Grooming not only makes cats feel good , it acts also as a home health check. You can make sure your kitten is healthy, whiskers to tail, simply by paying attention to their skin, fur, eyes, claws, ears, and teeth on a regular basis.
Combing & Brushing
Cats should be groomed daily especially for kittens to learn to expect and relish the experience. Combing and brushing become an extension of petting. Kittens thrive on routine, so decide on a schedule and stick to it. It is not only about time, but also about the place such as a tabletop, your lap, or other platform that’s convenient for you. The top of the washer and dryer works great, and gives you space to set out all your combs and brushes. As mentioned before, shorthaired kittens can be groomed on a weekly once-over with a comb or slicker brush. Longhaired kittens, especially Persians, need daily fur attention to prevent painful mats.
Several days before you begin the lifetime grooming schedule, help your kitten get used to the idea. They may want to sniff and investigate these strange items. Leave the comb and brush out with their toys—make them part of the furniture, a normal part of your cat’s life so that it becomes familiar, instead of being scary. You may be surprised to see kitty play with the brush, or even rub her cheeks against it to mark it with her scent.
Always begin your grooming session with petting. Genetly investigate your cat all over, from head to neck, under her chin, down her back, in her armpits, the length of her tail. That not only gets her purr rumbling, it will tell you in advance if any problem have developed. That way you won’t run the comb into a mat unexpectedly. Petting helps relax the kitten in preparation for the grooming.
Kittens have very tender skin. Start with a light touch, and let your baby tell you how to proceed. Think of grooming as gently scratching the kitten’s skin rather than brushing. They’ll often arch their back into the brush when they want a heavier stroke.
Begin and end your combing or brushing session by paying attention to the kitten’s sweet spots. These are their favorite places to be rubbed, and include the cheeks, chin and throat, and the spot right above the base of the tail. Attention to the sweet spots causes her eyes to shut, purr to rumble, and butt to elevate toward the ceiling.
After carefully combing her face—pay particular attention to the mat-prone areas around her ears—progress down both of her sides. Be careful not to brush or comb too hard, especially against her spine or nipples. Then cover her flanks, inside and out, and the area beneath the tail. The tummy can be tough. Kitties often dislike attention here, so take your time. There is no rule that states you must groom the entire kitten at one setting. If your kitten becomes upset, stop and finish at a later time.
For those hard-to-reach undersides, try lifting one rear foot off the ground while you groom the other side. That takes away the cat’s balance, distracts her so she thinks about something other than grooming, while still giving you access to her nether regions.
Finish the grooming session as you began it—with the sweet spots. Also, offer your kitten a favorite game or a treat once you’ve finished. That will help her associate the grooming session with positive things for her, so she looks forward to the next time.
A bath stimulates the skin, removes excess oil and dander, and loose fur. It also gets rid of dingy spots your furry dust-mop has collected by playing under the bed. Bathing too often, though, can dry out the skin. So unless she gets really dingy, your cat probably won’t need a bath more often than every six weeks. Shorthaired kittens may be fine with two or three times a year during shedding season, but longhaired kittens benefit from more frequent baths. Show kitties tend to get bath before every show—conditioners help prevent any dry skin problems.
WARNING! Very young kittens have trouble regulating their body temperature and can become dangerously chilled if bathed, and not kept warm. As a rule, kittens should not be bathed until they are at least four weeks old—12 to 16 weeks of age is a much better age for a first bath, if they need it.
It’s best to have clipped Kitty’s nails and thoroughly combed out any tangles prior to getting her wet. Water cements mats into place, so they’ll likely need shaving to be removed. You want the baby to have blunt nails, in case she tries to climb onto you to escape the bath.
Prepare all your bathing supplies ahead of time—towels, washcloth, shampoo, and conditioner. Kittens are small enough for a bath in the kitchen sink. A double sink with a spray attachment is the ideal setup.
Place a rubber mat or towel in the bottom of the sink to give the kitten something to claw rather than you. Kittens are scared of slippery surfaces. Also run the water ahead of time before you bring in the kitten. It should be about cat body temperature—102 degrees—for the greatest comfort. Fill both sides of the sink with water up to kitten chest-level. A couple of buckets or roasting pans will also work with this “dunk” method. Insert a portion of a cotton ball into each of the kitten’s ears before you suds her up. That protects the delicate ears from getting water or soap inside. Some veterinarians recommend you put a drop of mineral oil in each eye, too, to protect them from soap.
If you use the spray attachment, remember to keep the nozzle close to the kitten’s body. Cats dislike the surprise and sound of the sprayer, so it’s best if they don’t see the water coming at them. I prefer using the dunk method to initially wet and suds the cat, and reserve the sprayer if necessary to rinse.
