Kitty haircut time! (or how to shave a cat)

I know I said in my post about heated beds that Tycho had a month until his next haircut, but I changed my mind this morning. I decided it was better to shave him again now so he has a bit of time to re-grow his fur before it gets  colder here! He’s fine inside no matter what, but he can get a little cold out in his catio when he’s just had a haircut! Anyway, I thought I’d write a bit about the challenges of longhaired cats, why Tycho gets shaved, and tips if you are brave/foolish enough to shave a cat. If you just want to see a time lapse of today’s haircut, see this youtube video: https://youtu.be/yjPHsZ-buC4

I want to start off by saying that (in the absence of health, behavioral, or other problems) cats are usually better off not being shaved. It takes some effort to maintain a longhaired cat’s coat, so keep that in mind before you get one! You really have to keep on top of their coats or they can get nasty (and painful!) mats in their fur. It is particularly important to get the right tools for longhaired breeds with thick undercoats to make sure you remove some of that undercoat when you brush them. But with regular grooming to keep matted fur away, most longhaired cats are good to go.

Tycho, however, presents a challenge. He hates being brushed. You get one, maybe two strokes in with the slicker brush before he’s trying to bite you. I presume his original owner never groomed him when he was little. Generally if you start when they’re kittens, they will grow to love being brushed! But not Tycho. And no amount of patience and practice on my part has made him any happier about being brushed. He used to be equally bitey about nail trimming, and he’s now 100% ok with that, but brushing is just clearly a no go.

Tycho’s fur also is a bit weird. It’s very difficult to get the undercoat under control because he doesn’t shed like a normal cat (he sheds, just not much and not the undercoat). Also, Tycho is terrible about grooming himself. He’s never been very good about it. As evidence of this, in the 11 years I’ve had him he has never had a hairball, probably because he doesn’t ever lick up much hair! He does at least groom his toes and sometimes his legs, but that’s about it. This has only gotten more true as he gets older. Many older cats have trouble grooming themselves and require more help from their humans to keep fur from getting matted.

So all of this leads to Tycho being shaved regularly. He needs to be shaved about every 3 months or so to keep from getting mats. He started getting haircuts maybe a year or two after I got him, and those haircuts were done by professional groomers (I used the groomers at PetSmart, they were very good!). They generally did a lion cut, because most of his trouble with mats is on his belly and back legs.

Tycho showing off his lion cut
Tycho with a professionally done lion cut

But as he got older, I started to worry more about the stress of going to the groomer. He would always be there for a few hours because they would bathe him then shave him. So I decided to give it a try at home. I will stress here that shaving a cat is not easy and they’re not the best animal to learn on if you’ve never used clippers before. So I can’t say I super recommend doing this yourself! I had experience clipping horses, so I know my way around clippers. And Tycho is extremely cooperative about haircuts in the scheme of things. I certainly think that your cat’s first haircut needs to be done by a pro. Try to stay and watch to get a sense of how the cat reacts. Try this at home if and only if your cat is cooperative and there’s some compelling reason why the pro isn’t a great option (like stressful car rides, etc!) and you have pre-existing clipper skills. You also need to watch a bunch of cat clipping videos to see how to approach the unique challenges of clipping a cat (I’m going to give some pointers below, but definitely do more research!). Otherwise, leave it to the pros!

If you are going to try this at home, you’ll need some quality clippers. If you’re not spending of order $80-100 on those clippers, you’re not getting good enough ones for the job. They also need to be the kind that plug in, not battery operated or rechargable. Battery operated clippers don’t have the power to quickly clip through the thick undercoat of a longhaired cat. The recommended blades for cats are #10. I buy the part ceramic ones because they stay sharper. I typically get 3 or 4 haircuts out of a pair of blades before they get too dull. If your cat tolerates a bath before the haircut, the blades will stay sharp longer, but Tycho hates baths. So I just replace my blades more frequently. You will also need a can of blade lubricant/coolant. If you go to a nice, bit pet store (like PetSmart), the employees there can help you find all the right stuff!

Once you have your clippers and blades, you’ll need some towels, your regular cat grooming supplies, and lots of treats. You also should have a pet first aid kit with styptic powder, just in case you cut your cat (you should have these anyway). I’ve never cut Tycho while grooming him, but better to be prepared!

clipper coolant, brushes, scissors, clippers, and treats on top of two towels
Things you need to gather before trying to shave your cat

You will also need to accept that you are going to make an unholy mess during the haircutting process. I reccomend doing haircuts in your largest bathroom and doing  it right before you plan to vacuum the whole house (once freed from the bathroom, your cat will drop little tufts of fur all over as they run away).

The position for getting started is to kneel on a towel towel with your legs making a v-shape, and hold the cat between your legs up against your torso. The towel is important to give the cat some traction (sliding around on tile is no good!). I always trimming Tycho’s nails (believe me, you want to do this first!) and rewarding him with greenies treats. Then I usually start the clipping with a few passes in the direction of hair growth to get rid of the bulk of the hair (followed by more greenies!). Then I clip against the direction the hair grows to get a smooth cut. You have to be super careful to hold the skin taut and flat so you don’t cause any cuts! This is especially important when trimming bellies and near legs where there is loose skin. When in doubt, don’t risk trying to get a smoother/closer shave! Just let it go and know that the haircut isn’t going to be perfect. You also need to check the temperature of the clipper blades frequently. Those things get hot (which is why you need the coolant!). Ever few swipes, I check them against my own skin to make sure they’re not hot yet.

Tycho is super cooperative about being shaved, but I still make sure to take lots of breaks for treats! I’ve gotten a lot faster over the years, but the haircut process still takes me about half an hour. So we take a few breaks to just sit and purr in-between particularly tricky areas. I save the insides of his back legs for last because that’s the part he will growl and hiss about. Unfortunately, that’s where he gets mats, so it must be shaved! One tip for making problem areas go more smoothly is to briefly cover the cat’s head with a towel when you’re doing their least favorite part, especially if they are prone to biting. It would also be best to have a second person to help hold the cat (I don’t do that because Tycho is happier if it’s just me, but a second set of hands would be nice!). Whatever you do, keep the time where the cat is upset short! When I started giving Tycho haircuts, I was slower than I am now, so I used to spread Tycho’s haircuts over two days to minimize the unpleasant bits. He really is good and even purrs through a lot of the shaving! But I get about a 30 seconds to a minute to do his belly and back legs before he gets really upset. So know your cat!

My haircuts will never look as good as the professionals manage, but they get the job done with a minimum of stress for Tycho! I generally stick to a lion-ish cut (where you leave a bit of “mane” around their neck and a tuft on their tail). I once tried to do a dragon cut, but I just don’t have the skills and had to just finish shaving his back! Made for funny photos though!

You can see the video of today’s haircut (sped up by a factor of 10) here:

You can hear some funny, sped up, high-pitched growling when I do his legs! But rest assured, he’s ok and forgave me. Within 10 minutes of the end of the haircut, he was back purring in my lap. Then he (as I predicted) went for a nap in his heated bed!

If you’ve been brave and or foolish enough to give your cat a haircut, let me know how it went in the comments!

 

 

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