Important Areas of Focus: Regular Grooming, Dental and Nail Care – Cats

Icon of a book Grooming, Dental and Nail Care for Cats


Cats have two sets of teeth. Deciduous teeth come in when the kitten is between four and six weeks old. By six weeks, the kitten should have all 26 milk teeth. Milk teeth are non-permanent and start to fall out when the kitten is about 11 weeks old. By the time the kitten is about eight or nine months old, it should have all 30 permanent teeth. 

Cats should have their teeth checked by a veterinarian two times a year. Like people, cats can develop tooth or gum problems and should have their teeth brushed daily. If teeth brushing is started early – between three and six months of age – cats will get used to this routine. Periodontal problems and disease can be signaled by bad breath, unwillingness to eat, yellow deposits on teeth and red or swollen gums. Cat-specific toothpaste must be used as human toothpaste can be toxic to cats.

You can learn more about brushing your cat’s teeth from VCA Canada Hospitals.

Cats should have their teeth brushed daily and inspected by a veterinarian twice yearly.


Most cats are very fastidious and groom themselves several times a day. Grooming maintains healthy skin and hair by stimulating natural oils and removing loose hair, dirt and parasites. Although cats learn to groom themselves when they are very young kittens, they can benefit from regular grooming from their owners. 

Short-haired cats should be brushed at least once a week. Care should be taken around the sensitive areas of the belly and chest. A metal comb is one of the most essential grooming tools. A bristle or rubber brush can be used to remove dead and loose hair. 

Long-haired cats should be brushed daily. If cats are left to only groom themselves, hairballs can clump up in their stomach and cause problems. A comb can be used to gently comb out the hair around the belly and legs and to untangle knots. A brush can be used to groom the rest of the body and tail.

Cats also need baths as their coat can become oily or they may get into something smelly or sticky. 

  • Brush or comb out all dead hair and mats. 
  • A sink or tub with a rubber bath mat can be used for the bath. 
  • The water should be lukewarm. 
  • A spray hose can be used to thoroughly wet the cat. However, water should not be sprayed into the cat’s ears, eyes and nose. 
  • Use a gentle shampoo made specially for cats. Start with the neck and work backwards. 
  • Gently spray rinse to make sure all the shampoo is rinsed out. 
  • Pat dry the cat with a large towel.

You can learn more about cat grooming from VCA Canada Hospitals.

Cats can be groomed when they need extra help as most cats groom themselves.


Kittens can be gradually trained to have their nails trimmed. Gently stroke their paws and legs and press each individual toe to get them used to having their paws held and manipulated. Treats, rewards and praise can provide positive reinforcement during grooming and nail trimming. The best time to trim a cat’s nails is when they are relaxed or sleepy. 

  • Gentle pressure can be applied to the top of the foot and cushiony pad underneath — this will cause the cat to extend its claws. 
  • Use good quality cat nail scissors or clippers to cut off the white tip of each nail, just before it begins to curl. 
  • Avoid the Quick, a vein that runs into the nail. This pink area can be seen through the nail. 
  • Styptic powder or pencil can be used to stop any bleeding that may occur if the Quick is accidentally cut into.

You can learn more about trimming a cat’s nails from VCA Canada Hospitals.

Cat Scratching: 

Cats scratch with their claws and this is a normal feline behaviour. It is a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent, and is used for claw conditioning (“husk” removal) and stretching activity. 

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) has banned the declawing of cats due to welfare concerns. Other non-necessary medical procedures for dogs and cats that have been banned include: 

  • ear cropping
  • tail docking
  • tail nicking
  • tail blocking
  • partial digit amputation (declawing or onychectomy)
  • tendonectomy
  • front dewclaw removal
  • cosmetic dentistry
  • body piercing
  • tattooing that is not for the purpose of registration and identification
  • devocalization.

Owners need to provide suitable implements for normal scratching behaviour. Examples are scratching posts, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects. Implements should be tall or long enough to allow full stretching, and be firmly anchored to provide necessary resistance to scratching. Cats should be positively reinforced in the use of these implements. 

The CVMA recommends the following interventions to help cats express their natural behaviour of scratching:

  • feline pheromone sprays to redirect the cat to more desirable scratching materials;
  • double-sided tape to deter cats from scratching the edges of furniture;
  • regular nail trimming (recommended every two weeks);
  • artificial nail covers;
  • environmental enrichment and appropriate daily play to decrease feline aggression;
  • avoidance of hand/foot play which can lead the cat to see these human parts as prey;
  • the application of basic principles of reinforcement of desirable behaviour, including the use of catnip, treats, and verbal praise.
Excerpt obtained from the Partial Digital Amputation (Onychectomy or Declawing) of the Domestic Field - Position Statement (Canadian Veterinary Medical Association)

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