how to groom a senior cat
Cat Health and Wellness

How to Clean an Old Cat’s Fur

Cats are meticulously clean animals. Owners are familiar with the sight of their pet regularly licking and grooming themselves. This makes it saddening when older cats lose the ability to clean their fur. Your senior cat will be relying on you to help them stay fresh and clean.

What is the best way to keep a senior cat’s fur clean? Daily brushing with a soft-bristled comb, and cat-specific wipes should be used. This will help prevent matted fur and tangles, as well as minimizing bad odors.

Inability to remain clean can be a real source of stress for older cats. Just because a feline is advancing in years, it doesn’t mean their standards drop. Older cats have more reason than ever to stay clean. They’ll be keen to mask scents associated with weakness as it attracts attention from territorial rivals. This guide will discuss how to remove dirt, grime, and loose hair from your cat.

How to Wash an Older Cat

Not all cats are averse to bathing. In fact, some cats may even welcome it. Older cats, in particular, may find a bath to be soothing on their joints.

If you plan to give your senior cat a bath, follow these steps:

  1. Fill the bathtub or kitchen sink before you start. Use warm water – not so hot as to make your cat uncomfortable, but not cold. You will need to keep your cat’s temperature steady.
  2. Stop running water once you reach the height of your cat’s belly. Give them a brush, then gently lower them into the water.
  3. Pour water over your cat’s fur using a cup. You could try a showerhead, but this may be too intense for an older feline. Get your cat’s fur as wet as possible, but avoid splashing water in their face. This will upset your cat.
  4. Gently apply some cat-friendly shampoo. Always use a specialist product from a pet store. Cats have very different skin acidity to us, so a human shampoo will cause severe irritation. It may also be advisable to pick up a specialist senior cat shampoo.
  5. Applying shampoo is a great opportunity to massage your cat’s joints. While they are submerged in warm water, give the key leg muscles a rub. This will help your pet stay supple.
  6. Rinse off the shampoo. Remain gentle with this process, as you don’t want your cat to bolt. Once your cat is devoid of shampoo, they are ready to leave the bath.
  7. When the bath is complete, wrap your cat in a soft, thick towel. Keep your cat as warm as possible without making them uncomfortable. Remember, cats hate feeling trapped and enclosed in a blanket. They should have enough space to move while being dried.
  8. Your cat’s body temperature should not drop below 90 degrees Fahrenheit after they have been bathed. If they do so, consider applying a hairdryer on a very low intensity from a safe distance. It can burn a senior cat’s delicate skin.
  9. Once your cat is dry, brush their fur. This is much easier when they are dry than wet.

The most important thing to remember is that your cat must tolerate the experience, at worst. Ideally, you want them to enjoy being cleaned up in such a manner. If your pet is visibly uncomfortable, don’t force them into a bath. There are many methods for cleaning a cat without the use of water.

How to Clean Cat Fur Without Water

Some cats will not entertain the concept of water. A senior cat that refuses to bathe but cannot groom themselves will still need your help. Thankfully, many cleaning methods do not require running water.

Some popular methods for cleaning cat fur without water include:

  • Pet Wipes. Any reputable pet store will stock wipes exclusively for use with animals. These can be effective for day-to-day cleaning. It’s vital that you use cat-friendly wipes, rather than any designed for humans. Even a baby wipe may irritate a cat’s skin. Wipes can be particularly useful for cleaning your cat’s bottom or face.
  • Dry Shampoo. You could also try applying waterless, dry shampoo to your cat’s fur. This is essentially a form of hair mousse that can be left in your cat’s fur. You can then brush this out. Again, dry shampoo is available from any pet store.
  • Comb or Brush. You may be surprised at how impactful running a comb through your cat’s fur can be. A fine-toothed comb will smooth out a cat’s fur, and capture a lot of dirt. Be careful with senior cats, however. If their fur is matted and tangled, a comb can be painful.

While a bath or shower is undoubtedly impactful, cleaning a cat without water is entirely possible. After all, cats groom themselves using their tongues.

If your senior pet is no longer able to do this, they will likely be distressed. Don’t add to their anxiety by forcing them into something that makes them uncomfortable.

how to clean cat fur without water

How to Groom a Senior Cat

Washing is part of the solution when it comes to taking care of senior cat’s fur. General grooming, however, is equally important. Older cats should be checked regularly, as brushing is just as important as washing. An annual check-up at the vet is advisable. However, don’t just have your cat groomed once per year.

