Cat grooming: Not for the faint of heart

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By Mary Jekielek Insprucker

Most of us enjoy being pampered. Having your nails done, your hair cut and blow-dried, and luxuriating in a drawn bath is the cat’s meow, unless of course, you are the cat. Cats are difficult to groom, partly because they aren’t predictable, says Cathy Hartley, a master groomer. “Cats are…their own people with their own individual personalities,” said Hartley, who owns Jimminy Clippers, a grooming salon in Palatine. “You can never trust what they will do, and unlike a dog who will sit, you have to work around cats.” Hartley has been grooming cats for 30 years, and recently became one of only five certified feline master groomers in the U.S. To earn the certification she had to pass several tests that showed her to be proficient in feline temperament, anatomy, breeding and genetics.

“I think there’s so few because to be a CFMG you must be in tune with cats, and that’s not easy to do,” Hartley said. Hartley is cautious. Although she grooms 30 cats a week and considers herself somewhat of a cat wrangler, she’s had two hand operations — the direct result of aggressive cat bites. “Not every groomer will do cats because they are afraid,” Hartley said. “Even a little bite is a chance to end up in the hospital. They have a lot of bacteria in their saliva that goes right into your blood.” “Their bites are very infectious,” confirmed Dr. Lynda Gustavsen, of All Creatures Animal Hospital in Lake Zurich. “Their pointy teeth are almost like a needle injecting bacteria.”

And cats really don’t like getting wet. “Most are not big into water,” Gustavsen said. “They’re not natural swimmers and they don’t like their coats wet. Their fuzzy, fine coats mat quickly and they don’t appreciate pulling at it.” Still, Hartley estimates about 80 percent of felines like grooming. And naturally, she’s learned a few tricks along the way. “I will try to de-stress them by talking to them, handling them gently, and being patient with them,” she said. “I also use an air muzzle, which is a clear ball I Velcro over their head so they can see what’s going on. It’s much friendlier.” Hartley also takes care to apply the correct pressure and attention when dealing with a feline’s thin skin.

“A cat does not have many surface blood vessels, so it’s easy to cut the skin and not know because they generally won’t bleed and they are not very vocal about pain,” Gustavsen explained. It is exactly this feline characteristic that made the trek from her Lake County home to Hartley worthwhile for Karolyn Tincher and her 15-year-old Persian, Milo. “She noticed a tumor on his left shoulder,” said Tincher. “He was not the most lovable cat, so we didn’t often pet him and his hair was long so we didn’t notice.” “Cats by nature are very good at hiding injury so they don’t become a target for predators,” said Gustavsen.

For Tincher, it was more about comfort than predators, when it came to Milo, who died this year. “The vet put him on steroids, which helped him deal with the pain,” Tincher said. “Thank goodness she found the tumor.” It’s stories like this that make Hartley enjoy her profession, especially when thick mats stand up like toupees, and Mohawk haircuts and queenly behavior make her laugh. “They’re really just hysterical, little people,” she said. Unlike dogs, cats were never bred for be of help to mankind, Gustavsen said. “They don’t look for ways to make us happy unless there’s something in it for them. “There’s a saying that cats let you live with them, not the other way around.”

Doing it yourself? Here are few tips:

• If you can, start grooming gently while your pet is still a kitten.

• Do it daily, to avoid mats and get your pet used to the routine.

• Use a soft bristled brush.

• Reward with treats.

• If the cat tenses up, don’t force it. Take a break.

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