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The History of Feline Grooming

The History of Feline Grooming

Since ancient times when cats were first revered by the Egyptians, felines around the world have lived up to their sobriquet of "glamour puss." However, history shows that when courtesans started grooming dogs for kings and queens, especially during the seventeenth century, and when poodles graced the French court during the reign of King Louis XVI, cats weren't included in such beauty regimens. They nevertheless still featured in artwork of the day and later in family photographs, sitting by their owners, looking picture perfect, no doubt relying on their universal reputation of being very efficient self-groomers.

The first mention of feline grooming techniques comes from Harrison Weir, who has been hailed as the father of the cat fancy. As noted, Weir was responsible for the first official cat show, held in London in July 1871. It's significant to remember that when cats were first entered in cat shows, more importance was given to their breed, colorings, and markings than to the actual condition of their fur. Then judges started remarking that this cat or that cat would have scored higher marks if her coat had been better cared for (better groomed). Even with the urging of the father of the cat fancy and the remarks by judges, it took time for the idea of grooming a cat for a show to catch on and for tools made specifically for feline grooming to become available to the general cat-owning public.

Early Grooming Advice

In his book, Our Cats and All About Them, Harrison Weir advised cat owners never to use a comb, especially on longhaired cats, for fear of breaking the hair and causing a rough and uneven coat. He wrote:

Should the hair become clotted, matted, or felted, as is sometimes the case, it ought to be moistened, either with oil or soft-soap, a little water being added, and when the application has well soaked in, it will be found comparatively easy to separate the tangle with the fingers by gently pulling out from the mass a few hairs at a time, after which wash thoroughly, and use a soft, long-haired brush; but this must be done with discretion, so as not to spoil the natural waviness of the hair, or to make it lie in breadths instead of the natural, easy, carelessly-parted flaky appearance, which shows the white or blue cat off to such advantage.

Weir made the point that cats dislike water and suggested:

If a cat is to be washed, treat it as kindly and gently as possible, speaking in a soothing tone, and in no way be hasty or sudden in your movements so as to raise distrust or fear. Let the water be warm but not hot, put the cat in slowly and when its feet rest on the bottom of the tub, you may commence the washing.

He recommended that his readers use a dog soap called Naldire Dog Soap and after the bath put the cat in a box filled with oat straw and place it near a fire to prevent her from catching a chill before she was properly dry. Victorian cat expert Frances Simpson, whose 1903 book The Book of the Cat was the definitive cat bible of its day, also made the point that exhibitors needed to pay more attention to coat care.

In the dog, rabbit and pigeon fancy a great deal more attention is given to condition than among cat fanciers, who need waking up to the fact that nothing goes so far to propitiate a judge as superb show form and general good appearance.

Simpson suggested dampening a cat's coat with a solution of ammonia and water as an alternative to a bath. She also recommended that Pear's White Fuller's Earth be rubbed into the fur to remove grease and then brushed out using a soft brush. In another grooming tip, she told readers they could warm a large quantity of bran in the oven, then stand "puss in it and [rub] it over the fur for some minutes and then carefully [brush] it out."

Grooming was not part of the earliest cat shows, and the practice of grooming cats took some time to catch on.

Your cat will spend a lot of time grooming herself, but there are still regular grooming chores you must perform.

Early Grooming Tools

Appalled by the conditions cats had to endure on the way to cat shows, Frances Simpson promoted the idea that owners should accompany their cats on the journey-as opposed to just boxing them up and shipping them to the event-because this would also present opportunities for extra grooming en route. "There is also the advantage," she explained, "that if you arm yourself with a brush and comb you are able to give some finishing touches to pussy's toilet previous to the judges' inspection and awards. Let me recommend a metal comb and a brush such as is used for Yorkshire terriers which has long penetrating bristles but is neither too hard nor too soft." We can assume that all cat grooming tool recommendations were for tools originally designed for other animals or humans because there seems to be no record of products actually being manufactured specially for cats.

Although cats were still being left largely to their own natural grooming efforts, professional dog groomers had been snipping and shaping and combing out for centuries. One swanky Dogs' Toilet Club in London, established in London around 1903, offered its canine customers egg yolk shampoos and other lavish services. The 1930s saw the advent of doggie barbershops, the forerunner of today's grooming salons. It is unclear whether they were patronized by dogs being groomed for the show ring or whether the upper classes brought their dogs here to be groomed simply to be clean and trendy. However, no consideration was given to felines at the time, and they were certainly not welcome in these canine establishments.

