Lion Cuts = Cruelty??
August 22, 2007 9:17 PM   Subscribe

I was looking for a cat groomer on Yelp today and was struck by the comments: only place that will do lion cuts in the city, most places won't shave cats, please don't shave your cat, etc. I realized that I've seen this sentiment quite often on the interwebs...

This puzzles me: after all, dogs get groomed (aka shaved) and I never hear about it being "cruel" to the dog (the adjective of choice when it comes to cats). Could you help me figure out the cultural difference between shaving cats and shaving dogs?

Here are my working theories on why cats and dogs are stereotyped differently vis-a-vis grooming:

- Cats have a tendency to look baleful in photos. Our minds notice the lion cut (because it's different), register the regular look (baleful), and put it together that the cat is "mad" because of the lion cut;
- Cats are more "independent", thus we don't like the idea of them getting groomed into a cute shape because that means they're submissive and might end up in Paris Hilton's handbag;
- Dogs are "dirtier" than cats; thus, it's OK to groom them because they can't do it themselves.

Any other ideas? Also, my question comes from a US California perspective; would love to hear how everyone else thinks about this subject.
posted by sfkiddo to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have been told that cats' blood vessels are very close to the surface of their skin, and that's why they need to be shaved by a professional. Hope someone else knows more.
posted by hermitosis at 9:21 PM on August 22, 2007

Well, I think there is sometimes a practical reason to shave dogs--owning one in an area that is too hot for their breed, run-ins with skunks, etc.--and this is not so true of cats. But, I have to tell you that I had my cat's belly shaved this summer to get rid of and discourage matting. You can't really tell from most angles, and he was thrilled once it was over. I thought he was having a heart attack while it was happening, though.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:24 PM on August 22, 2007

I don't know, I live on the Peninsula where it's a little warmer and the groomers I've known are happy to give lion cuts to my long-haired cats in the summertime. I had to have my cat shaved because of an illness back in April and I'm telling you, it made for a happy little warm-weather-no-air-conditioning cat all summer long.

Shannon's Grooming in Redwood City does it, and our vet in Mountain View does as well. When we lived in SF we went to Especially Cats vet clinic in the Sunset, but our cats would never have wanted to be shaved living in the Haight, our place was freakin' cold, so I have no idea if they will do it.

I am not really a "cat person", just a person who happens to have cats, so I have no idea why shaving would be a no-no. I just know that my two little longhaired adoptees aren't really equipped for warm summers, and in the future I'll be addressing that by having them groomed accordingly at the appropriate time of the year.
posted by padraigin at 9:26 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: Clarifications:

hermitosis: my post is about professional grooming, definitely not me wielding a razor, oven mitt, cat, and prayer. I am not that brave.

thebrokedown: we have the same problem with hot areas. NoCal has been very hot and our cats are shedding chunks like crazy (I imagine a similar situation for your dogs).

BTW, whenever we've got our cats a lion cut, they love it: cooler, no dealing w/the fur falling out, lots of attention, more brushing, etc.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:40 PM on August 22, 2007

Let's make it more useful, then.

I don't know why it's more acceptable to subject dogs to extreme grooming than cats... it's probably, as you say, the baleful look thing. Cats just appear to have more dignity than (most) dogs. Thus, cats made to look silly appear to us to be cats who are suffering indignities.

Confession: I've often been sore tempted to have my cat shaven. Occasional veterinary procedures have requred tail, belly, or leg shaving, and it always seems like it'd be a fine idea to go all the way. I've never done it, though.
posted by mumkin at 10:14 PM on August 22, 2007

I suspect that Cat People are more... you know, more the kind of people who will find the idea of doing anything to Kitty that Kitty doesn't like a horrible cruelty, and that Cat People (who seem to vastly be Cat Ladies) are much more likely to band together in outrage over something. So perhaps there are some Dog People who think that it's really mean to groom dogs, but they're unlikely to be able to get a consensus going. Maybe?

Also, I think that Cat People identify with their cats either more, or in a somewhat different way, or both, than Dog People identify with their dogs.

This is an interesting question!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:07 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm going to side with the idea that it's a combination of social acceptability and projecting our own feelings onto our pets.

Note: I have lived with and loved cats, currently live with and love dogs.

The social acceptability thing is a no-brainer: we see dogs shaved down to almost nothing all the time. There are some dogs whose fur (hair?) lays down so tight that they look shaven even when they're not, and so a shaven dog generally doesn't look bizarre.

Cats, on the other hand, always appear to have their fur on. Other than the creepy hairless cats, no cat breed looks less than fluffy. A shaven cat is an odd thing to behold.

This goes for washing, too -- if you wash a dog (which you'll do often as a dog owner) you'll see just how little their bodies might be under that puffy fur, especially the head. People rarely wash cats, so they're not used to seeing the tiny bodies underneath.

