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The ultimate guide to grooming your cat

Cats are naturally very clean animals, and their ability to groom themselves with their rough tongue is well known. Cats do, however, need to be regularly groomed - cats benefit greatly from regular brushing and care of their skin, ears and teeth, and it is part of responsible pet ownership to provide this. Read on to find out how we can best look after our beloved cats and help them look and feel their very best!

Importance of grooming

Although cats have rough tongues that can help remove dirt and loose fur, it is not as effective as regular grooming at home, including brushing, dental care, ear cleaning and nail trims.

There are many advantages in the regular grooming of your cat:

  • It provides an opportunity for you to find issues such as skin infections, parasites, lumps and bumps
  • It stimulates your cat’s skin to produce healthy oils that make the coat shine
  • It removes loose fur and dirt
  • It gives you and your cat a positive experience to strengthen your bond
  • Cats that are regularly brushed are less prone to hairballs, which is an accumulation of swallowed, matted fur in the digestive tract. Hairballs can cause vomiting and digestive upsets. If you have concerns that your cat is suffering from hairballs, please seek veterinary advice

Grooming equipment: What will you need?

There is a large variety of grooming equipment available, and it can be confusing trying to choose which is best. Feel brushes or combs against your own skin, and avoid sharp metal pronged brushes which can scratch your cat’s skin.

Short haired cats may be brushed with a grooming glove, but long-haired cats may prefer plastic tipped pronged brushes or bristle brushes. When a cat is shedding, rubber pronged massage brushes can be effective. Soft bristle brushes may be preferred for older or arthritic cats.

How to train your cat to enjoy being brushed

Introduce your cat to being brushed in a calm, gentle manner from an early age and they are more likely to enjoy it. Start when your cat is relaxed. A kitten may like to be brushed with a clean, soft toothbrush.

Brush your cat’s face and head in short strokes, always following the cat’s direction of fur.

If your cat isn’t used to being groomed, gently stroke your cat with your fingers first and let them investigate the brush. Give a treat (such as a food treat, verbal praise and gentle stroking) to reward them. It may take a while before you are able to brush them for more than short time periods. Initially, just a few seconds is fine. Never force your cat to be brushed as it will only distress them. Being familiar with cat body language is always a good idea! Stop the grooming session if your cat moves away, becomes tense with a swishing tail, or starts hissing or growling.

If your cat has severely matted fur and can’t be brushed, speak with your veterinarian as they may offer cat coat clipping at the vet clinic under sedation. Don’t try to cut out matted coats at home with scissors – many cats end up needing surgery when this DIY goes wrong!

It is far better to calmly brush your cat for a few moments a day than to attempt a lengthy grooming session less often.


Although some cats will tolerate bathing, most do not enjoy being wet so it is generally best to avoid it unless your cat is very dirty. Use warm, fresh water and a gentle shampoo that is suitable for cats, making sure to avoid getting any water or shampoo in your cat’s eyes and ears. Ensure you have plenty of warm clean towels to dry your cat afterwards and a safe, draft free location for them to rest in afterwards.

Nail clipping

Check your cat’s nails weekly. Trim nails as needed, and provide scratching posts and climbing towers.

To trim nails safely, only take off the very tips of the cat’s nails. Use a special cat nail trimmer, and keep away from the ‘quick’ which is a blood vessel in the base of the nail. There are videos online to help you, otherwise, many vets offer nail clipping, often by a nurse who will be happy to show you how to trim nails at home.

Dental health

Did you know that as many as 85% of cats aged three years and older have some sort of dental disease?

The best way to care for your cat’s teeth is to start daily tooth brushing while your cat is still young, using an appropriate cat toothpaste. This is in addition to regular dental checks at your vet, who can advise you on the best diet, home care and brushing. If you notice bad breath, chipped or discoloured teeth or bleeding in the mouth, see your vet.

Ear health

Inspect your cat’s ears at least weekly, checking for any unusual smell or discharge, and see your vet if you are worried your cat has an ear infection or for advice on ear cleaning.

Additional considerations

Changes to your cat’s skin, coat and teeth can be a sign of serious underlying health problems.

Cats can be very good at hiding their illness. Without their owners knowing, cats may develop issues such as arthritis, dental disease, overgrown nails, sore ears and matted coats. Before starting on any new regime of grooming and tooth brushing, consider a checkup at the vet.

Many adult cats will need dental scaling and polishing at the veterinary clinic, which can set you up for greater success with dental home care. Similarly, seriously matted hair and ear infections can’t be fixed at home, so you will need veterinary attention for your cat.

It is important to keep up to date with your cat’s health checks, vaccinations and parasite prevention too.

Showing how much you love them

Sharing your life with a cat can bring much joy, and grooming is one way we can show our love for our four-legged friend. To learn how to properly care for your cat, consult your vet for advice. To assist caring for your pet you may consider pet insurance, which could help with the cost of emergency vet care due to accidental injury and illness.

With RSPCA Pet Insurance, you can claim for reimbursement on a percentage of the cost of eligible vet expenses at any registered vet in Australia. And, if you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums go towards supporting the valuable work of the RSPCA.

Dr Catherine Tiplady bio image

Dr Catherine Tiplady

Dr Catherine Tiplady studied veterinary science at the University of Queensland. After graduation, Dr Catherine worked in veterinary practice whilst undertaking postgraduate research in Animal Welfare, gaining additional degrees in Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Studies) (Hons 1) and a PhD. Dr Catherine has published widely in peer reviewed scientific journals and has also authored a book, ‘Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People’. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Catherine also has her own business performing gentle in-home pet euthanasia and provides veterinary care and desexing services for animal welfare charities. Dr Catherine brings her passion for animal welfare, love of writing and scientific training together to contribute quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance’s Pet Care blog.