Cats are pretty good at grooming themselves, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little help. Here’s what I told a reader who just got her first cat.
Q: I just got my first cat. What do I need to know about caring for her coat?
A: Cats are great at grooming themselves, but they need a little help from you as well. And caring for your cat’s coat is one of the best ways to keep tabs on her well-being. As you brush and comb her to remove dead hair (reducing the likelihood of hairballs) and distribute skin oils, you’ll find clues to your cat’s health.
A healthy cat has a lustrous coat that doesn’t feel coarse, greasy, dull, dry or brittle. Cats shed hair normally, but excessive hair loss or bare patches could be the result of external parasites or of stress related to the cat’s environment or interactions with other animals or humans.
For instance, cats who lick, scratch and bite at their skin or rub against the floor or furniture may have itchy bites from parasites, such as fleas or mites, or a food or contact allergy. Tiny black and white specks on the coat or skin are also signs of flea infestation. Cats being bullied by other animals or adapting to a new person in the household may pull out their fur in frustration.
Cats allowed to go outdoors may come back with bite wounds from fights, which are often discovered during grooming. Bite wounds can form abscesses — painful, pus-filled sores — that can cause your cat pain when you accidentally discover them during a brushing or combing session.
As you groom your cat, look for lumps or bumps that could be signs of problems. These can range from feline acne, often caused by plastic food and water bowls, to harmless cysts beneath the skin to rapidly enlarging lumps that may be cancerous. Bring any such skin problem to your veterinarian’s attention so it can be treated before it becomes serious.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.