The level of general care you will need to give your cat will depend on its breed or length of fur (or lack of it), its health and its age. Below are are the key things you need to think about.
Caring for your cat’s coat and skin
There is not a great deal to do with short-haired breeds as they can keep their coats in tip-top condition with little or no help. There is more work to be done with long-haired breeds and a great deal with Persians which have a very thick undercoat as well as a long top layer of hair. They may have problems grooming because of the shape of the skull and jaw caused by breeding for a very flat face. See how to groom your cat.
Keep the area under the tail clean (only really a worry in breeds with a great deal of coat such as Persians, or cats that are unwell and have diarrhoea). You may need to clean or trim the coat so faeces do not stick to it. Help may also be needed for older cats which are not so supple and cannot clean themselves.
There are some breeds which have little or no hair. While this may seem to be a way to remove the need for any type of grooming, it actually adds problems in terms of care of the skin. The cat species has developed to have hair because it has a range of roles in the cat’s survival – warmth, protection of the skin, as a sensory mechanism with highly sensitive hairs, as a way to distribute oil to keep the coat waterproof and to hold scents. To keep this coat in tip-top condition the cat has developed a highly effective grooming mechanism – a tongue which is very rough with small barbs on the surface so that it works like a comb. Grooming also seems to make cats feel good – they will often groom after having a surprise or use it as a distraction. Therefore to breed a cat with no coat, but with a desire to groom and a very rough tongue seems rather unfair.
Breeds with no or little coat may be prone to skin problems including the development of rashes and fungal infections. Owners must pay meticulous attention to keeping the skin clean and supple. The skin needs to be bathed or sponged every week to remove its oily secretions.
Caring for your cat’s eyes
Most cats do not need any help with their eyes – everything is kept clean with regular grooming. However, the very flat-faced breeds such as Persians and Exotics have been bred with skulls which are not the normal cat conformation. Often the tear ducts (which let the tears which lubricate the eye drain away without anyone noticing) have had their path blocked by changes to the shape of the skull. The result is that the tears overflow down the face causing staining and probably discomfort for the cat. The dampness can cause skin problems too.
Gently wipe with a cotton wool ball dampened with clean water or a little baby oil. Use a separate ball for each eye and dry with a soft tissue. Do not touch the eyeball as this will be painful and the cat will try to avoid the experience next time.
Caring for your cat’s claws
Most cats which are active and go outside care for their own claws without the need for help – they keep them clean and sharp during their activities. Indoor only cats may need their claws trimmed (principally to protect the furniture) as they may not wear them down in the same way. They will certainly need somewhere to scratch. See how to choose and use a scratching post for your cat
Old cats may not retract their claws so well and they may begin to catch on carpets or furnishings. Keep an eye on these so that they do not become overgrown or begin to curve back into the cat’s pad.
Caring for your cat’s ears
If you think your cat’s ears are grubby it might be tempting to clean them out with a cotton wool bud. However, most vets would advise you to not to tamper with the ears at all, as the tissues lining the ear canals are very delicate and easily damaged.
Ears may be dirty because there is wax but it may be caused by ear mites or a skin irritation. Check with your vet who may give you a product to wipe out the outer ear but avoid going too deep into the ear and causing more damage. If you have a hairless breed or one with curled ears they may require more care – check with your vet about how to do this safely.
Caring for your cat’s teeth
Not many of us look in our cats’ mouths. The best veterinary advice is to get our cats used to having their teeth cleaned from kittenhood. However, this is one of those things that isn’t done very often. If you do brush your cat’s teeth, then use a brush and paste made for animals available from your vet – the usual rules regarding not using human or dog preparations for cats apply!
Cats are masters of disguise when it comes to pain and they may be suffering quite badly from a painful mouth and get to the point of actually stopping eating before we notice. Bad breath may be a clue that all is not right, but a proper inspection by the vet is needed to find out the extent of the problem. Almost three-quarters of cats over three years old could have tooth and gum disease, so it’s something to take seriously and to ask your vet about when you have your cat checked. See our information on feline dentition and home care for dental disease.
Pick up the clues
Cats are very good at hiding when they are not feeling well. Owners need to be a little bit like detectives and pick up small clues that the cat may be off colour or not as he should be. Changes in coat, changes in body posture or changes in behaviour may all be signs – check with your vet if you are at all worried.