How to Brush a Cat - Cat Info Detective

How to Brush a Cat

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome pretty kitties! Skye Blake here with tips for people who want to know how to brush a cat.

We felines must always look and feel our best!

Let’s discover more…

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet or behaviorist) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.

Sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.

Your Cat’s Coat

Closeup of white longhaired cat looking through tail fur

Before you start brushing your cat, take a careful look at the coat.

It should be obvious whether your cat has a long, medium or shorthaired coat… or none at all.

But, unless your cat is “hairless”, you also need to know whether there’s a single, double, or even triple coat to be sure you have the right tools.

Maine Coon longhaired black cat sitting on a chair

Color and pattern don’t affect how you groom or brush a cat.

Proper nutrition also plays a vital role in keeping your cat’s skin and coat healthy and gorgeous.

Determining Your Cat’s Coat Type

calico cat washing ear, grooming

It’s easy to discover your cat’s type of coat… when he’s curled up in your lap, gently part the fur on his back.

If there’s thick, dense, short fur underneath that’s soft like down, your cat has a double coat.

back of tabby cat, stripes

If not, it’s a single coat of guard hairs only.

Most cats have a double coat but if you’re not sure, ask your vet to check and show you how to brush it.

Discover more about feline coats at “Types of Cat Fur“.

Shedding

Graphic of blue canister vacuum

Shedding is a concern for most people because cat fur can get all over the house, clothing, and places you’d never think of!

Cats with a single or curly coat (and, of course, hairless) shed less than those with double or triple coats.

Double and triple coats shed more simply because there’s more fur.

cats sitting on furniture - AI

Outdoor cats have two main shedding seasons of the year, spring and fall, preparing for the coming summer and winter.

Their coat thickens to help protect them in winter cold and thins to keep them cooler in summer.

Indoor-only cats who live in constant temperatures year-round constantly shed but in smaller amounts.

Shorthair & Longhair

tabby cat washing, cleaning face

The most common coat length is shorthair, and the tabby cat is the prime example.

It is most like the domestic cat’s ancestor, Felis silvestris libyca, the African Wildcat.

Longer hair in cats is specifically bred by people and some breeds have both short and longhaired versions.

white oriental exotic cat on plush throw

Many people prefer shorthaired cats because they usually don’t require as much care as longhaired.

Longhaired cats can be extra sensitive to having it brushed or petted.

Mats can form easily in most longhaired breeds, especially in a double coat, pulling painfully on that sensitive skin.

Brushing Tools

flea comb; getting rid of fleas

Different types of coats need different brushes and combs in order to do a proper job.

The idea is to keep your cat’s coat clean, healthy, and free of fleas, ticks, debris, tangles, and mats without scratching the skin.

Keep all grooming tools, including combs and brushes, in a small bag wherever you do the most grooming.

This will save you the trouble of having to leave your cat mid-session to run into another room for something you forgot.

Short Hair

Cat reaching up to grab a grooming brush

Short hair needs less brushing and only a few tools.

Single Coat
  • Slicker brush – small with thin wire bristles bent at ends
  • Soft bristle brush
brushing side of black cat wearing cone
  • Rubber currycomb for massaging
  • Fine-tooth metal comb (flea comb)
  • Chamois or velvet for polishing fur to a shine
chamois, microfiber, velvet cloth
Double Coat
  • Pin brush to remove dead hair
  • Large and medium-tooth combs to use after brushing
  • Fine-tooth metal comb (flea comb)
  • Chamois or velvet

Long Hair

combs, grooming tools

Long hair, whether single or double coat, requires daily brushing and more tools than short hair.

Single Coat
  • Soft bristle brush – good for getting loose hair and small knots out
  • Fine-tooth metal comb (flea comb)
  • Detangling spray for long hair
combing chin of orange tabby
Double (or Triple) Coat
  • Pin brush and/or slicker brush with longer bristles to remove dead hair from undercoat
  • Wide and medium-tooth combs for removing knots
  • Fine-tooth metal comb (flea comb)
grooming brush
  • Soft bristle brush to polish the coat
  • Detangling spray for long hair

Deshedding Tools

brushing longhaired calico cat

De-shedding is the term for removing loose, dead hair from the topcoat.