No Sharp Scissors!

Never tackle a seriously matted coat with a sharp pair of scissors because you could inadvertently cut into the skin, causing bleeding and possible infection. Mats and tangles must be attended to for the general health and well-being of your cat. So, if necessary, seek professional grooming help.

Around this same time, pet stores that primarily sold food and grain started to carry a few rudimentary grooming tools for dogs and animals such as horses-but no tools specifically for cats. The concept of brushing cats and clipping their nails at home on a regular basis-let alone the idea of having them professionally groomed-only began to gain ground when the role of the domestic cat changed during the second half of the twentieth century.

A Grooming Calendar

If you plan to groom your cat yourself, it's a good idea to design your own grooming calendar. Take a nice photograph of your cat and glue it onto a piece of cardboard. Next, make headings for daily, weekly, and monthly grooming routines and fill them in on the calender. It's a nice reference to ensure you don't forget to include such things as flea and tick treatments in your routine.

Here's a guideline:

Daily tasks

  • Brushing for longhaired cats
  • Check paw pads and eyes
  • Check for strange lumps or redness anywhere on the feet, ears, and body
  • Weekly tasks

    • General brushing for shorthaired breeds
    • More intense work-over for longhaired cats
    • Check ears and gums and eyes
    • Wipe down for elderly cats
    • Teeth cleaning (attempt to do as much as you can)

    Monthly tasks

    • Bath or full-body wipe down with wipes
    • Nail trim and foot inspection
    • General body check for lumps and bumps
    • Flea and tick topical treatments (some last longer)
    • Ears and mouth inspection, checking for any foul-smelling odors
    • Inventory grooming products, checking for what needs replenishing

    Grooming Revolution

    Cats transitioned from essentially being housed in the backyard or barn and, to a large extent, allowed to roam free, to being brought indoors on cold nights and allowed to sleep in kitchens or laundry rooms (regarded as warmer rooms in the average house) to taking up primary or sole residence inside. This transition also brought about emotional changes and attitudes among cat owners and subsequently a change in feline status: the domestic cat came to be viewed as a companion animal, even a "fur kid." People now saw themselves as the protectors and caretakers of their cats, rather than simply the owners of good utilitarian mousers. And taking care of their cats meant not only feeding them but also grooming them. By the 1970s, people were able to pick up cat-specific brushes and combs in the local pet stores. By the late 1990s, cat owners were also being offered various other grooming products and services that mimicked their own lifestyle needs and wants, from nail clippers to floral-scented shampoos and conditioners. And by the new millennium, the idea of sending the family feline to a pet spa for a nail trim and even a complete grooming makeover was no longer a gimmick but a recognized way in which to deal with grooming problems.

    The feline grooming industry got a further boost when cat lovers were also faced with another reality check: statistics being released from various veterinary schools around the country were proving that it was much safer for domestic cats to enjoy an indoor lifestyle because they were thus protected from predators and parasites. Cats living mostly outdoors shed seasonally twice a year. In contrast, cats subjected to controlled climatic conditions, such as air conditioning and heating, shed all year round. Furthermore, cats in the outdoors are able to take care of their nails by scratching on natural surfaces and climbing trees, and they keep their teeth clean by hunting and devouring prey such as mice and birds. Indoor felines commonly have longer, unmanageable nails that need regular attention. It also became evident that cats were developing serious dental issues.

    Consequently, despite being universally recognized as efficient self-groomers, domestic felines now needed human help in dealing with common problems such as shedding and taking care of matted hair, as well as with nail and teeth care. Furthermore, respected veterinary schools around the country started issuing reports that domestic pets were living much longer as the direct result of better nutrition in the form of specialized pet foods and also better grooming. Suddenly, for the first time, cat lovers were faced with having to care for geriatric felines and learning firsthand that elderly animals are often not able to care for themselves as conscientiously as when they were younger and more agile. Thus, cat lovers found themselves having to take care of an elderly cat's grooming needs on a fulltime basis.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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