Why won't my kitty let me brush him?
April 3, 2011 4:06 PM   Subscribe

My cat Mr. Mister is pretty calm for almost anything, even when I clip his nails, but he bites and scratches when I try to brush him. Any suggestions?

So far I've tried, a wire brush (with and without the rubber tips), a flea comb, a regular people comb, one of those rubber petting glove thingies, but he will stand any of them for about ten seconds then he hisses and scratches. If I insist on continuing, he'll bite and scratch. I don't want to spend $20 on a Furminator if he's not going to sit still for it.

There's cat fur all over everything and my asthma is starting to flare (unrelated cause but it's not helping). Plus summer's coming so that means even *more* cat hair.

I love my cat, but I don't love his fur.
posted by patheral to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
immediate solution: Get him shaved. Although he might need to be sedated for it.

Have you talked to his vet about this? What does the vet have to say?

Does he have dry skin or start doing this once you hit a specific spot? My cat had a rough autumn where the fleas attacked her mercilessly and made her dry skin flare up something crazy so that she would start biting herself when you got anywhere near her rump. I talked to the vet and she told me to put fish oil supplements on my cat's dry food. Between that and some frontline, her skin improved dramatically over a month and she stopped going nuts when getting brushed.
posted by royalsong at 4:17 PM on April 3, 2011

Every cat I have ever had loves the Zoom Groom. Try just letting him rub the sides of his face on it at first. I know if I just leave it out I find my current cat just rubbing his face on it. I don't know if your cat will love it but it isn't as expensive as the furminator. As a double plus it is awesome at picking up loose hair.
posted by magnetsphere at 4:52 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think this is really any consolation, but I've never found that brushing a short hair cat cuts down on their shedding. If anything, it's always seemed to make things worse for mine.
posted by something something at 4:53 PM on April 3, 2011

Maybe you could try an adhesive roller, like this? One of our cats really likes a good going-over with one and while it's probably not as effective as a brushing it does get a lot of fur off.

It might work if the problem is that your cat is sensitive to pokeys or something. And if he doesn't like it it'll still be useful for the furniture.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 4:57 PM on April 3, 2011

My cat doesn't particularly *like* the Furminator any more than any other brush, but it does make things go way faster. It's all in the way you hold him. I lay him down on his side, then place my left hand firmly on his shoulder, holding his arm between my fingers. I can use my forearm along his back or my elbow on his hips if he starts kicking with the back legs. As long as I hold him gently and firmly in this manner he can't bite or scratch.

Photo illustration (crappy cell pic, sorry).

I usually do one side, liberally apply cat treats, then after a short break do the other side. He whines and pouts and flicks his tail, but after kitty treats all is forgiven.
posted by geekchic at 5:07 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Positive conditioning is the slowest route, but also the surest.

Start by showing him the brush, and giving him a treat. A little dab of baby food (meat puree, the tiny jars they sell at the grocery store) is most cats' favorite thing EVER. Gradually bring the brush closer and closer, giving him a dab of treat each time. Progress - over the course of several weeks - to slowly brushing him with it.

It could take several months before you really cement it, but once it's down, you'll be able to brush him with abandon for life.

2. Or you can chicken out and take him to a groomer.

Bonus: they will be able to bathe him, too. And as I'm sure you know, it's not the fur that aggravates allergies and asthma, it's the dander.

Bathing will wash that dander away, which is a pretty good deal for $50 or whatever.

Down side: After being brought home from the groomer, Mr. Mister may hate you for an unspecified length of time. Try not to take it personally. The vet can give you tranquilizers if that would be helpful.

3. Finally there's another thing you can try, which is to use a just-barely-damp washcloth. Get the coarsest textured washcloth you can find, wet it, wring it out well, and give him a swipe. (It should be damp enough to make the fur stick, but not so damp that it leaves him wet.)

(I am now singing: TAKE! These messy kitties! And learn to comb again, learn to comb so free-ee-ee!)
posted by ErikaB at 5:33 PM on April 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

royalsong, when I talked to the vet last summer about this (it's been going on for awhile, hence the various brushes mentioned above) he shrugged and said, "some cats are like that" because Mr. Mister seems relatively healthy otherwise.

He does seem to be flaking more than usual lately, but I attributed that to the dry air from the heater. It will soon be so humid here we can swim through the air (this is Mississippi after all). He doesn't act up in any particular spot, just doesn't seem to like being brushed.