There are special de-shedding tools made to use when coats are heavily shedding.

The FURminator is one popular tool that does well for removing lots of hair.

Be careful not to overgroom with it or pull it over bony and sensitive areas.

Dematting Tools

longhaired silver tabby

Dematting tools are useful for removing mats and tangles from the undercoat without scratching the skin.

Tools for Other Coats

tan rex cat sitting on table

If you have a certain breed like a rex that needs specific grooming tools, ask a reputable breeder or professional cat groomer.

Generally, curly coats (like rex) need the same tools as short-haired, single coat cats.

Sphynx cats with fine down hair will benefit from a rubber currycomb, which massages and gently removes the loose down.

This video explains more about various types of brushing tools…

“Top 7 Best Cat Brushes (We Tested Them All), Cats, December 17, 2020

To Shave or Not to Shave

orange tabby, lion cut standing on balcony

To shave or not to shave… that is the question.

Why would you shave a cat anyway?

Some reasons people might want to shave a cat’s fur are…

razor, grooming, shaving tool
  • To keep a cat cooler in summer
  • Remove or prevent matting
  • Reduce shedding
brushing maine coon cat
  • Less grooming work
  • Surgical procedures
  • Skin problems

But are these legitimate reasons? How does this affect a cat?

The Lion Cut

orange tabby, lion cut, lounging on wicker chair

The lion cut is when a cat’s fur is shaved everywhere except a mane around his head, a tuft on his tail and tufts on his paws, making him look like a male lion.

People think this will help keep the cat cooler in warm temperatures, but does it really?

The simple answer is “no”, and here’s why…

Body Temperature Regulation

oral thermometer

When you shave a cat’s coat you leave him with none of the protection that a coat gives.

Fur helps a cat regulate its body temperature, which is higher than a human’s, usually baselining at 100–102.3°F (38–39.1°C).

This means cats are most comfortable in environments of 77–86°F (25–30°C), although healthy adults can tolerate lower temperatures.

thermometer, farenheit, celcius

Most people prefer lower temperatures between 68° and 72°F (20-22°C) and homes are often drafty.

A cat’s most comfortable temperatures are higher than most people’s homes… even with all that fur!

This is why cats prefer sleeping in sunshine, even in summer.

Fur Growth & Shedding Cycle

longhaired white cat grooming, licking back

Cat fur grows in cycles where hair constantly grows, dies, and sheds.

The undercoat grows and fills in faster than guard and awn hairs, that also don’t shed as quickly as the undercoat.

When weather changes and outside temperatures get cooler, the days get shorter with less sunshine, a cat’s body starts growing a denser undercoat.

cat silhouette in sunset

Then as the temperatures begin to rise and sunlight stays longer, the undercoat sheds so the guard hairs have more space between them, which cools the cat’s skin.

This whole process gives cats the ability to regulate their temperature, so they don’t need to be shaved.

Common Sense

siamese cat licking kitten

Common sense tells you that it might be better to get a Siamese rather than a Norwegian Forest Cat if you live in a hot, humid climate.

The reverse is true for living in cold climates with short periods of summer… it’s a better climate for a Siberian, not a Sphynx.

If you have to have a breed not suited for your area’s climate, you should make it a priority to properly brush them for best comfort.

Provide more susceptible cats (hairless or single coat cats) with sweaters and blankets if they need extra warmth.

Regrowth Problems

Longhaired tabby cat rolling on floor

When a cat’s coat is shaved, the undercoat grows back faster than the awn and guard hairs, it becomes the main coat.

This is a problem for double and triple coated cats and actually makes a cat hotter!

The undercoat is very dense fine hair that traps heat and doesn’t reflect sunlight… raising the cat’s body temperature too much.

woman handling cat on table-vet, groomer, assistant

So instead of shaving, brush and groom her coat regularly with the correct tools for your cat.

This allows her fur to do what it naturally does without a buildup of dead hair and mats.

It keeps the new growth healthy, shiny, and solves the problem of constant excessive shedding.

