Lesson 8 - Comfort Grooms: Senior Cats and Ill Cats

Lesson Outline
  • Comfort Grooms: Senior Cats and Ill Cats

  • Scissoring Practice - Shaping

  • Dummy (All 3 Feather Duster Dummies to be in perfect shape)

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Lesson Outline
  • Comfort Grooms: Senior Cats and Ill Cats

  • Scissoring Practice - Shaping

  • Dummy (All 3 Feather Duster Dummies to be in perfect shape)

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Lesson 9
Comfort Grooms: Senior Cats and Ill Cats

Presented by:

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What is considered a Senior Cat?
Cats are considered to be elderly once they reach 11 years 
  • Senior cats defined as those aged between 11 - 14 years
  • Super-senior cats 15 years and upwards

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How Age Affects Grooming
As a cat's lifestyle and body change, their grooming needs change as well. 

It is important for the professional cat groomer to not only understand these changes, but know how to make adjustments for them as well. 

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Older cats may find it physically more difficult to groom themselves. Many cats develop arthritis in their spine and hips, which makes the motion of grooming painful.

What is a Comfort Groom?
Grooming for comfort instead of aesthetics

There will come a point when a cat’s groom will be majorly determined by them. When this happens, they would have entered the comfort groom stage of their life.

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As a cat ages, the type of grooming they require changes as well. A senior cat's skin becomes thinner and more fragile and we should make decisions on whether or not shaving is appropriate. 

Even if a cat has been receiving Lion Cuts its whole life, there may come a time when the skin is too delicate and the services offered become a Comb Cut or even just Bath & Dry appointments. 

When to Perform Comfort Grooms?
  • Elderly Cats
  • Ill Cats
  • When the cat is stressed but has heavy matting that needs to be removed

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After assessing the cat’s condition and you feel that you will need to conduct a comfort groom instead of what the client originally wanted, be sure to get their approval before continuing and let the cat rest while communicating with the client.

What Service to Offer?
When deciding which grooming services will be performed on a cat client, there are a number of factors to consider in cats of any age:

  • Skin and coat condition
  • Behavior and personality of the cat
  • Health condition of the cat
  • Owner’s concerns

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A cat's temperament and behavior should also be considered when deciding appropriate grooming services and schedule. 

Senior cats are even more prone to stress-related conditions and the groom should reflect consideration of this. Sometimes it is appropriate to make recommendations for the cat to be groomed in a different environment to minimise stress, whether it be on specific days where a salon is quieter, with a different groomer entirely, like a housecall or mobile groomer, or for the cat's safety, a recommendation can be made where they are groomed under a veterinarian's supervision.

Making Grooming a Pleasant Experience
Sometimes, more frequent, shorter sessions are better for both cat and pet parent and result in less anxiety for both parties.

We want to work within the cat’s stress levels as much as possible.

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Senior cats can produce more oil, so the recommended grooming schedule may need to be adjusted as well. 

If a cat has been used to a Lion Cut every 3 months his entire life and he will need to transition to comfort grooms, the schedule should increase in frequency if moving to just Bath & Dry appointments in order to prevent matting or tangles.

Regular nail trims and ear cleaning become more necessary for the senior cat in order to prevent in-grown nails, pain from walking, ear infections and more.

Grooming Techniques
In addition to changing the grooming services provided, techniques and handling skills may also need to adapt when working with senior cats. The focus should be on the cat's comfort. 

This could include any or all of the following changes:
  • Put a soft towel on the grooming table for under the cat's body
  • Add a mat in the tub for them to stand or lay on
  • Use a Happy Hoodie or small towel around the head to soften the noise from dryers
  • Give the cat breaks during grooming
  • Use a very light touch when shaving or combing so as not to create wrinkles or nick the skin
  • Have a second person assist with handling
  • Go very slow during handling, especially when extending limbs
  • Break up stressful grooms into multiple appointments

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Always make sure to listen to the cat, by watching for changes to body language, sounds and reactions during the groom. Avoid any services or techniques that may cause discomfort or pain.

Physical Changes
1. Eyes and Ears

A cat's eyes may develop a slight haziness that does not affect their ability to see, but blood pressure problems or other illnesses can cause permanent damage to the eyes. 

