End Grooming Battles

The trick is to gradually make brushing a non-issue

Q. Dear Elizabeth,

I am a Tortie-colored chunky girl who tips the scales at almost 15 pounds. I have long hair that gets matted on my lower spine area, and I become wild and aggressive when someone tries to brush me there.

I am friendly to the two humans that I live with, but not real friendly to outsiders. I will allow Mom to pick me up and hold me, and I rarely jump into her lap for a few minutes. I do sleep with Mom and Dad, and sometimes come to the head of the bed and cuddle for a short time.

Is there a non-traumatic way to help Mom groom me? I really don’t like the veterinarian and sedation.

Sincerely, Callie

A. Dear Callie,

Grooming is an important activity (as you know) and can not only provide health benefits to a kitty (less chance of matting, with associated skin infections) but is also a great bonding time for both owner and cat, as long as both are accepting of this activity!

It’s important that your owner consult with your veterinarian to make sure you are not behaving this way because you are physically uncomfortable being touched in this area due to medical problems, such as arthritis/skin allergies.

If you are carrying around a few extra pounds, it may be more difficult for you to reach certain areas on your body (like your lower spine area) to groom, resulting in a predisposition to matting in these areas. Obesity is also associated with a greater risk for other problems, including arthritis and diabetes, so please consult with your veterinarian to see if a weight-reduction program may help you.

It may be worth having your owner consider a few things, too. The first is to minimize any stress associated with grooming and to consider using synthetic feline hormones in the room and/or on the towel/surface on which you sit while being brushed. It is important that she talk in calm tones, and it may be worth her trying to gradually desensitize you to the brush by keeping it in your immediate environment without brushing, all the while praising with calm words and/or (low-calorie) food treats. This should be done daily for several consecutive days.

Your people could try using the brush for you to rub up against when you are seeking caresses (like at bedtime). The goal is to make the brush less associated with the negative experience of brushing and have it become a part of the furniture, so to speak.

Your mom can try to intermittently gently caress your lower spine region without brushing, just to get you used to stimulation there, and praise you for good responses. Any negative responses should prompt immediate cessation of the activity, and she should not punish you for this behavior. In some cases, a distracting noise, such as someone shaking an aluminum can filled with coins, can stop negative behavior in cats.

If you can get to where she can place the brush on your lower spine region without brushing, she should try just this for several consecutive days. Ultimately, you may get to used it. The goal is to gradually introduce limited brushing while praising, stopping immediately if any negative behavior is observed. With this approach, cats often accept things that they didn’t accept initially.

In some cases, consultation with a veterinary behaviorist and/or the use of anti-anxiety medication can be beneficial to cats that may become aggressive. The most important thing, though, is that your owner avoid any activities that result in her being bitten/scratched and that she seek out appropriate medical advice if she is injured as a result of your aggression.

My advice to you is to try to relax and enjoy these grooming sessions … if you do, you will see that they are actually a blessing in disguise!

All My Best, Elizabeth