Harley I can actually do quite a long brush and he likes it, but for Melina it has to be short and then she's okay. Another day she's like no I'm going away today, she doesn't want it. So how about Apricat? Because Apricat is short-haired isn't he? 

K: Yes short-haired and we do brush him but sort of when he needs it, and so I'd say a few times a year almost. And maybe I'm looking at it with like a dog person's lens but I see his coat looks a little different and I'm like oh it's time to brush him now and I brush him. But you know when you're saying older cats need to be brushed more, that is interesting and I'm wondering if that's what they're saying he looks like. 

You know when you asked me to talk about this I looked at him and I thought, oh you know what it's actually it's probably time to groom him right now, I think his coat is looking a little bit like he needs to be brushed. But typically I think he takes care of himself in that way pretty you know, his coat tends to be pretty nice so when his coat starts to look not like his beautiful Apricat self then I give him a brush and he's okay with it. 

But he only likes it for a short amount of time, same as sort of most types of petting he'll only put up with it for a little bit and then he's just like "and now I'm done." But I think he likes it in that time he doesn't leave you know until he's like okay now.

Z: And I think most cats prefer things to be short. It's like most cats prefer only to be petted for a short time and then they've had enough and then they'd like it probably to happen again quite soon with the patting. Whereas this is the unusual thing about Harley, he quite likes it to go on for a long time. When we hadn't had him for very long, if we were petting him and we stopped, from his perspective it was too soon, he would bite us and then he would follow us meowing like "I want more!". So he's a very cuddly affectionate kind of cat in that way even though he's not a lap cat. But I think short-haired cats don't need it very often. 

I said older cats because I think often older cats if they have a bit of arthritis or something it can be a bit more difficult for them to reach certain areas so maybe their pants might need grooming a bit more, like their trousers, the back of their legs for example. And with Harley I even brush him on the tummy but I have to do it when he's standing up and I kind of reach round under his belly and brush his belly and he'll accept it if he's standing up. He actually likes to rub his head on something so we have a set spot and he has somewhere he can rub his head while I'm brushing him and it's just ecstasy for him. 

I think longer haired cats, and I have had longer haired cats before, they need a lot more brushing. And I think a Persian cat would definitely need a lot more brushing potentially every day, and that kind of cat, because they have a more squashed face and some folds in their faces they probably would need wiping around their eyes just like some dogs need wiping around their eyes as well. 

K: Yeah and then you must never get mats in. Apricat because he's a short haired okay I don't think so, I'm trying to think, I don't think he's ever had anything like mats anywhere. Yeah no, his hair is pretty consistently short you know and he does, he is pretty easy to take care of and he's on us a lot. It's not like you know if you have a dog or a cat or something that doesn't like to be touched sometimes I think mats can creep up you know and then all of a sudden you're like whoa I guess I haven't patted your you know belly or whatever for a long time,  or behind your ears or wherever dogs usually get mats. But because Apricat sits on my lap for like hours a day, he doesn't want to necessarily be patted that whole time but he likes to sort of sit on my lap, I think because I'm sort of touching him all the time I would feel it.

Z: Yeah I think you would. And I guess the trousers and maybe the armpits and there are certain areas maybe behind the ears perhaps as well where mats are more likely. Maybe they are common across cats and dogs I don't know. 

K: Yeah I don't know. If you have a long haired cat it you can miss mats if you're not careful because they can feel fine when you stroke them on the surface but the mat can be underneath. 

Z: Yeah yeah, they can be quite deep and then that can be really uncomfortable for the cats. So one thing you can do about that is actually just to kind of tease the hairs apart. It takes a while and you need a patient cat but you can just kind of tease the mat apart. And that's often better than trying to cut it, because if you cut it you're risking cutting the cat accidentally and that's not good. And of course if it's bad then you need to ask your vet to help out. And yeah you can take them to the vet and have them shaved if necessary at the vet and then you get a clean slate to start again. But really it's something it's best to do and to start doing when you've got them when they're young, it's much much easier. But like dogs you can teach them at any age. Sorry go on.

K: I was gonna say if you take them, same as the dog you know, sometimes people will come up to me and say oh I saw that you have like Jane's grooming course, I have a dog that hates to be touched and has matting. And I often recommend you talk to your vet and let's see if we can do a groom where the dog is receiving sort of medical assistance, get it all groomed and that gives you like you said a blank slate to start practicing so that you can start without having to be like that stress of being like Oh my God my pet has a mat and it's uncomfortable for them and I need to like work on it. You can just be like here's a fresh start for me and my cat or my dog. I can start working. I can start doing counter conditioning and get the animal really comfortable being groomed which I think is a nice it's a nice gift for you and your animal. 

Z: Yeah and you're right about the person's stress as well because if you're thinking oh there's a mat I've got to deal with, you're going to want to get on and deal with that, and at the same time if your aim is really to teach the cat or dog to enjoy being groomed actually you have to go at their pace, which is kind of contradictory to sorting out the mat. So it's a good idea like you say, if you get that done at the vet then you can concentrate on doing the training properly and get that done. Yeah it makes it much much easier. And it's so good that you have these this course available to help people with that I think it's brilliant. 