About a week ago, I picked up this magic device for picking up the kitty hair. As some of the reviews suggested, I pull out the roller and empty the unit instead of tossing it. It has helped a lot, but I was hoping to stop the hair before it got all over the furniture
posted by patheral at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2011

Maybe he's ticklish? My girl cat, Trixie, doesn't like being scritched and will only submit to calm, smooth petting. Have you tried bathing him? While he might not like being brushed, he might be calm enough to bathe.
posted by fiercekitten at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2011

What are you feeding your cat? High quality cat food helps cut down on the shedding. I have a long haired cat that hates to be groomed and I have been thinking of getting one of these.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2011

My sister's tuxedo cat is exactly the same way WRT brushing. Have you tried a microfiber towel? The sticky rollers also work, but only if they've got quite a lot of dust on them already, otherwise she hates it.

Honestly, my sister just gave up and vacuums frequently.
posted by SMPA at 5:40 PM on April 3, 2011

MaryDellamorte, Mr. Mister's diet is discussed extensively here. He gets dry cat food (it varies with what I can afford) in the morning and wet cat food at night.

I just tried the sticky roller and was able to use it for a little while before he started scratching. Honestly, I don't think he even knew he was being groomed. It did get some hair off, but it took quite a few off those little papers (which I wadded into a ball and he is now batting around the room, so bonus!). So, not the optimal solution, but it'll do until I find something better. Thanks for the suggestion!
posted by patheral at 6:00 PM on April 3, 2011

We use the brown plastically parcel tape instead of a sticky roller. Just wrap it wound your hand, sticky side out, and seal back onto itself, voila instant cat-fur-picker-upper. Great for furniture, OK for the cat, much cheaper to make and easier to dispose of than a roller.

But otherwise the damp flannel thing works much better than a brush, I think it feels like they're being licked. Start off on just the areas he tolerates then stop. When he's fairly relaxed with that then start to move out. It might take several months but you should eventually be able to rub him all over, at least for a short while. He might not love having his armpits done but the aim is to be able to give them a quick going over without him freaking out, and he'll likely come to enjoy having his cheeks and flanks rubbed. Getting him used to being handled all over is also pretty helpful down the road when being checked out by a vet, e.g looking for arthritis when he's old and stuff.
posted by shelleycat at 6:16 PM on April 3, 2011

Oh, also, you can progress from a flannel to a comb or whatever once he's used to being touched. It's all about building up slowly.
posted by shelleycat at 6:17 PM on April 3, 2011

I guess I should mention that he loves to be scratched, petted, and snuggled, which is why I thought he'd tolerate the grooming glove. It's when I introduce something other than my hand that he gets all hissy, scratchy. I think I've annoyed him enough tonight with the brush that instigated this askme and the sticky tape, so I'll save the wet cloth for another time.

Thanks again for the suggestions.
posted by patheral at 6:41 PM on April 3, 2011

If you're building up, try to find the least objectionable areas and start from there. Brush extra gentle, even if initially its not really picking up any hair, until they get used to it. For example, neither of my cats will let me brush their stomachs, but I can do their backs and tails for about fifteen minutes. I usually do it when they're sleepy and purring already. But I too had to start slow. I'd recommend the Furminator brush, as it gets out a lot of the undercoat and even my picky cats tolerate it well.
posted by gilsonal at 6:43 PM on April 3, 2011

He likes being touched, this is a good first step. Maybe try wearing the glove and just resting your hand on his flank or where ever he tolerates? Let him get used to the feel and smell of it before worrying about the motion. Then, after a few days when he stops biting/hating the glove, move up to rubbing his chin or behind the ears or where ever is his favourite place to be rubbed. And so on. Personally I'd go with a glove or similar first because you have more control over it and it seems less like a separate 'thing' to be played with, and you can move up to a comb or furminator from there. But if you take it slow you should be able to get him used to anything, particularly as he's not touch-adverse now.

Short bursts which stop before he gets upset seem to be the best way to move forward, avoid the negative associations. If he does freak out then go back to rubbing something he likes really briefly (without the glove if necessary) so the session ends on a good note. I found it just takes one freak-out-fuck-off-run-away reaction to set me back several weeks, so slow is definitely best. I've managed to get my don't-touch-me! boy cat to let me rub his belly with a few months of escalating, and he even seems to enjoy it now. Whereas a year ago that was a one way ticket to scratch and teeth marks all up my arm. Your beautiful boy is already nicer than that so you should be OK.
posted by shelleycat at 6:53 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

We used to have a comb for our cats, and my oldest really wasn't fond of it - she too would bite after a bit of time. Here's some things that I've done that seem to have made things a little better:

* I find if I started out scratching/rubbing her neck until she started purring, and then I could brush her for a short while. At first I could only get in a few brushes, but now we've worked up to a couple of minutes of brushing. I find if I have one hand scratching her neck while I'm brushing she actually seems to enjoy the brush.