Removing Mats

woman grooming, clipping cat

Mats form when undercoat hairs are shed but get tangled and trapped in longer guard hairs.

Mats are something to take seriously because they can become so tight that they pull on the skin, causing great pain, especially when walking.

When mats become so packed and severe that they can’t be combed or brushed out, they have to be shaved.

brushing longhaired calico cat

The best way to deal with mats is regular grooming to keep them from forming.

Brushing and combing gives you the opportunity to work out small knots before they become big problems.

Shaving mats should only be a last resort, used in extreme situations… if it’s that bad it’s best to have a vet or grooming professional do it.

If you must shave a double or triple coat, frequent bathing and brushing will help the coat re-grow properly.

Surgical Shaving

vet doing surgery on a cat

Surgical procedures and treating skin conditions require certain areas be shaved for sanitary and medical reasons.

Any surgical procedure includes shaving the area of the incision and the IV area on the arm.

This ensures a clean, hair-free area that is then disinfected to keep bacteria from causing infections during surgery. 

grooming, razor, shaving

It’s also important to keep hair out of the surgery site after surgery.

Always follow your vet’s advice for aftercare… preventing infection is more important than anything else.

You may need to keep hair around the site clipped back until the wound is healed enough that bacteria and dirt can no longer get into it.

Shaving for Skin Conditions

Sphynx cat sitting on a wood box

If your cat has a skin condition or infection follow your vet’s advice.

Sometimes shaving is necessary for getting medications onto the skin and keeping it clean.

Once the skin is healed and the vet says it’s ok to bathe the cat, it can be helpful to start a routine of bathing frequently and de-shedding the area.

persian, himalayan cat

This helps your cat’s coat grow back into it’s natural and correct state, with the proper amount of undercoat and overcoat.

This always depends on the natural type of coat your breed of cat has.

Once the coat has fully grown in, baths will probably no longer be needed… check with your vet to be sure.

Shaving for Other Problems

orange tabby, lion cut, lounging on wicker chair

Shaving is sometimes used for senior, overweight, or other cats who don’t or can’t groom themselves well.

Always talk to your vet about your cat’s health situation… grooming problems are a symptom of a medical problem like arthritis, obesity, or other underlying illness.

People Reasons

woman on bed in white bathrobe

Some people think shaving a cat’s entire coat is a good idea because they won’t have to bother brushing and combing them.

Frankly, it’s all about convenience for them, not what’s best for their cat.

Your decision should be for what’s best for your cat, not whether it’s trendy, cute, or allows you to be lazy.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Coat

woman brushing calico cat

Brushing and combing, as noted above, depends on what type of coat your cat has.

Once you have the proper tools for your cat’s coat, there are some basic things to know.

Work gently and don’t hurt your cat… we felines have sensitive skin!

grey cat being brushed, groomed

Rough painful brushing and pulling mats will result in losing your cat’s trust and cooperation.

Take advantage of when he’s sleepy and relaxed… having him on a table is good if he allows it.

Your lap can work, although he’ll get up and move if he gets too hot there… and you may have trouble reaching every area.

person petting a tabby cat's head

Give him a nice massage while feeling his whole body for lumps, sores, scabs, etc.

Then brushed front to back… the way the hair grows… not backwards.

Rather than long strokes, use short strokes that imitate how a cat grooms himself.

Siamese cat grooming

If you’re not sure how hard to brush, test the brush or comb on the inside of your arm.

Keep brushing sessions short, especially if you’re cat’s just getting used to it.

Even if it starts out feeling good, it can soon become overstimulating and painful.

grey cat being brushed, groomed

Short daily brushing sessions are ideal for getting the job done while keeping your cat’s trust and cooperation.

Daily brushing is especially important for long-haired cats.

Training a Cat to Enjoy Grooming

Cat reaching up to grab a grooming brush

It’s important for your cat’s health that you are able to gently brush and touch sensitive areas, especially the belly, legs, back end, mouth, and paws.

If your cat doesn’t like to be touched (which is what grooming is), you can gently desensitize him, allowing him to be in control.

cat sniffing a finger - training treats

Once you know how, you can use the same methods for lots of fun activities.

