how to groom a senior cat
Cat Health and Wellness

How To Clean An Old Cat’s Fur

In addition to a specialist diet and exercise regime, older cats also need assistance with grooming their fur. Aging joints and limited energy leave senior felines unable to clean their fur as often as they’d like.

Groom a senior cat daily to distribute oils around the fur and keep it clean. Senior cats have thinner skin, so you’ll need to use a soft brush. Rub unscented wet wipes on your cat’s fur periodically as this will make up for your cat’s inability to lick itself clean. Pay special attention to your cat’s bottom as this area can grow messy in older cats.

Older cats can be belligerent and impatient, but feeling unclean will cause distress. If you are gentle and consistent, most senior cats will come to welcome your assistance with cleaning.

Elderly Cat Is Not Grooming Itself

As fastidiously clean animals, it can be worrying when a cat stops grooming. It’s true that a lack of cleanliness can be a sign of ill health. The causes of this vary from dental pain to internal disease or viral infection.

Health concerns will usually be accompanied by major behavioral changes. Do not worry unduly unless your cat has also stopped eating and drinking or is acting particularly strangely.

It’s likelier that your senior cat has ceased grooming through inability, not unwillingness. Grooming requires dexterity and physical fitness. Cats aged ten or over frequently struggle with both of these attributes.

Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice links osteoarthritis to geriatric cats. This definition is typically assigned to cats aged 15 of over. In truth, most cats aged over 10 will experience some degree of arthritis. Certain breeds will struggle with the condition even earlier.

If your cat is arthritic, it will lack the mobility to clean itself appropriately. Watch a younger cat groom and you will notice that lots of body contortions are required. These twists and turns are beyond the physical capability of a senior cat. Help cleaning an elderly cat’s fur will be required.

This is not as simple as bathing your cat once a week. As well as the fact that many cats loathe bathing, this can be harmful. Excessive use of shampoo, even a cat-safe brand, can dry out feline skin. Older cats already have thin and delicate skin, which is easily damaged.

Instead, you will need to get involved in your senior cat’s daily grooming. Your intention should be to replicate your cat’s previous grooming routine. This will keep your cat happy and ensure that its fur does not grow matted and greasy.

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A healthy cat may spend up to 50% of its time grooming. This serves many purposes for a cat. Most felines find grooming relaxing, while it also doubles as a defense mechanism. Cats like to retain a clean and unscented presence to avoid detection by predators.

When a cat grooms itself, it redistributes natural oils throughout its fur. These oils stem from a cat’s skin. Whenever you pet your cat, you also rub oils from your own skin onto the fur. Cats groom so they can spread these oils around evenly.

As your cat grows older, grooming will become challenging. This will be obvious when you look at your cat. Fur will start to look greasy and clumpy. Your cat’s spine and bottom will be the first areas to be impacted. Your cat lacks the flexibility to lick these hard-to-reach areas.

Introduce grooming to your cat’s daily routine if you have not already done so. At a minimum, your cat’s fur should be groomed twice a day. This will go some way to replicating a cat’s natural cleaning regime.

If your cat has longer fur, it is advisable to groom it more often. Longer fur will grow greasy and dirty faster than short hair. This will cause distress for the cat. It will attempt to groom itself more often, potentially pulling muscles and hurting itself.

The ideal time to groom a cat is after play and food. Your cat will be docile after these activities. A younger cat will typically follow up a meal with grooming and a nap. You should never groom an agitated cat, as it will resist by biting and clawing.

Brushing a Senior Cat’s Fur

Older cats have thinner skin that lacks elasticity. This is a natural part of the feline aging process. It means that you’ll need to use appropriately delicate grooming tools. Use a soft-bristled brush for the majority of the grooming.

Choose a brush with hollow bristles. As explained by PNAS, a cat’s tongue contains hollow papillae top collect and distribute saliva. Such a brush will replicate the sensation of self-grooming and help keep the cat calm.

Once you have picked up an appropriate brush, pick your moment to start grooming. As discussed, this should be while your cat is relaxed. Your cat should view grooming as a pleasurable experience, not an ordeal to be tolerated.

Get your grooming apparatus ready and invite your cat to sit in your lap. Gently pet your cat a little to keep it content and begin the process. Start grooming at the tip of the head, brushing the fur in the direction of growth.

Slowly work your way down the cat’s back until you reach the tail. Do not neglect your cat’s sides – and its belly, if it allows contact here. Avoid touching the skin but groom the undercoat as well as what you can see. Your cat needs a thorough brushing.

You can then lightly apply a metal comb for finishing touches. Be gentle here though, avoiding touching the cat’s skin if possible. A harsh tug from a solid comb can break the skin. Older cats take longer to heal cuts and are more prone to infection.

Sometimes, older cats are unable to detect parasitic infestations. This means that you may also wish to use a fine-toothed flea comb during grooming. Again, be soft and delicate while using this comb. Do not drag it harshly against your cat’s skin as this will be painful.

