My Cat Loved Grooming, But Now Hisses at the Cat Brush

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to get cats to love the grooming process again.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: August 5, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: I have a 6-year-old longhaired male cat. We have always brushed him at least every other day and he has always loved it. About one month ago, my cat started hissing, putting his ears back and becoming very vocal when we brushed him. My husband has to hold him while I try to brush my cat and he is fighting us the whole time. After we are finished, he goes back to being a very laidback, loving cat. I cannot figure out why he has changed. He was just at the cat vet in April for his annual checkup and everything was fine.

A: Perhaps either your cat developed a sensitive area on his skin or a recent cat grooming session was too intense for him. Ask your vet to examine him, looking for tender areas that are painful or sensitive when touched.

If your cat’s veterinarian determines that a physical problem is not the cause of your cats’ unhappy responses to grooming, then help your cat tolerate and perhaps eventually enjoy the cat grooming experience through gradual desensitization and counter-conditioning.

In order to help change your cat’s association with grooming, do not force him to be brushed. The grooming must become a stress-free experience for him again. Additionally, avoid brushing any sensitive spots.

Gather the essential tools. Find treats your cat adores. Buy him a new soft brush that is different in all aspects then any grooming tool he has experienced. After buying the new brush, let your cat sniff it. Immediately give him a delicious treat. Wait a couple of seconds and present him the brush again. When he checks it out, give him a treat. Repeat this a few times, always reinforcing his pleasant interactions with the cat brush. If he walks away or is not interested, stop and start another session later. Never force him to participate.

The next step is touching your cat gently on the cheek with the cat brush. Reward with a treat only if he does not respond negatively to the feel of the brush on his cheek. If he displays anxiety or stress when touched or pulls away from the brush, stop. Put the cat brush and treats in a place he cannot reach and start another session later on. Only reinforce him with a treat when he has no adverse reaction to the brush. After a few comfortable repetitions, push the envelope a little by placing the brush on areas he usually likes to be petted, again rewarding him with a treat when he does not pull back or become anxious. After a few positive responses, increase the criteria with a gentle stroke from the brush.

After he is comfortable and accepts minimal brush strokes, gradually increase the time you are brushing him and vary the locations, always rewarding and reinforcing positive responses to the brush. With time and patience, you will find that grooming your cat is no longer a painful struggle for you and him.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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My Cat Loved Grooming, But Now Hisses at the Cat Brush

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Reader Comments

-    =, MI

8/26/2011 1:42:00 AM


O-    P=, MA

8/14/2011 1:03:57 AM


Walt    Ludowici, GA

8/9/2011 10:45:46 AM

Good article, good advise. My suggestion, use a grooming mitt instead of a brush. This really mimics your petting, and grooms at the same time

T.L.    Tucson, AZ

8/9/2011 9:26:01 AM

Good suggestion to take him to the vet. That would be the first thing that I would do. I used to have a cat that had long hair and acted like she wanted you to brush her. But as soon as the brush barely touched the first hair on her body, she was screaming her head off!! The only thing I could do was to get her shaved once a year. Then she insisted on being brushed every time I got out a comb or brush, even though she didn't have anything to brush!!

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