You should look to brush your cat’s fur at least once per day. Pick a location that your cat is comfortable within, as this will keep them calm. Use a soft brush, as older cats may have tender joints. This means avoiding a brush with wire bristles if that’s possible. Make this brushing a pleasurable experience for your cat, offering praise and treats as you go. Work steadily from head to tail, smoothing out any tangles with the brush.

After a short time, you will notice that your cat approaches you for a groom. Once it becomes part of their routine, it will be second nature. This means that your cat’s fur will not mat.

If your cat has matted fur, it will need to be cut out. Don’t attempt to continually brush this out, as you’ll just hurt your pet. This will make them fearful of grooming, when we’ve just stated that it should be pleasurable. Instead, take them to a professional groomer. Matted fur often needs a skilled hand, especially as senior cats can have thin skin. Seeking professional help means that your cat is less likely to be injured.

Another advantage of brushing your cat’s fur daily is to keep an eye on them. Many cats will not tolerate being prodded and poked by a vet. If you’re brushing their fur, however, you will be any potential problems. These could include bald patches, matted fur or trapped fecal matter.

Beyond the obvious problem of hygiene, you’ll also identify any skin concerns. Remember, cats will not actively tell you if they are sick or hurting. Regular grooming will provide you an opportunity to inspect your pet’s general health.

Cleaning and Grooming That an Older Cat Needs

Fur is a clear and obvious way of checking your senior cat’s health. If their coat is glossy and shiny, you will rarely have anything to worry about. There are exceptions to this rule, however. It can be crucial to know what else to look out for.

Senior cats will also need attention paid to their:

  • Skin. As cats age, their skin loses elasticity. This can leave your cat more susceptible to skin conditions. A thin skin may also leave your cat running a lower body temperature.
  • Teeth and Gums. Your cat’s oral health is pivotal to their physical wellbeing. Older cats often struggle with their teeth, so pay particular attention of their mouths. Take regular looks at your cat’s teeth and gums, brushing once a week.
  • Claws. Senior cats sometimes lose interest in their scratching posts. This could lead to overly long and brittle claws. These can be dangerous to you, other pets and your cat themselves.
  • Eyes and Ears. Older cats that cannot groom themselves may struggle to keep their eyes and ears clean. Numerous pests such as mites make themselves at home in these body parts. Inspect these organs regularly to ensure that nothing untoward is occurring.

senior cat stopped grooming

How to Take Care of a Senior Cat’s Skin

If your cat appears to be licking and scratching constantly, they may be experiencing an allergic reaction. A cat can develop many allergies or sensitivities later in life.

Food is the most likely culprit here. Ensure that your older cat is being fed a diet appropriate to their age. Senior cat food is packed with the nutrients required to keep your older cat healthy. If the problem persists, consider seeing a vet. Your cat may have an allergy to any number of common household items.

Rubbing coconut oil on a cat’s skin can also be hugely beneficial. It will soothe any itching or other issues, and act as a moisturizer. Just be a little careful, as the ASPCA list coconut oil as a food to avoid feeding your cat. It will take an excess amount to lead to any stomach upset, though. The menial amounts that your cat will be able to lick from their skin will have no negative impact.

How to Take Care of a Senior Cat’s Teeth

Keeping an eye on the teeth of an older cat is critical. Cats with problems in their teeth and gums can quickly find disease spreading throughout the body.

If a cat has problems with their teeth, they’ll also refuse food in addition to showing a reluctance to groom. Symptoms of tooth and gum disease in cats include:

  • Drooling and dribbling.
  • Bad breath.
  • Swelling around the face,
  • Bleeding from the mouth.
  • Red gums.
  • Loose teeth.

Brush your cat’s teeth weekly to keep any potential problems at bay. If you are concerned by anything you notice while doing so, speak to a vet.

How to Take Care of a Senior Cat’s Claws

Cats usually keep your claws trim using a scratching post. If your pet loses interest in this, their claws can grow uncomfortably long. This is a problem for many reasons.

Firstly, there is the obvious fact that long claws are dangerous. If your cat swipes, they could do some serious damage. If left for too long, the claws may also curl inward. This will make it difficult for your cat to walk, and potentially damage their paw pads. Finally, unclipped claws become very brittle. If your cat bites their nails, they may be left with dangerously sharp edges.

You can learn how to trim a cat’s nails using clippers safely. These will be available from any reputable pet store. Your cat may initially display resistance to having their claws trimmed, as their paws are sensitive. If you are patient, however, the rewards will be substantial.

How to Take Care of a Senior Cat’s Ears and Eyes

If your cat is long-haired, they’re likely to encounter problems with their eyes and ears. Fur will grow into their eyes, and cause a great deal of irritation. This, in turn, can actively tear ducts and lead to stained fur. If any discharge falls from your cat’s eyes, see a vet ASAP. They are living with an infection that requires treatment.