Gently lower your kitten into the first sink of warm water, and thoroughly wet her. Leave her face dry—you’ll do that later with the washcloth. Kittens get upset when water splashes their face, so this method helps keep her calm. Once she’s soaked, lift her out onto the towel and soap her up. Use the washcloth to gently wash her face, with care to avoid her eyes.
Again lower your soapy baby back into the first sink, and rinse as much soap off as possible. Use the cloth to clean off her face. Then move her to the second sink filled with clean warm water, and rinse her there to be sure all the soap is gone. Any suds left in the fur tend to dry the skin. When the water runs clear, rinse once more just for good measure. Lift the baby out, and wrap in a warm dry towel. Don’t forget to remove the cotton from her ears. It may take a couple of towels to blot up all the water on an extra-furry baby. Some kittens will tolerate a blow dryer on a low setting. Combing as you blow-dry the fur of longhaired babies will give them a more finished look. Use only the lowest setting on blow dryers, or you risk burning your kitten.
Tip. If bathing for fleas, you don’t need a flea shampoo. Any shampoo will work, and water will drown the bugs. Just lather up the suds around the kitten’s neck the very first thing. That creates a barrier the fleas won’t cross, so they won’t try to climb onto her head to breathe.
Claws grow at different rates depending on the kitten. Once every week or every other week is a good schedule. A good time to trim kitten nails is when she is relaxed, and cuddled for a nap on your lap. It’s a great idea to get Kitty used to having her paws handled, so she won’t be startled when you need to trim her nails. Pet her paws, and handle them gently, several times a week—not just when you plan to snip claws. Trimming kitten claws is easy. Simply pick up the paw, gently squeeze to express the nail, and snip off the sharp hooked end. Trim only the end, which is usually white, and avoid the pink section that’s nearest the toe. That pink section contains the blood vessels, and though it won’t be terribly dangerous if you “quick” the kitten and cut into this area, it will bleed and be painful. Above all, you want nail clipping to be ho-hum, not scary, and certainly not painful. Still, it’s not the end of the world if you do “quick” the kitten claw and it bleeds. There are commercial products like Kwik-Stop powder that stop the bleeding. Or you can just rake the claw through a bar of soap—that often works just as well.
Don’t forget to trim the dewclaw, too. It’s a bit hidden up the inside of the kitten’s legs, kind of like a “thumb.” Work quickly and efficiently. Be sure to avoid catching the long fur in the clipper blades. That pulls and can make the experience just as unpleasant as quicking the nail. Once you’ve finished, be sure to give Kitty a fabulous treat. She should soon understand that if she puts up with the procedure, she’ll get a tasty reward.
Remember, nobody will think less of you if not all the claws are trimmed at one setting. It’s best to stop before your kitten gets peeved, so be satisfied with clipping one or two claws each day. In a week, you’ll be done.
Cleaning Ears and Eyes
Most kitten eyes and ears need minimal care, though Persian kittens and other flat-faced breeds require more eye attention. For eyes, soak a cotton ball with warm water or with saline solution you use for your contact lenses. Soften the secretions at the corners of the kitten’s eyes with the wet cotton, then wipe them away. Daily attention to her eyes will prevent skin irritation.
Commercial ear cleaning solutions are available from your veterinarian or pet supply store. For routine cleaning, though, you can use mineral oil or baby oil on the cotton ball or swab. Gently wipe out the visible areas. You can use cotton swabs to clean out the little whorls and indentations, but never go down farther into the ear than you can see. You can very easily damage your kitten’s hearing without meaning to.
Even liquid solutions can be dangerous, so don’t drip mineral oil, baby oil, or other cleaners directly into the ear, unless your veterinarian says. Scottish Fold kittens need particular attention to their ears. This endearing breed has ears that fold forward like a cap on her head. That makes the inside of the ears more difficult to see, so you must make a point of being vigilant.
Veterinary dentists say that ideally, you should brush your kitten’s teeth every single day. But if you can manage two or three times a week, you’ll do better than most folks. Even once a week is better than nothing.
Introduce your kitten to dental care one step at a time. Begin by stroking and scratching her cheeks and chin, progress to rubbing her lips, and finally gently slip one finger into her mouth. Don’t force her to open wide, just gently rub her gums for a very brief moment. Reward these sessions with a tasty treat—perhaps a lick of the flavored kitty toothpaste, to help her associate that flavor with handling her mouth.
WARNING! Kittens begin to lose baby teeth at about three to four months of age. Be aware that your kitten’s mouth may be a bit tender at times, as these new teeth erupt.
Start to flavor your finger with the toothpaste. Then wrap your finger with a soft cloth, add a bit of the paste, and massage your kitten’s teeth and gums with that. Stop when she protests too much. Be satisfied if you can do one side—you simply want to build up her tolerance level. Once Kitty accepts your finger, it’s a short step to progressing to the finger toothbrush. Kittens tend to tolerate brushing pretty well when you start them young. That can build a healthy habit that will last a lifetime.