Low Stress Handling Cat Grooming

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A different approach to cat grooming and the rise of the Low Stress Handling cat grooming movement.

Author: Anita Kelsey: Copyright. 7th September 2014

I have been grooming cats for 4 years now, although I feel like the journey has been much longer due to the ever-changing way I approach my work and also the wealth of information I’ve picked up along the way by trial and error, research, speaking to other groomers whose methods I respect, as well as my extensive and never-ending study and research of cat behaviour.

There are some really important factors to consider with Low stress handling cat grooming and I’d like to highlight some now.

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19 year old Orlando is arthritic so his groom had to be handled with great care.

 The groom is never about the groomer but about the cat.

What do I mean by this?

Well, a client has paid me to groom their cat and they expect me to turn up and do just that. But, in some cases, it is not possible to go ahead and do a simple groom. The cat may be too scared to co-operate, may be fearful and therefore display various levels of aggression, may be arthritic, may be old and frail so touching the body in places that hurt etc. All cats are individual. They cannot communicate through talking as we know it. Instead they communicate to us through body posturing, size of pupils, positioning of the ears, movement and appearance of their tails, vocalisations, and behaviours. I have seen some horrific handling of cats, personally and via photos and video footage on the internet, from cat groomers who expect all cats to do as they command because THEY are the groomer and they WILL get the job done. This is the worst attitude to start a cat groom with and will put a cat in a fearful defensive state.

It is important to understand that restraints, scruffing, muzzling are all actions that will put a cat on guard and worsen any existing fear.

When a cat bites..

When I was badly bitten on a groom, my friendly vet said straight away, without any thought for me “it’s never the cats fault”. He’s right! It’s always the fault of the person handling the cat. What he meant by that was the person bitten had to of been either

  1. using inadequate handling techniques

  2. failing to listen to the cat (ignoring the warning signs) or

  3. doing something else wrong to make the cat react in this way.

I agreed with him 100% and it made me smile inside! The lesson humbled me.

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This cat didn’t mind me touching her tummy. Some cats react badly to being touched on this vulnerable area.

What is best for the cat? Low stress handling cat grooming explained.

When it comes to cat grooming, not all clients understand what is best for their cat, because they are not trained in this area, so it really is up to the groomer to educate them as to what they feel would be the best and most humane way to groom their cat. It is a cat groomer’s duty to be the voice of reason with clients and to use their expertise when deciding what should be done, despite what a client is requesting. Too many groomers ignore what’s best for the cat, fail to take into consideration the cat’s personality, and are concerned merely with keeping the client happy and the fee they will receive for performing the request.

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A typical cat muzzle used by UK vets and groomers. Never used by Anita

Muzzling – right or wrong?

How would a human being feel being plunged into darkness with a hood over their heads and a small breathing hole, not knowing where the next touch on their body was going to be, not knowing what was being done to them, panicking and afraid. I have heard ‘vets use them, so they must be safe for the cat” They may be safe but are they humane and the best option? Far from it. Most cats respond badly to being muzzled and this can have a very negative effect on how a cat will view any future grooming. Also, When a cat wears a face muzzle, the groomer cannot monitor its breathing. When a cat starts to pant, the heart is working overtime, and for cats this can be dangerous, even fatal. A groomer needs to stop what they are doing if they see this happening. The cat needs a break and re-assurance. Sometimes the groom has to be stopped all together. So how safe is a muzzle under these circumstances?

Compassion and understanding the situation from a cats perspective

Being open to learn from others paves the way for reflection and better practice. Sheryl Woods, a cat groomer based in Illinois, wrote an article on compassionate cat grooming which articulates perfectly the need for more understanding in this area. Compassionate and low stress handling within the cat grooming industry is slowly growing and cat groomers like US based Stacey Ward, Sheryl Woods, and UK based groomers such as Gillian Harvey & Svetlana Broussova have also been inspiring figures within this arena.

As Jackson Galaxy states:

“A cat will always have a story to tell”

I thank everyone who continues to help me grow including my wonderful clients and their fur babies.

Thanks to all of the cat groomers out there who are going above and beyond to find ways to groom cats with kindness and compassion. It is all they ask of us as sentient beings who share the planet with them.

If you have a cat who needs grooming, especially one who is afraid of the whole process or extremely shy then please don’t hesitate to email Grooming@catbehaviourist.com

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