You’ll need to trim the fur around your older cat’s eyes on occasion. Do not make sudden movements, and find a quiet area to work in. If your cat leaps into action unexpectedly, the results could be disastrous.  Keeping your cat’s eyes clear is a great way to avoid health problems.

matted fur on cats

Ears should also be inspected and cleaned regularly. Older cats can be very prone to ear infections, which can be painful. Basic ear cleaning products will be available at any reputable pet store. If your cat’s ear is leaking discharge, you may need to see a vet. This denotes an ear infection.

In itself, ear infections are not a big problem. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics to resolve the issue. Just be vigilant about ensuring that your cat’s ear infection is not a symptom of a larger problem. An ear mite infestation, for example, will become stressful for an older cat. Such invasions will need to be managed carefully.

Why Has My Senior Cat Stopped Grooming?

When older cats stop grooming themselves, it is not because they have lost interest. It’s quite the opposite. Your cat will wish they could stay clean, but are struggling to do so. This can lead to a great deal of anxiety and depression for a feline.

The first thing you should take into consideration is the age of your cat. Cats are considered senior from the age of 7 onward. At this point, they may start to experience a handful of health concerns connected to age. Once they reach  12, a cat is deemed elderly. They are likely to struggle to keep themselves clean at this stage.

If your senior cat has stopped grooming themselves, it’s almost certainly a physical issue. It’s not merely a matter of growing older, as aging in itself is not a disease. Older cats are more susceptible to many problems, though. These could include:

  • Obesity. As cats age, they tend to become more sedentary. If their calorie intake is not managed, they will gain weight. If your cat is too heavy to groom themselves, seek the advice of a vet. They will be able to provide diet and exercise plans.
  • Joint Pain. Many older cats will experience issues with joints and mobility as they age. This could be as serious as arthritis, or it may just be aching joints. Seek a vet’s advice if you suspect that your pet is struggling with their mobility. Medication will be available to help. You’ll also be surprised at how impactful a gentle massage can be.
  • Injury. Cats are fond of throwing themselves around, leaping from tall wardrobes and other furniture. This often horrifies humans, as we assume that the cat must have injured themselves. 99% of the time a cat will saunter off, showing no sign any discomfort. That doesn’t mean they are not hurt, however. Cats will do anything to mask pain or an injury. They may have a sprain, or even a broken bone. If your pet is acting strangely in addition to not grooming, see a vet for an x-ray.
  • Too Much Fur. Some long-haired breeds may struggle to work through mats and tangles in their coat. If this results in hairballs that are painful to pass, they may avoid grooming altogether. If you have a senior longhaired cat, be vigilant about assisting their grooming.
  • Dental Pain. Older cats are likely to experience problems with their teeth. This can be a severe problem, preventing cats from engaging in any number of essential activities. If your pet is not grooming and refusing to eat or play, see a vet. Also, check their teeth and gums regularly for any sign of a problem.
  • Senility and Dementia. Sadly, as cats reach a certain age, they sometimes lose access to their mental faculties. Lack of grooming is one of the many symptoms of a cat that is living with cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Vet Street has more information on this condition.

When a cat stops grooming themselves, it’s usually a warning sign that they need to see a vet. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an apocalypse scenario. You can turn this around, with professional help. Just be prepared to display patience, and lend a hand.

What Happens if My Older Cat is Not Groomed?

When cats grow older, grooming becomes more and more critical. This goes double for pets that are unable to clean themselves.

Some of the common sights and scents that accompany older cats include:

  • An uncharacteristically dull, non-glossy fur coat.
  • Food and cat litter get trapped in the fur.
  • Bald, matted and inflamed patches of fur on the cat’s coat.
  • Overgrown claws. These are usually very thick, but somewhat brittle.
  • Thin, stretched skin with little elasticity.
  • Plaque and tartar on the teeth.
  • Strong, unpleasant smells. These could stem from bad breath, or remnants of elimination on the cat’s fur.

Any of these side effects can have a real impact on a cat’s happiness. Their health is at risk from hairballs and tooth or gum disease. Also, cats loathe inadvertently revealing any weakness. If rivals pick up the telltale scent of sickness on a cat, territorial coups may follow.

It’s vital that you lend your senior cat a hand with their grooming. An inability to keep themselves as clean as they’d like can be a significant source of stress.

Put yourself in you’re your pet’s shoes. If you suddenly found yourself unable to take a shower for days, you’d struggle too. Find a cleaning routine that works for your pet, and stick to it.