Ears can accumulate greater amounts of waxy build up, which can lead to infections and even facial paralysis and loss of hearing. 

Hindered eyesight or hearing can make a can uneasy during a groom, so be especially careful of sudden movements or loud noises. 

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Physical Changes
2. Mouth

Handling around the jaw and neck may agitate a senior cat with dental problems. Sore gums, plaque build up, loose or missing teeth, and other problems are not uncommon in older cats.

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Physical Changes
3. Joints

Hip and shoulder bones can become more prominent and their level of activity will decrease. While every cat ages differently, many will develop arthritis at some point in their lives. 

The joints and extremities must be handled with caution to prevent causing discomfort during the groom. 

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Physical Changes
4. Skin

Senior and ill cats generally lose some body mass as they age, and they are at risk for becoming dehydrated. Gently pinching the skin and letting go will reveal the level of the skin's elasticity to check if they are dehydrated. 

As cats age, the skin becomes fragile and can wrinkle easily. This leads to a higher risk of nicking with clipper blades. Combs and brushes should be used with care as they can catch and rip delicate senior skin. 

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Physical Changes
5. Hair

They may develop dull or damaged hair due to illness, diet or just with age. Brittle or damaged hair can cause more frequent matting because of breakage in the hair itself. 

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The cats are no longer self-grooming to collect dead hair which can lead to clumpy matting, even on shorthaired cats. It is very common for senior cats to visit a groomer for the first time because "they never got matted before". The increased oils and excessive dead coat must be gently removed during a bath appointment in order to prevent the difficult task of removing matts. 

Physical Changes
6. Oil Production

Senior cats produce a higher level of oils on the skin. When they self-groom, they spread the oils around their bodies. Senior cats who reduce self-grooming or stop altogether, the oils can accumulate in areas including the base of the tail and up the back. This coupled with higher level of dead coat, cause matting.

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After matt removal, you may observe hemotomas on the skin. A hematomas a severe bruise. They are caused by blood vessels bursting beneath the skin, causing a pocket of blood within the tissue, much like a blood blister. 

Take photos for documentation and send them to the owner to update them. Advise them to bring the cat to the vet immediately for medical attention.

Physical Changes
7. Nails

Nails can become thick and overgrown as the outer nail sheath sheds less. Regular nail trims are essential to keep the nails from growing back into the paw pads causing pain and infections. 

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Should a cat have ingrown nails and depending on its severity, you will need to asses if you are able to remove them in the salon. 

If you feel that by removing them in the salon may too risky, inform the owner that it will be too stressful for the cat and advise them to go to the vet where there will be sedatives and painkillers on standby. They will also be able to prescribe medication for disinfecting the wounds at home.

Questions to Ask
The initial conversation with the client is very important.

You will need to gather information, while also answering questions and addressing any of the owner’s concerns. 

The check-in should not be rushed, but can still remain professional and concise so as to be efficient with your time.

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On average, a thorough check in should take about 5 mins. If the check in is too long, it will eat into your time for your other appointments.

Questions to Ask
The following information should be gathered during the check in:

  • Cat’s coat length and condition
  • Cat’s age
  • Medical concerns, medications, etc.
  • Grooming history
  • Owner concerns

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To help with the check in process, you should have a script memorised that covers questions that will help you understand the cat’s condition better.

Older cats tend to have health concerns - if the owner is not aware but you notice that the cat is dehydrated or has has lesions in the mouth, you can encourage them to bring the cat to the vet. Avoid giving out medical advice, dosages, etc and refer to the vet for all health concerns.

Red Flags
#1 She has some knots on her back legs and her back

When this owner is describing the location and severity of mats, it is better to expect severe matting and hopefully be proven wrong with less. 

The statement is a red flag because the location of the matting and how the owner does recognise it, could mean that the cat is severely matted over most of its body. 

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Cat owners have not got through grooming school or have experience as a groomer. They will not always recognise what matting looks like, or use the same terminology as a groomer would. Using terms like “tangles,” “clumps,” and “knots” will usually get a more accurate response than asking about “matting.” 

Matts on the back, sides and rear legs are usually some of the last places to matt although it is where the client will notice them first when petting. So if the customer says that there are clumps on these areas, you can expect areas that are more matt-prone to have heavy matting.

