How to groom an anxious cat (Stress-free grooming)

Anxious cats usually hate getting groomed, because it puts them in a situation where they feel trapped. Whether you’re trying to groom an anxious cat yourself at home or have booked them in to see a professional, you might be wondering if there are any measures you can take that will help control the amount of stress during groom time. So let’s see how can you make cat grooming a little easier for you and your anxious cat. But first things first:

Does my cat even need grooming?

Whether your cat needs grooming or not will depend a lot on its breed and age. Long-haired breeds such as Persians and Maine Coons often need regular grooming to prevent tangles from turning into matts.

Regardless of coat length, many elderly cats might need help with their grooming, especially if they develop arthritis. That’s because this disease makes stretching too uncomfortable, which leaves a cat unable to do the grooming herself.

How do you groom a cat?

Most cats just need a good brush over to remove loose hair, which reduces fur balls and makes the coat more shiny. Whilst there are special brushes that do this, a sweaty palm or latex glove are also good options as these ‘catch’ the loose hairs and gently pull them. Rubber mitts for grooming cats also work well, and there is a range of brushes available.

For longer-haired cats, a slicker brush or pin brush are both good options for grooming the tangles out of a long coat. De-matting brushes are also available.

Simply brush your cat regularly, in the direction of the hair. Starting with the neck is best, as many cats don’t mind being fussed and brushed here. The back and tail base will probably be fine, too. Once you get to the sides and tummy, your cat might become a bit upset. Watch for signs that they’re unhappy, and be prepared to withdraw if necessary.

How often should you bathe a cat?

In general, cats don’t need bathing, and it’s not a good idea to bathe regularly. Not only does bathing strip the skin of protective oils and cause it to dry out, but the scary experience and overwhelming scent of products can be very stressful for cats as well. Bathing too often is a sure-fire way to make a cat anxious about grooming, so it’s best to avoid it where possible.

To summarize, only bathe a cat if there are no other options or for their own safety. For instance, if they’ve rolled in a poisonous or very sticky substance. A sponge bath is a better option if their whole body doesn’t need doing.

Top three tips for stress-free grooming

We often hear people say, “My long haired cat hates being brushed”. So what can you do to make grooming your cat easier?

1.      Start young

Your cat may not need grooming as a kitten, but it’s best to get them used to it from the start. If your cat thinks grooming is a part of normal life, they’ll be more likely to accept it when they need it. The other advantage to starting young is that your cat shouldn’t have knots that pull or sore bones that hurt when pressed, so it’ll hurt less and be a nicer experience.

When you first get your cat, no matter what age, train them to accept grooming by doing it little and often and rewarding them for staying still.

2.      Make it positive

Did you know that cats can be trained just like dogs? Actually, all animals respond to positive reinforcement training, you can even use a clicker like you would for dogs. Make any grooming experience as positive as possible using extra-tasty treats such as small amounts of chicken or white fish. Don’t forget that these contain calories though – you’ll need to adjust their evening meal accordingly to prevent obesity!

3.      Go slow to go fast

It might seem like a hassle, but don’t try to groom your anxious cat all in one go. Cats don’t have the most patience, and chances are they’ll react badly to being pinned down and brushed. You’ll likely have better luck if you just do a little each day rather than their whole body once a week.

I used to work in a feline-only practice and we’d easily be able to groom cats who would normally need sedating by taking it slow, doing a bit at a time, staying calm, and providing lots of lovely food and praise!

Grooming a severely anxious cat

If your cat panics at the sight of a grooming brush, she probably needs a little bit more than a few sweet words and some treats. Herbal calming supplements are available, which might take the edge off and allow them to relax enough to enjoy the experience. These are available over-the-counter, but they’re unlikely to be enough for a severely anxious cat.

Recommended reading: How to build an anxious cat’s trust and confidence

Whilst you can ask your vet for a prescription sedative, the best bet is usually to book them in to the vets for a groom. Some vets will have a qualified groomer in-house they can use as soon as your cat is asleep. Whilst this might seem a bit drastic, the sedative is likely to do far less harm to your cat than the stress of being groomed, and you’ll avoid injury too!

Grooming a matted cat

If your cat has got matted, or you’ve just taken in a stray, you’ll need to get the matts out as soon as possible. Matted fur pulls at the skin and causes pain, as well as increasing the chance of infections.

Whilst you might be able to get the matts out with a de-matting brush, be aware that they are likely to be very uncomfortable, especially if you pull and tug at them. It might look messy, but the best bet is usually to clip the matts off. You can buy clippers, ask the vet to help, or book them in for sedation and a shave.

I always like to remind clients that vets aren’t groomers. We really are going to give your cat a buzz cut. Therefore, if looks are very important to you, it’s best to find a vet that works with a groomer, or a mobile groomer that doesn’t mind visiting your vet’s practice once the cat is sedated.

Don’t forget to keep up the grooming once your cat is home! It’ll be easier when they aren’t so sore!


Grooming any cat can be a challenge! Hopefully my top tips on how to groom an anxious cat will help you keep your cat clean without the stress. Don’t forget to talk to your vet if you are struggling – they may be able to help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *