How to groom your cat (and how to tell if they need it)

April 5, 2024 - 7 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
two photos side by side of a brown Persian cat being brushed by a hand

Here’s the good news: Your feline friend is already a grooming expert.

Cats of all breeds and sizes are equipped with a rough sandpaper-like tongue, allowing them to remove debris, untangle fur, maintain shine, and even regulate their body temperature. At the same time, mischievous kitties and long-haired cats may find themselves needing extra help to maintain their vanity and a healthy coat. 

This guide has you covered with essential at-home grooming tips, from nail-trimming and brushing to bathing and ear cleaning.

Wait, do cats actually need to be groomed?

Siberian Cat

To say that cats prize cleanliness is an understatement. Our feline friends typically allocate between 30 and 50 percent of their day to grooming themselves. Diligent grooming is a sign of ease and contentment within their environment. 

Side note: there is such a thing as overgrooming. Bald spots and excessive licking could be red flags for underlying medical conditions or environmental stressors.

But what if your cat doesn't seem to know how to groom themselves, or they're just not doing a great job?

The idea of grooming your cat may be unnerving, but sometimes it might be necessary. But how often should you pull out the washtub or brush? Well, it depends.

How often should I groom my cat?

Grumpy cat in bath

Requirements vary depending on factors like breed, age, and lifestyle.

Longer-haired cats like Persians generally require more grooming than their short-haired counterparts, as their fur is more prone to matting. But even shorter-haired breeds need occasional baths to keep their skin healthy. (Yes, even Sphynxes.) 

Bath time should be done on a situational basis. Outdoor cats are likely to encounter sticky or smelly substances like tree sap or skunks. Plus, outdoor cats are at a higher risk of fleas and other ectoparasites hiding in their fur. 

Senior cats and those with health issues (e.g., obesity, dental disease, and arthritis) may groom themselves less frequently. With limited flexibility and discomfort, those yoga poses may become more challenging, so they’ll need your aid for those hard-to-reach areas.

How to groom your cat

When it comes to grooming, remember: kitty minutes are limited!

To make the process as stress-free as possible for your cat, stay calm, prioritize tasks, and know when to call it quits.

Nail trims

Cats naturally maintain their claws by filing them down, which you may notice through the shedding of the outer layer. While providing designated cat scratchers is absolutely necessary, trimming your cat's nails is also great for their health and your couch's survival.

Trimming a cat's nails is fairly similar to trimming a dog’s nails. Cats have a quick, and cutting too close to that quick will result in bleeding. When it comes to restraining your furry friend during a nail-trim, it’s often helpful to enlist a friend for help. It might help to wrap your cat in a towel, like a burrito, and offer them plenty of treats to keep them calm. 

Begin with the front paws, gently press down to expose the claw, and carefully cut. Don’t forget that cats also have “dew claws” a bit higher up on their legs that also need to be trimmed so they don't snag and rip.


Regularly brushing your cat can work wonders. You'll remove dander and loose hair, which can potentially help with hairballs and reduce the potential for mats. And if your cat learns to enjoy it, it might become valuable bonding time.

Focus on brushing areas like the neck, chest, tummy, and back of the legs—they're prime spots for knots. Choosing a time when your cat is relaxed and can be distracted with treats will allow you to brush for longer periods and may allow you access to those “no touching zones.”

Bath time 

Bathing your cat might seem like a nightmare—most cats despise water. However, with some preparation and patience, you can make it less traumatic for you and your feline friend.

  • After giving your cat a good brushing, set up your bathing area. Partially fill the tub with warm water.

  • Carefully lower your cat into the water, making sure their claws are pointed away from you. Try to keep your cat as relaxed as you can.

  • Instead of using a sprayer, which might startle your cat, opt for a pitcher or cup to gently wet them down gently.

  • Lather the body with cat-specific shampoo, avoiding the eyes and ears. Use a damp washcloth to clean the facial area.

  • Rinse the fur making sure there are no suds remaining.

  • Once finished, dry with a towel and provide a warm cozy environment for their fur to dry.

One note about baths: If your cat's a kitten, this will likely be a bit easier than it would be for a full-grown Bengal. Just use patience, know when to call it quits, and be willing to reach out to a professional if your cat is truly uncooperative.

Ear cleaning

Keeping your cat's ears clean is a proactive step in preventing infections and irritation.