* I started out only brushing her back, she didn't like her sides being touched. Now after she is getting used to it I can bring the brush to her sides without her freaking out.

* I bit the bullet and bought a furminator and they are AWESOME. Now that minute or so of brushing I can do on my kitty gets out 5 times more hair than the old brush. She also tolerates the furminator longer, so perhaps the wire tooth comb was actually bothering her.

She actually seems to really enjoy it now, and will come over to me when I bring out the brush. It did take a bit of time to work up to this though. Also, never underestimate the power of treats ;)
posted by groovesquirrel at 7:11 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Neither of my current cats LIKES being combed, and both hiss and complain, but I outweigh them by 130 pounds or so. I win! (I have had a few dozen and could comb them all.)

One trick is to do it in stages. Initially, concentrate on places they like... under the neck, behind the ears, cheeks, on their sides. No excessive pulling (at first). Every day, if you do this, they'll get more used to it. Places most cats hate to have combed include their belly and between their back legs, the area where the tail attaches to the pelvis. I always go for the easy spots, and wait to get the hard ones until I am ready. Instead of trying to get all of Mr. Mister at once, hit him up several times during the day and see if that makes it better. I make them lie down on one side or the other initially, then face them away from me for a while. Using one hand to pet and following behind it with the comb fools them into thinking they are getting petted, too.

Some of this is 'Dog Whisperer' territory. I rule my animals, or at least I've convinced myself that I do. I don't hit them, but I am firm with handling them and they know the drill. If they complain too much, I give in and try again some more in a few hours.

Incidentally, I find the flea combs work best. The kind with alternative short/long teeth is better than the kind with even teeth. Be gentle and slow, and try not to pull too hard on any knots... work them out in stages. The pulling of skin scares kitties, but little tugs they don't seem to mind.

If all else fails, I do house calls!
posted by FauxScot at 7:47 PM on April 3, 2011

Is your cat more fixated on attacking you, or does he attack the brush itself? My cat used to bite and scratch me, and would also attack the brush whenever I tried to groom him. I solved the problem by buying a second cheap brush - a prop. I brushed him with the cheap brush for about two seconds until he started to bite me/the brush. While he was distracted with attacking the cheap brush, I would quickly groom him with the good brush. Whenever he noticed that he was being groomed he would abandon his war with the cheap brush and he would start to bite me and the good brush again. At that point I stopped grooming with the good brush and let him pick a new fight with the cheap brush. We repeated the cycle until he was either groomed or got sick of the "game" and ran away.

I used this method for a very long time until his attacking of the cheap brush finally dwindled before disappearing altogether. Now he is 9 years old and grooming is something he actually enjoys. Incidentally, his love of grooming was also greatly boosted when we got another kitten, since watching us groom her sent him into a wild fit of jealousy; whenever she was being groomed he would push her out of the way and demand to be groomed himself.
posted by gatorae at 10:45 PM on April 3, 2011

gatorae, he attacks my hand first, then I let him attack the brush. I might try the decoy method. Thanks for the suggestion.
posted by patheral at 10:48 AM on April 4, 2011

My cat Rocco turns into his crabby, sometimes vicious alter-ego Zocco when I try to brush him. I still brush him, using a wire brush, with one hand always behind/around his neck (so he can't bite me no matter how hard he tries) and the other brushing, and do it in sections. When he gets too worked up, let him go. This is not optimal, but it works. If this didn't work, I'd take him to a groomer.
posted by FlyByDay at 6:50 PM on April 4, 2011

I've tried holding Mr. Mister down, but he's a HUGE cat (18 lbs!) and quite flexible. I have arthritis in several joints as well as fibromyalgia. This makes it difficult to wrestle with a cat that doesn't want to cooperate *and* brush him at the same time. He easily breaks out of my weak grip. That's why I'm looking for a way to brush him without the fuss.

Oh, and I'm a starving grad student, a groomer would be a luxury I can't afford at the moment. That's why I'm looking for a peaceful compromise to brushing. ^_^ Honestly, I'm thankful for all of the advice above. So far, he's taken quite well to the sticky roller, but I'm also going to try the damp rag tomorrow.
posted by patheral at 9:47 PM on April 4, 2011

If you had to go the groomer route (with some brushing on your own), it probably wouldn't be more than 2 or 3 times a year, so given that, it might be affordable.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2011

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