Written by: Judy Karnia, DVM
Cats are independent and take care of themselves pretty well. Healthy cats groom themselves often, keeping their fur clean and smooth. They generally use the litter box and don’t make messes. However, this can make us complacent with ensuring good hygiene in our cats. Even if your cats appear to be clean and happy, there are some areas that you should be checking periodically.
Matted Cat Fur
Many long hair cats, and even some short hair cats, develop mats in their fur. Often these start on the underside or on the hind legs so they may not be apparent at first. This may worsen as they get older or gain weight. You should gradually get your cat used to being combed daily. A flea comb with close teeth can be helpful with removing small mats. Once mats are larger, they need to be removed with a clipper. Do not attempt to cut them out with scissors, which can cut the skin, especially when mats are close to the skin. If you do not have clippers or are not used to using them, contact a groomer or your veterinarian to have the mats removed. If a cat typically keeps her fur well-groomed but starts developing mats or a poor fur coat, this is a sign of a medical problem and your cat should have a veterinary exam. Cats with arthritis in their back or hips can also stop grooming well due to pain when they lick the area or difficulty getting into the correct positions.
Regularly Check Your Cat’s Hind End
It may not be the most pleasant place to look, but you should also regularly check your cat’s hind end. Most cats obligingly lift their tail and put their back end right where you can see it with a good rub on the back near the tail base. If there is fecal matter stuck to the anal area or in the fur, your cat is likely having trouble keeping the area clean. This can be because of diarrhea or hard stool sticking to the fur. It can also be because your cat is too large to reach back there. You need to be extra vigilant with long hair and obese cats. We have seen a few obese cats that develop some folds that can retain urine moisture and fecal matter.
Taking Care of Your Cat’s Nails
You should also check your cat’s nails monthly. Normal claws are thin and come to a point. You can get your cat used to having the tips trimmed by gradually working from first handling the paws, to trimming more nails each time. Use treats that your cat enjoys as a reward for putting up with this. Your cat will usually chew off or use the scratching post to remove the outer sheath of the claws. Older cats and cats that don’t use a scratching post or move around much can retain these sheaths which then can curl under and grow into the paw pad. This causes pain and infection. Also check the nail beds for any crustiness or sticking of litter. There are some skin conditions that affect the nail beds. If litter is sticking to your cat’s claws, this can be a sign that he is urinating large amounts making the litter sticky. This can be due to kidney disease, diabetes, or other medical problems and indicates that your cat should be examined by a veterinarian.