Tending to a pet’s basic hygiene and grooming is a part of the work I do with pets in fourth life stage (the stage of life where a pet of any age is in a state of decline due to a life-limiting diagnosis or age-related causes).
Some pets need help with hygiene, like when they have urinary or fecal incontinence. This is necessary to keep their skin and fur clean and dry, and otherwise in good integrity in those areas. And while we need to be keeping an eye on that as well as keeping their bedding dry and free from waste, more commonly pets need help with basic grooming of their fur.
It just gets harder for them to manage as they age, especially with cats, who I’ll be focusing on here.
The tell-tale unkempt look that encroaches on a normally fastidious groomer—usually from the mid-section of the body backward—tells us that a cat is finding it too arduous or painful to reach their hind end. Osteoarthritis is a major contributor, though with less activity in advanced age or because of pain from other sources, obesity can make it difficult for a cat to reach around to different areas of their body to keep things as tidy as they’d like.
I’m a big believer in senior pets getting into the vet for an exam, bloodwork and an evaluation for pain, using a pain scale every 12 months and for geriatrics every six months. In doing so, families and their vets can partner more effectively to identify any changes that present, and address them appropriately: maladaptive pain being just one. Staying ahead of it sooner than later is a far better strategy. And along from anything meaningful and effective that a vet feels is appropriate to prescribe or recommend to ease the discomfort and pain (prescription medication, herbs, weight management guidance, environmental management), we humans can step up our game at home to help cats stay looking and feeling spiffy with the simplest of interactions: regular brushing.
Of course, so long as a cat can tolerate being touched from a behavioral or decreased physical comfort standpoint. Not all are able to. And so if not, just don’t. It’s not worth the risk of stressing them out or acquiring an injury from a scratch or a bite.
That said, most cats liked to be brushed—albeit on their terms!—and so as always, I let the ones in my care lead what that looks like. If they can tolerate my using their usual brush, great. But if not, I find that an unconventional-but-ordinary object is an effective and comforting alternative. It’s also safer.
By using a new, clean soft toothbrush to gently stroke and groom the fur, caregivers can remove some of that loose fur, offer a comforting touch and provide other benefits, listed below. If your cat can tolerate being petted, giving them a wipe down with a baby wipe (I like Water Wipes) beforehand can boost the effectiveness of the session.
✅ contributes to the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of a pet
✅ when a pet’s appearance is optimal, that positively impacts their human’s mental state
✅ the gentle handling facilitates the release of endorphins
✅ is easy to do
✅ strengthens the human-animal bond
✅ can in some cases trigger a desire to eat