K: Yeah yeah absolutely.

Z: Yeah. So many people so many people need help with that. And then nails as well. So your course looks at dogs’ nails, the one that you have available, but cats sometimes need their nails trimmed too especially if they're indoors only. It's a bit different if they're outdoors cats because they use their nails for a lot of things they probably climb trees with them and so on and they probably wear them down a bit more but how often do you do Apricat's nails? 

K: I do his nails when they start to harm me when he sits on my lap. So he takes care of them himself sometimes a bit he does have a scratching post that he likes to use and sometimes I think that the nails get sort of worn down or they shed there, but I do keep cat nail clippers right at my desk and then when he's sitting on my lap, it gives me an opportunity to trim his nails. So not as much as I have to do the dog's nails for sure, because the dogs’ nails, I try and do them every week, but it ends up probably being once a month just because it's hard to do that kind of stuff but maybe once every couple months I'd say I have to do it so sometimes. He's just right here that's why my arm is doing like the tram sort of thing. 

If he's here and he's comfortable I can sort of gently grab one foot, do one nail and then pat him and he's fine with it. So that's one of the ways that I like to do it. 

The other way is I keep Churu in the closet there and and I'll put a plate down if he needs all of his nails done and and I need I want to do them quickly, I'll just put a little bit of Churu on the plate and he'll lick it and then I'll cut a nail and then I'll give him a little bit more. So it's sort of like it's both a distraction and a counter conditioning I think sort of protocol. It's a little sloppy, don't tell Jean {Donaldson]! But it works and he goes bananas for the taste of that stuff and it takes a whole tube essentially, or you know two-thirds of the tube and then I get through all of his nails and his whole body and he's comfortable and happy and then it's done. 

So that's how I do it again. I put a little bit on the plate to get him oriented to the plate and then I pick up his foot and I clip a nail and then I give him a little bit more so I make sure that after every nail clip he gets some treats so that he's making that association. 

Z: Yeah and I think it's something people don't often realize they can do with cats, and even as far as dogs and husbandry behaviors go we need more awareness that you can use food to help your dog enjoy these things. But for cats we need even more people to know that using food is a good way to train your cat or to use this as distraction for something. And yeah those those tubes are Churu. I think every cat seems to love them. 

K: Yeah they're very useful, very handy. And they're nice because they're shelf stable so I can just have them in my office you know and pull them out when it's time, and they're not terribly expensive so all around good stuff. 

And I think I've been lucky because Apricat is very handleable, so it's always been easy for me to pick up his foot. He doesn't like his foot being held you know but he doesn't, you know it hasn't taken a lot of work like some of my dogs have taken a lot of work. Sitka has taken a lot of work to get comfortable having her nails trimmed. But I guess it's you know sort of for cat owners to realize if their cats are really uncomfortable having their feet held you can talk to a behaviorist you know or find a good training plan. Is there one in Purr? I can't remember. 

Z: Not for nails. The two training plans in Purr are one for a trick called sit pretty and the other one is teaching your cat to go in the carrier. And I only had space for two training plans. But it tells you a lot about how to train your cat so it gives you all of the general principles that people can use.  

K: Yeah so I mean you could you could come up with a training plan or work with a cat behaviorist on a training plan where you know so instead of going right to grabbing and holding their foot and kind of like wrestling them to hold their foot and then cut their nail. You start with something really simple and that the cat's already comfortable with, maybe like a firm touch to their shoulder or something and then you give them some of the treat and over time when your cat is demonstrating that they're  comfortable in anticipating the treats you move into this like greater and greater sort of closer and closer to the actual nail clip. But in the end then you end up clipping their nails and it's all beautiful and angels sing! 

Z: And yeah so you start with the shoulder and move down to the paws because they probably don't like it if you just grab them by the paw. They're not used to that so you have to start with something they're more used to. And then there's the implement as well. So I'm sure this is what you did with Apricat of showing the implements separately and getting them used to the implement. Or maybe you didn't need to because it didn't predict anything did it? 

K: I would, I had to do that with Sitka, build a separate plan. But with Apricat no, he is just that easy that he's like oh food sure I'll let you do that. You know even if he's sort of like in the I don't love this but I'll tolerate it, he doesn't have a problem. I don't think he's ever had an actual painful experience having his nails done because it's quite easy. Because nails are white you know so it's easy enough. And Sitka doesn't fit on my lap so it's kind of a different scenario. 

Z: Yeah that is more of a challenge but if someone's dog or cat have previously had bad experiences then you would separate out the implement and you would counter-condition them to seeing the Implement as well. 

K: Yeah and sometimes dogs don't even need a bad experience to just find things scary. So you know your dog best or your cat best. If they find something scary then you're gonna have to do the training for it. If you're lucky enough to have an Apricat you can move a bit more quickly.

About the co-hosts:

Kristi Benson CTC

Zazie Todd, PhD

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