As for the projection, other people have mentioned it; cats always look pissed, and when they look pissed + luxurious, it's like they're pissed AT YOU, but when they look pissed + ridiculous (shaven) it's like they're pissed ABOUT LOOKING RIDICULOUS. When really, like dogs (who generally look happy) they don't care how they look -- we're just projecting ourselves into their bodies.
posted by davejay at 11:45 PM on August 22, 2007

Oh, and hey, the cruelty thing: people who think shaving a cat is cruelty don't know what animal cruelty is; let 'em see a neglected, matted dog with ticks chained to a tree, or a cat with bald, bloody spots all over their body from untreated mange -- THAT is cruelty. Shaving a cat (assuming it's done well and safely by a professional) is only cruel to onlookers who don't find it hilarious, and owners who feel embarrassed.
posted by davejay at 11:48 PM on August 22, 2007

We shave our Maine Coon every summer. We don't do the lion cut at all--we just take him down from aout 3" fur to 1/2" fur. It keeps him from shedding all over our house, matting up, and getting too hot in the summer. Plus, by the time it starts growing back we know fall is coming!

I don't understand the whole lion cut thing, or even shaving a cat down to nothing. Cats like their body temperatures a lot warmer than people do, so leave a little bit on the poor thing unless you live in the tropics!
posted by Kimberly at 12:47 AM on August 23, 2007

My only cat was short-haired and we lived in a cooler climate, but I would not have had a problem taking him to the groomer and getting a "summer do". People are just reacting to urban legend photos passed around by e-mail and so on. I have to admit....I was on the floor with your bit about the oven mitt, razor, cat and a prayer! Brings to mind certain prior nail-clipping incidents with my cat.....
posted by Womanscientist at 3:52 AM on August 23, 2007

My understanding is that cats and dogs have their hair and their evolved bodily temperature control systems for a reason, and that 99.99% of the time, these systems do what they exist to do. I don't think it's fair to futz with those things, because the animal can't tell you what it prefers or that it's too hot. Honestly I think these measures in large part are just making the owner feel like they're doing something, when in truth they could be making it worse.

I think vanity grooming is kind of sinister -- I *do* think it detracts from the animal's dignity. Let a dog be a dog and let a cat be a cat, for godsake. Would you want someone forcibly doing that stuff to you?
posted by loiseau at 4:33 AM on August 23, 2007

If you're being sensible and it's motivated purely out of concern for kitty, then it's fine.

I knew a lady and her fluff ball kitty who in summer would be the recipient of a much needed lions cut. For the first week kitty would act a little embarrassed, like she was in fact naked or something... but she was very prim and proper :) When you're little no-one cares if you're naked when it's hot!

My Dirt Boy loathes being washed (he gets a funk similar to old scrungey socks, I shit you not. Whatever*sigh*... until you can smell it and he's not there. Ick!!) but an hour or two after he's dried completely you'll find him strutting and preening. Going 'look-a-me' and 'yes, yes you may pat my splendidness.'

So I often find 'Does kitty need X?' is a good place to start with 'Will kitty like X?' isn't always exactly relevant and even then only to a certain extent. ;)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:02 AM on August 23, 2007

Another reason people (groomers?) may object to cat grooming is because sedation is often recommended, both for the cat and the groomer's benefit. Of course, you may have a cat that's willing to put up with the humility of the experience without such things. I recently had to shave my old cat (sedation not recommended), and though he was sad but polite at the vet's, he was much happier at home.
posted by artifarce at 5:12 AM on August 23, 2007

Often/historically dog breeds "require" extreme grooming (e.g. poodle) sometimes including the snipping off of part of the tail (e.g. Weimaraner). If you can figure that part out, then you'll be halfway to the answer to your question. For example, a random webpage suggests that a poodle cut made the poodle a better swimmer but kept its joints warm.

I would guess that the dog's more public "show" nature means that this kind of grooming continued. These sorts of styles then get passed down and are seen as normal for a purebred, and overtime shaving becomes more acceptable for dogs.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:19 AM on August 23, 2007

"over time"
posted by unknowncommand at 5:19 AM on August 23, 2007

Sedation, seconding. My wife's cat is a fluff monster (3" hair) and generally a big, hulking beast, but he's also a nervous wreck of a baby in unfamiliar situations. He did get so matted at one point that we had to have our vet shave his tummy. Poor guy needed sedation for it, and spent about a week sulking because he wasn't "pretty" any longer. Actually took him several years before he was comfortable with us touching his belly again! He's better about letting us brush him, but still gets knotty near the flanks (where he pushes all the hair before he stops licking).

If it takes a sedative to get kitty shaved, it isn't good for kitty. If the cat is OK with it, well, removing the matted fur or decreasing body temp is a good thing if conditions warrant doing so.

loiseau writes "...cats and dogs have their hair and their evolved bodily temperature control systems for a reason..."

...and through selective breeding, we've pretty much thrown all of that control and advantage out of the window in favor of powder-puff fur that over-insulates, and things like incredibly short noses on some dog breeds, for example, which severely short-circuits their natural air conditioning.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:45 AM on August 23, 2007

I went to take my skittish cat to get shaved once, and the groomer asked if I had sedated her. She told me that she would NOT work on sedated cats, because the sedation might make their bodies floompy and pliable, but their little minds are still sharp and racing, and they could be prone to heart attacks and such from fear and inability to escape.

