Coat Care

Grooming and Coat Care

Maintaining coat and skin health through regular, extensive grooming is a healthy part of a cat’s normal daily activities. Cats spend up to 25% of their waking time grooming. Poor coat health may be a result of reduced grooming, soiling (with external substances, urine, or feces), as well as infectious or other diseases. Both long-haired and short-haired cats may be affected.

Poor coat condition warrants investigation as it may reflect health problems including dental disease, any disease causing pain (e.g., arthritis), any disease causing malaise, dehydration, inadequate nutrition, or obesity. A full history and a complete physical examination including obtaining an appropriate minimum database (complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, complete urinalysis [and total T4 for older cats]) is critical.

In addition to identifying and treating the underlying cause of disease, use of pain medication should be considered for patients with potentially painful conditions (see Pain Assessment and Management).

Soiling of the coat due to external substances may require special veterinary attention, particularly if the soiling agents include substances that are toxic or not water-soluble. Soiling from urine or feces warrants investigation as the cat may be experiencing a medical problem (e.g., constipation, diarrhea, polyuria, stranguria, etc.). Cats with mobility issues, including cats that have difficulty walking or are unable to stand, may be incapable of using a litter box. As a result, fecal matter or urine may soil the coat.

External parasites such as fleas, mites, and lice can be diagnosed at the time of physical examination or following cytologic examination of the hair coat (see Parasite Control). Fleas are often difficult to find in cats due to their meticulous grooming behaviour. A lack of fleas and flea dirt does not rule out flea infestation. Empirical therapy is indicated where the index of suspicion is high.

Regular Coat Care

Routine brushing is beneficial for removing loose, shedding hair, as well as potentially providing bonding activity between the client and pet. Some cats take to brushing readily and enjoy it, while others will not. A cat that previously enjoyed this activity but suddenly resents combing or brushing may be ill or may have a painful area on the body. The veterinarian should be able to make individualized recommendations about appropriate combs and brushes. Most combs reach the skin better than brushes and do not produce static electricity.

Shaving is warranted in cats that are prone to chronic matting or experiencing medical problems contributing to poor coat conditions. Veterinary clinics should consider offering health-related basic grooming services, or at minimum be able to make recommendations for a reputable cat groomer. Full body shaves and ‘lion clips’ are relatively easy to perform, although the patient may require pain medication and/or sedation. Cats should never be physically restrained for grooming (see Pain Assessment and Management).

Chronic vomiting of hairballs is an indication for diagnostic testing for decreased motility due to gastrointestinal or abdominal disease. Cats are normally able to process ingested hair. Other causes for hairballs include increased hair loss, internal or superficial pain, and stress that result in increased grooming.


  • Susan Little, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) Bytown Cat Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario
  • Diane McKelvey, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) Aberdeen Veterinary Hospital, Kamloops, British Columbia
  • Elizabeth O’Brien, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) The Cat Clinic, Hamilton, Ontario
  • Elizabeth Ruelle, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) Wild Rose Cat Clinic of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta
  • Kelly St. Denis, MSC, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice)
  • Margie Scherk, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) catsINK, Vancouver, British Columbia

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