Cats are fastidious groomers spending 50% of their waking hours attending to their personal hygiene. Their ability to maintain such high standards of personal grooming are due in part to the bristle like barbs on a cat’s tongue and to their flexibility.
Grooming is a sign of contentment, confidence and health. The repetitive licking movements release endorphins in the brain which calm the cat similar to what happens when they are pet.
Grooming not only removes dead hairs to prevent matting, but it distributes oils along the shaft of the fur to keep it healthy and protects the skin from dampness and heat loss.
Those prickly barbs on the skin stimulate circulation to the skin as your cat grooms.
So why did your cat let it’s haircoat go? Is he/she just being lazy? Actually, although there are some cats who never learned to take care of their coat properly, for most, matting is a sign of disease.
The mouth is the main grooming tool, so if there is oral disease, your pet will avoid grooming. Periodontal disease (disease of the teeth and gums), stomatitis (Infection or inflammation in the mouth) or oral tumors (often hidden under the tongue) are the main sources of oral pain.
Loss of flexibility of the spine is the most common cause of matting in the hind end of your cat. This may be related to arthritis in the limbs or spine, or more commonly obesity. Fat cats can’t twist their head around far enough to reach their hind quarters.
General malaise (not feeling well) will make your cat sleep more and not have enough energy to be bothered about grooming. So matting of the fur may be your first indicator that your pet is anemic, isn’t breathing well, has kidney failure, is diabetic, has heart disease or even cancer. It is your cat’s way of showing you he/she isn’t feeling well.
Stress will also influence grooming habits. Some cats will hyper groom when stressed and create bald spots. They do this to release those endorphins in their brain in an attempt to self medicate their anxiety. In other cases, stressed cats feel too vulnerable to groom. These cats have severe anxiety and are worried they can’t take time away from surveying their environment to attend to their grooming needs.
Matting, especially of the hind end, is more than a cosmetic imperfection. When fur matts around your cat’s hind quarters it can obstruct normal urination and defecation and lead to urinary tract infections, constipation, and moist dermatitis.
So what can you do to help? Step one is get a diagnosis. Bring your cat in for a full physical exam and blood and urine screen. Once we know why your cat is getting matted, we can improve his health.
Step two is to help your cat by combing daily with a steel toothed comb. You can also use a damp wash cloth to rub in a massaging pattern over the coat, mimicking the action of the cat’s tongue. NEVER use scissors to cut out matts. You will cut the skin. If you encounter a matt you can’t comb out, bring your cat in to the clinic and have it safely shaved out.
Finally, make sure your cat is on a nutritious diet. The diet needs to address your pet’s health status as well as be very high in Omega 3 fatty acids. We have a number of nutritional councellors on staff that can make a diet plan for your cat.
What about furballs? Cats that are doing a good job with maintaining their healthy coat may rarely bring up a fur ball. We have some furball treatments available over the counter that will help. If your cat brings up a fur ball more often than once every 2-3 weeks, then your cat likely has an underlying gastrointestinal disorder and should be examined immediately.
And finally, why does your cat groom you? Is it a sign of affection? Actually it may be. Mutual grooming is the way a cat expresses affection; their way of kissing. It may also be a comment on your hygiene though. Your cat may be removing the oils or odours from your skin/hair. Whatever the reason, enjoy it. That massaging action releases the same endorphins from your brain.