Knots and Tangles

Knots and tangles in a cat’s fur can be a nuisance. They are unsightly and can cause discomfort for the cat. They will also attract substantial amounts of skin oil. This can add to the greasy and unkept appearance of your cat.

Unfortunately, knots and tangles can also be awkward and painful to remove. In a senior cat, they will be especially troublesome. The cat’s inability to clean itself will lead to more knots. Avoid any temptation to tug to remove tangles. This will be painful and ineffective.

Start by softening your cat’s fur. Water from spray bottle will achieve this, if your cat accepts such treatment. If not, sprinkle baking powder or cornstarch over the tangled fur. This will make it easier to brush out.

Lift the matted fur, being careful not to pinch your cat’s skin. Use a pair of scissors to score the length of the tangle and cut it open. Again, be careful here. If the scissors cut your cat’s skin, it will bleed profusely.

Blunt-noses scissors will minimize this risk. Just ensure the blades are sharp enough for the task at hand. Once the matted fur has been separated with scissors, brush the area with fine-toothed comb.

It may take several days, and several sessions, to get to all the tangles. Use clippers to shave away particularly stubborn knots. Grooming and brushing several times a day will reduce the risk of them arising, though.


Just grooming a cat will be insufficient to keep its fur completely clean. Your cat uses saliva to neutralize scents and remove oils. This means that you will also need to provide an alternative method of washing.

Wet wipes are the safest and easiest way to achieve this. You could use a wet flannel if you prefer. Some cats will reject this approach, though. A washcloth will feel cold against a cat’s skin. It will also release additional water, potentially upsetting the cat.

It is best to purchase cat-specific wet wipes from a pet store. This is not just a marketing ploy, designed to trick animal lovers into spending more. These items will be designed with the pH of a cat’s skin in mind. This minimizes the risk of an allergic reaction.

If you are unable to purchase specialist wet wipes, use those designed for human babies. These will typically be unscented and devoid of additional chemicals. Just remember, they are not tested on animals. If your cat has sensitive skin, use a product tailored for its needs.

The use of wet wipes can be incorporated into petting. Relax your cat and apply these wipes to its fur while stroking. Only do this once a day at most. Excessive use of wet wipes can dry out feline skin.

Fecal and Urinary Stains

If you notice yellow fur and/or an unpleasant smell emanating from your cat, check its rear and urinary tract. Older cats struggle to reach these parts of their anatomy for cleaning. These should be priority body parts for assisted cleaned.

Wet wipes are usually fine for these body parts. If waste is clinging to fur, use a warm washcloth. This will soften the fur and make cleaning more effective. Just be warned – warm water may inspire a further bowel movement. Mother cats lick the anus of their young to encourage elimination. The feel of a warm washcloth will be similar to this sensation.

It is very important that you keep your cat clean in this respect. While it is rare, cats can develop flystrike. This is a condition in which flies are attracted to matted waste on a cat’s fur. These flies will lay eggs, which hatch into maggots. This is just as horrific as it sounds.

Older cats may also need to use the litter box more often. This means that you’ll need to regularly change their litter. Cats are naturally disinclined to eliminate in a dirty environment, but sometimes needs overtake preferences.

Do not leave your cat to lounge in soiled litter, or it will cling to their fur. This is unsanitary, looks unsightly and will lead to foul-smelling fur. Your cat will also tread this soiled litter all over your home.

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There may come a time that your cat needs a bath. Your cat may have stained its fur by rolling in liquid or mud. It may have stubborn urine or fecal staining. You may be unable to keep up with the grooming needs of a senior cat. This is likeliest in long-haired breeds.

Bathing a senior cat is a balancing act. You’ll need to work slowly and gently to avoid hurting the cat. Equally, though, do not prolong the experience unnecessarily. Many cats find bathing stressful. This can be dangerous for older cats, who often have weaker hearts.

Older cats struggle to retain body heat in cold conditions, as explained by The Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. Do not allow your cat’s body temperature to drop below 100 degrees Fahrenheit during or after bathing. Get it warm and dry as quickly as possible. Use a hot water bottle or hairdryer if necessary.

Try to avoid bathing a senior cat is possible. If there is no other solution, limit a full bath to once a month. Anything more frequent risks drying your cat’s skin out. This will lead to flaking skin, which is often mistaken for dandruff on feline fur.

An alternative to full bathing is the use of a dry shampoo. Again, this must be designed exclusively for cats. Never pick up a shampoo for a dog or rabbit thinking it will do. All mammals have varying skin pH and must be treated as such.

Dry shampoo will create a foam that can be massaged into a cat’s fur during petting. This will improve the appearance of your cat’s fur and mask any unpleasant scents. Dry shampoo is a temporary fix, though. It is no substitute for regular maintenance of a senior cat’s fur.

Cleaning a senior cat’s fur is not drastically different from aiding a younger feline with grooming. You will always need to gentle and delicate. The main difference is how often you’ll need to do so. Older cats need more assistance with keeping their fur clean. Providing this help will enhance your bond, and your cat’s quality of life.