Discover more about effective training methods at “How to Train a Cat!” and “Clicker Training For Cats“.

Kittens

ginger, orange tabby kitten

Use a clean toothbrush or baby brush to get a kitten used to being brushed.

Soft bristles are best for kittens but if the coat is thick, a gentle comb-out can help.

Discover more about grooming kittens at “How to Groom a Cat“.

Fleas & Ticks

calico cat scratching neck

Grooming your cat daily gives you the ability to monitor your cat’s coat and skin for signs of fleas and ticks.

Even indoor-only cats can get fleas and ticks because they can hitch a ride on anyone who’s been outdoors.

Fleas are particularly good at this and daily combing, especially with a flea comb, allows you to catch them early, saving you a lot of work and headaches.

closeup of flea dirt in cat fur

Talk to your vet about flea and tick prevention, your concerns, and what’s best to use for your cats.

Discover more at “What Is a Flea?“, “What Is a Tick?“, and “Getting Rid of Fleas – For Cats Only“.

Videos

Here are some videos that show how to properly brush a cat’s coat…

“How to Brush your Cat’s Hair (Even if they Hate It)”, The Cat Butler, October 2, 2021
“How to groom your cat | Grooming episode two”, Cats Protection, September 10, 2018
“Grooming A Domestic Longhaired Cat”, Love Cats Groomer, May 27, 2021

Moving Forward

cartoon signpost, this way, that way, decision

If you’d like to learn more about grooming, discover more at “Grooming“.


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

The 7 Best Cat Brushes of 2023, Tested and Reviewed” by Anna Mejorada, The Spruce Pets, updated on 11/28/23, Fact checked by Emily Estep

10 Best Cat Breeds for People With Allergies“, by Franny Syufy, reviewed by Alycia Washington, updated on 03/27/23

“77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat” by Susan M. Ewing, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018, pp. 97-101

A-H

Cats With Curly Hair: 10 Breeds You Need to Know“, by MrBossCat Team, updated on August 28, 2021 

Cats with Undercoats: What It Is & Care Tips“, by MrBossCat Team, updated on August 29, 2022 

“Glamour Puss”, Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 237-252

How to Groom A Devon Rex Cat” by Pets Leaf Team, reviewed by Grooming Expert: Clarissa Stevenson, CFMG

How To Tell If Your Cat Has A Double Coat In 4 Simple Steps” by Dr. Emma Chandley, BVETMED, PGCERTSAS, MRCVS, Cats.com, updated March 1, 2023

How to Tell if Your Cat Has a Double Coat: 3 Expert Tips” by Rachael Gerkensmeyer, Hepper, updated on October 1, 2023

I-T

Ragdoll: Cat Breed Profile, Characteristics & Care” by Kayla Fratt, reviewed by Amy Fox, updated on 11/07/23

The Science Behind What Your Cat’s Whiskers Do“, Pet Wellbeing

Siberian Cat“, Cats.com

Siberian Cat: Breed Profile, Characteristics, & Care“, by Jackie Brown, The Spruce Pets, updated on 08/23/23, fact checked by Emily Estep

Tiny But Mighty by Hannah Shaw, Plume, Penguin Random House LLC, penguinrandomhouse.com, p. 125

“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 98-100

U-Z

UNCOVER THE FASCINATING WORLD OF CAT HAIR THROUGH A MICROSCOPE” by Valery Johnson, All Optica, updated on June 3, 2023 

“The Well-Groomed Feline”, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting & Owning a Cat, pp. 83-4

What breed of cats have a double coat?” by Michele B. Snyder, 21Cats

What Is the Difference Between Cat Hair and Fur?” by Franny Syufy, The Spruce Pets, updated on 03/28/22, reviewed by Monica Tarantino, DVM

What Temperature Do Cats Like? Vet-Reviewed Climate Tips & FAQ” by Brooke Billingsley, Catster™, updated December 20, 2023 by Catster Editorial Team

Why Not to Shave Double Coats” by Cheryl Maibusch, The Cat Groomer®, September 23, 2020

Updated December 29, 2023

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