Red Flags
#2 I tried to cut some out of her belly the other day but she ran away

This red flag could mean that there is a potential wound on the belly or any area where the client used scissors. It is not uncommon for matts to hide bits of skin which are then nicked when the matt is cut out. The cat may not even react to the cut, if the matt was severe enough the skin could be quite numb from the pulling

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Do a thorough physical assessment at check in, feel the cat all over and ask the client where they specifically used scissors. 

If any wounds are found during the groom, take lots of pictures and call the client with an update immediately. The owner should seek veterinary care at their own expense for these injuries, so it is important to document and contact them immediately.

Red Flags
#3 “She has never been groomed before”...and the cat is an adult

This is a potential red flag as an adult cat that has never been groomed before may not be used to a stranger handling it especially at its sensitive areas.

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Check with the client if there is a reason why the cat has never been for professional grooming before.

Some questions to ask:
Has the cat had a bath before?
How does it cope with nail clipping?
Does it like combing?
Does it have any sensitive areas that we need to take note of?

Questions phrased in such a way can help you get the client to open up and provide you with information you need about how the cat reacts and copes with handling.

Red Flags
#5 “She’s not aggressive, but she will try to play bite”

While some cats do play bite, they may only do it with their owner. If a stranger handles them, they may react more strongly.

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When it comes to play biting, we need to be a bit more cautious because it’s our first time handling the cat. 

Red Flags
#6 “I comb her every day”...but the cat is very matted

If a cat is combed on a daily basis, there should not be any matts. This statement will tell you that this customer is likely withholding other information from you.

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When a client presents a heavily matted cat and insists that they comb it every day, we still want to show them that we are giving them the benefit of the doubt even though we know that it is not the case. Our objective is to try and extract information from them about the cat while not making them defensive or offended.  

Questions to ask:
What tools do you use to brush/comb her?
How long do you usually brush/comb her for?
How does your cat react to the sessions?

Red Flags
#7 Bad mouthing the previous grooming place

Clients that do not hesitate to bad mouth previous grooming salons are a red flag. Always be extra cautious with your phrasing when speaking to the client.

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Sometimes what is considered as firm to us can be perceived as rough handling or “animal abuse” to clients. I will always be more wary of clients that are quick to throw the previous grooming salon under the bus because it is always better to be cautious to prevent any misunderstandings.

Of course there is a possibility that the client is right and that the previous grooming place provided an undesirable experience. So it is our job to assess the cat thoroughly during check-in and ask the right questions to learn more about the cat’s behaviour.

Questions to ask:
Does she have any sensitive spots that we need to be aware of?
What type of feedback did the previous groomer give?
Has your cat been to any other grooming salons besides the previous one? How was the experience?

Never promise that the experience will be better than the previous salon. Let the client know that all cats react differently on different occasions and environments, so we will work with what they are comfortable with and keep them updated. If they are stressed, we will give them breaks in between. You may also ask them to stay and watch the session to see how their cat copes with grooming.

Red Flags
#7 “Why so expensive?”

Clients that complain that our services are expensive are usually the type that want things cheap, fast and good. We should use this opportunity to let them know that we believe in the value of the services we provide.

How to respond:
  • Affirm that yes, it is costly
  • Give a short explanation
  • Give them suggestions to help them make a decision

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How to respond:

Affirm that yes, it is costly

Be compassionate and build a connection with them. Avoid being defensive or sounding sarcastic.

Give a short explanation.

Keeping it short is key. Don't go overboard and waste their time with a long-winded story about how hard you work or how much it costs to run your business. Just focus on key reasons why the services will be costly. E.g. Dematting can be a dangerous process if it’s rushed, especially on older cats or cats that require extra care. The higher costs involved are due to the time and expertise required to remove the matts safely.

Give them suggestions to help them make a decision

Ask about their budget for that day and let the know what can be done with their budget. E.g they do not want to dematt and insist on a wet bath for the cat
Let them know the likely outcomes of giving a matted cat a wet bath (ask students to answer)
Have them sign off on it on the check-in form
If you are uncomfortable proceeding, let them know that once they have removed the matts thoroughly themselves, they are always welcome back and we will be glad to re-assess to see if the cat is suitable for a groom

The majority of cat owners do not know what is involved in grooming, including the risks involved when working with senior cats. 