Begin by checking for signs like redness, odor, or excessive scratching, which could denote an infection. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's best to consult your veterinarian before cleaning.

If they give you the go-ahead, they will likely suggest using a cat-approved ear cleaner and avoiding harsh products such as peroxide and alcohol.

  • Squirt the solution into your cat's ear canal without touching the tip of the bottle to the ear.

  • Massage the base of the ear to distribute and break down wax.

  • Use a cotton ball or gauze to wipe away any debris and excess solution, being careful not to insert it too deeply into the ear canal.

This is a delicate process, and again, it's best to reach out to your vet before you start cleaning your cat's ears. They can advise you on the best products and determine if your cat really does need an ear cleaning.

Best cat grooming tools and products

When it comes to grooming supplies, the options can seem overwhelming. Rather than point to specific products, here are a few general rules of thumb to keep in mind while you browse.

Avoid dremels

Just start with the basics and select nail clippers (guillotine-style or scissors) that are small and easy to handle. While a Dremel might be your go-to for dogs, the noise can be frightening for cats.

Buy a blood clotting powder

Be sure to have Kwik Stop or another trustworthy blood clotting powder on hand to stop the bleeding if you accidentally clip your cat’s quick. (It happens.)

Test out different brushes

Brushes are essential for maintaining your cat's coat. Grooming gloves or wall brushes are an excellent choice for getting your cat accustomed to the brushing process.

Slicker brushes work well for both long and short-haired cats to remove loose hair, while combs and de-matting rakes can help tackle mats of various sizes. You might need to test a few before you find one your cat really loves.

Buy shampoos based on needs

When selecting a shampoo, tailor it to your cat's specific needs, whether it's hypoallergenic, odor control, or shedding control.

Oh, and let's not forget about you: we highly recommend wearing long gloves and/or long sleeves to protect yourself from potential scratches and bites

Overcoming cat grooming challenges

Aggressive kittens

Let's face it: Some cats are more docile than others.

Outdoor cats who are not typically handled by humans may start to behave erratically when confined for grooming. Select a time of day—possibly after a play session or during feeding—when your cat is less likely to become agitated. 

And remember, turning grooming sessions into positive experiences requires a whole lot of patience. Moving slowly and remaining calm will better relax your cat. Don't force it. It's always a good idea to end on a positive note, even if those claws are only half-cut.

Professional grooming vs. at-home grooming


17% of U.S. cat owners have had their cats groomed professionally in the past 12 months.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by your cat's grooming needs or if your kitty isn't the most cooperative during at-home sessions, seeking out a professional groomer might be the way to go, especially if you've got a particularly feisty feline.

Long-haired cats, in particular, often benefit from the expertise of professional groomers. Those tough mats can be painful and dangerous to remove. Matted fur that forms tight and close to the skin traps moisture, causing odor and irritation.

In many cases, it may even be wise to see your cat’s veterinarian for the removal and treatment of mats. (In certain scenarios, sedation may be required.)

Professional groomers can also perform a sanitary clip, where they shave the fur under the tail to remove litter debris and feces that might get caught. The upkeep of this area for long-haired cats is important to prevent UTIs from occurring. 

While at-home grooming, including regular brushing, is vital for day-to-day maintenance and preventive care, certain breeds or temperaments might require a bit more tender, loving care. If you're ever in doubt or need a little extra help, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional groomer. 

The bottom line

Grooming—whether it’s delivered by your hands or their own sandpapery tongues—is key to your cat’s healthier happiness. And even though our feline friends are meticulous self-groomers, they do sometimes need some help from their pet parents. 

Regular grooming not only helps you keep them prim and proper, but it also helps you stay attuned to skin irritations and growths that can then receive early treatment from a vet. And who knows—with time, your cat may even grow fond of your grooming sessions and bond closer to you. (Maybe.) 

Cat insurance with ManyPets does not cover grooming. However, vet bills for any covered health concerns can be reimbursed through your policy.*

Plus, the ManyPets non-insurance Wellness Plan can provide financial relief for parasitic prevention products and skin supplements needed to promote a radiant coat!

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

Leanne Swajger
Leanne has a background in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine. Her passion for animals and their owners has led her to pursue a career in pet insurance. In her spare time, she enjoys walking her dog and being outdoors.

Claims coordinator with background in vet medicine