This could be crap, but it's what I remember.

Anyway, I imagine folks don't want to promote this because cats are total freaks compared to dogs - scared anxious, skittish, hidey, clawey, etc. Most dogs seem pretty cool about grooming, but we all know what cats do - they completely spaz out.
posted by tristeza at 7:04 AM on August 23, 2007

The texture of the coat of dogs and cats doesn't seem similar at all if you look at it and touch it and compare it. So I'm not sure that just because grooming one way is ok on dogs would mean it's ok on cats too. Cats generally have a coat more like fur and dogs generally have something more hair-like.

In many breeds a cat's coat also contains hair of of different lengths (short ones for warmth, long ones to keep dust from settling etc). I have no idea if dogs have a similar system, but I suspect their hair is more happy-go-lucky and not as high maintenance.
posted by quarterframer at 7:25 AM on August 23, 2007

I'm not a vet, but my sister is. A recent graduate of more than a year now, and thus, filled with all the newest information on pets.

She has shaved cats and works in places where they shave cats. She lives with three cats (and two dogs), and I know she's shaved my parents' family cat on several occasions. Would she do this if she thought it was bad or harmful for the animal? Heck no. She loves and adores animals.

There's my two cents.
posted by Atreides at 8:02 AM on August 23, 2007

Cats also groom themselves to comfort themselves, or to calm down when they're stressed out. I would worry that shaving them would interfere with that process, basically pulling a security blanket away from them.
posted by occhiblu at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2007

I think it is a "humans projecting " thing. My previous long-haired kitty LOVED being shaved in the summer. He was a rescue and his breed generally lived in the mountainous cold regions. No one in a cold region wanted to adopt him. So, he had a home here in Chicago where it got over 100 degrees in the summer during July and August sometimes.

Here's something that might get the same reaction. In the summer, my neighbor would give her boys buzz cuts. But if she had cut her daughter's hair that way? I'm sure all hell would have broken loose (bad mother, etc etc). But, girls and boys regulate their body temperatures in the same way, they are both human, it's just more socially acceptable for a little boy to have really short hair than it would be for a girl.
posted by jeanmari at 9:25 AM on August 23, 2007

I have an elderly and ill-tempered Manx with poor digestion. To make using the litterbox a little bit easier and more sanitary, the last time we took her in to see the vet, he shaved her butt. I'm sure that was fun for all concerned.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2007

Faint of Butt... Eponysterical.

To the topic at hand... I do feel that a lot of people project with regard to giving cats haircuts. I have a VERY long-haired cat (approx 3 inches), and we gave him a summer buzz last year. I really think he liked it! It was so much easier for him to clean himself because the hair didn't keep sticking in his mouth for the next pass.

This summer, I just got his belly and butt buzzed to allow him to clean his rear easier and to prevent the wonderful arm and leg-pit mats. And you bet that I took pictures of the hilarious bath that he got after the hair cut. He sounded miserable, but it was just an act :)
posted by at 10:00 AM on August 23, 2007

having known a fair amount of animal rightsy type people, I think there are plenty who get all up in arms about dog shaving too - poodle cuts with the poofs just on the joints & the head vs. keeping the poodle "natural" is a whole big stupid fight. So I don't know that it's just cat vs dog. Basically it's like making your pet wear clothes or whatever. Some animal lovers just feel that is Not Cool, even when there are often fairly sensible reasons that originally led to the adoption of certain grooming styles.

here's a vet site that says some vets are pro-dog -shaving, some are anti, so I think it's similar to the cat issue.
posted by mdn at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2007

I took my aunt's dog to the groomer one time and I remember being surprised that there were a few cats there. I asked the groomer and she said it was not uncommon.

(Do you live in SF proper? On the off chance that you live in the South Bay, I'd recommend Rosemary at Critter Clipper or if you're in the North Bay, Cindy at Unleashed)
posted by radioamy at 5:53 PM on August 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses! This is something I've wondered about for a long time.

I do understand the distaste for "vanity" grooming: I feel it's akin to having animals wear clothes. We do get them cut every year or so when it's hot. We need to do it now because, unfortunately, they've gotten some fairly serious dreads and, when they groom themselves, their fur is so long it twists around their tongues.

Another vanity grooming note: my cats are tail-less because they're half Manx. It's frightening how many people think we actually got their tails cut off (shudder).
posted by sfkiddo at 8:00 PM on August 23, 2007

i havben't previewed anyone else's responses but fwiw all of my cats have seemed to really enjoy the lion cut once they got over the initial shock ie behaving strangely and a bit ticked off the first few days then clearly relishing extra loving and petting and i think a bit of comfort. PLUS when you have a long haired cat that has bad mats sometimes the best thing is to just start from scratch.
posted by Soulbee at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2007

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