Having an informative conversation with the owner is imperative before any work be started on the cat. 

The discussion should include potential risks, clear expectations of the outcome of the groom, pricing estimates, and that you may not be able to complete all requested services.

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Some clients require firmer language

So you want me to RIP the matts out? I'm not willing to do that, it could TEAR his skin
Stress can literally KILL a cat, so I will do what is best for Fluffy in order to keep the groom a safe and positive experience
Wrinkly skin on a bonier cat is at a very high risk to CUT, so it is best to do a bath and blow dry appointment to get the shedding under control 

One precaution that works well for severely matted senior cats is to break the groom up into two sessions. 

1st session goal:
Remove the majority of the mats

2nd session goal:
Bath, blow dry, combing and finish work

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The cat should complete both sessions in order to remove all the matting and then get the skin and hair clean and dry to remove the two causes of matts –– the excess oil and dead coat.

Monitor the senior cat for signs of stress and go with your observations and instincts. If you are uncomfortable, then stop the groom. The priority is always the cat’s well-being.

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It may be better to recommend to be groomed under a vet’s supervision. While many vets only perform grooms under sedation (which comes with another set of risks), in some cases it is better for them to be done in a clinic in case anything should happen during the groom. In that instance, they can be immediately treated instead of having to be driven over from the grooming salon when every minute counts.

Minimising stress
  • Observe for abnormal behaviours & signs of stress
  • Give the cat a break if it starts drooling, panting, etc.
  • Press nozzle closer to skin to minimise sound during showers
  • Support body weight when moving the cat around, watch for any pain reactions and adjust

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Support body weight by lifting under the belly
Hold the cat up by limb or scruff

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Massage hip or shoulder to encourage cat to extend leg
Pull leg too quickly or roughly

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Remember that cats will stretch straight up or out
Pull legs out to the side

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Give them a towel or lap to lay on
Have them lay on hard surfaces if they have lost body mass/boney

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Use slow movements around them in case they are losing senses
Be rough or too fast with handling

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Remember their comfort positions and move your body for handling
Ignore signs of pain, discomfort or stress

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Handling Senior and Ill Cats
Put the cat’s safety & stress level as top priority
Push a senior cat if they are not responding well to the groom

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Working with Injuries and Discomfort
  • Respect the cat’s limitations

  • Adjust the groom & owner’s expectations to fit the cat’s needs

  • If you are unfamiliar with an injury or condition, seek the cat’s vet for recommendations and do your own research

  • Cats with dental problems may show signs of aggression when handled around the neck, head or face - check mouth if possible for source of pain and make recommendation for a vet visit

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Creative Solutions
Every cat will respond to different techniques, products and procedures. It will be your job as the professional cat groomer to do some detective work and figure out what will work for each cat. The solution may surprise you! 

Always remember:
Is it safe for the cat?
Is it safe for the groomer?
Is it efficient?

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Dematting by 
Combing vs Shaving
Dematting by Combing

Keep your comb flat to the skin. Do not dig into the skin with the comb as fragile, senior cat skin is at risk of snagging and ripping with the comb.

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If there are a few matts that require dematting and won’t take up too much time that will be stressful for the senior or ill cat, you can consider dematting.

Dematting by 
Combing vs Shaving
Dematting by Shaving

Always keep the skin flat

Use your hand and fingers to stretch small areas of the cat's skin and only work on those areas at a time. 

Adjust your clipper pressure to just glide over the skin. Pushing the skin too much will cause wrinkling in front of the clipper blade and can be easily nicked.

Remember to be cautious with stretching out arthritic legs in order to get the skin smooth. 

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However if the cat is very matted or pelted, shaving will be your only option to ensure that you do not overly stress out the cat or cause any injury.

  • 1 Student to 1 Meowdel
  • You will need to complete a basic groom for your meowdel
  • Do a tail degreasing treatment before the bath
  • Take turns working on each cat
  • By the end of 3 hours, each pair should have completed a basic groom with either a wet or dry bath for both cats
  • Take pictures of before and after the groom

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At what age are cats considered a senior cat?

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What should you consider when deciding what grooming services to perform on a cat client?

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State at least 3 grooming techniques you may use when working with senior cats

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What should you avoid doing while grooming a senior cat?

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What can you do to minimise stress while grooming a senior cat?

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