The Persian cat’s glorious coat has lured many a cat-lover into the Persian’s lifelong service. But the coat is a demanding taskmaster. Neglect it for a few days and the miracle of matchless grace has turned into a glaring mass of knots. The dedicated Persian owner must be willing to keep an ever vigilant eye (and comb) to keep a Persian as smooth as silk, and as soft as cotton. It’s well worth the effort.
The glorious Persian’s coat is “unnatural” in that it doesn’t appear in truly wild cats. It’s beautiful, but impossible to maintain even for the self-grooming, fastidious cat. Your help is required. Groom your Persian every day if you can. If that’s not possible you may be able to get by on every other day, but you do risk mats forming, which isn’t only unsightly, but dangerous, since the skin beneath can become infected. Begin grooming your Persian while it’s still a kitten, just to get it accustomed to the idea. Some breeders start when the tiny kittens are only 3 weeks old!
If your kitten has been handled kindly from such as early age, it should be quite tractable (for a cat) when it comes to grooming time. A very thorough brushing session should take about 15 minutes. This is also a good time to look for cuts, abrasions, sores or even the dreaded flea. A metal comb may look like a simple grooming implement, but it’s really closer akin to a magic wand; a few deft strokes daily is your cat’s protection against snarls, mats, tangles and knots. Begin with the wide-toothed comb (10 teeth per inch) to help loosen any large snarls, then proceed to the fine-toothed comb (20 teeth per inch) for the smaller snarls and the face. (Stay away from nylon combs. They generate static electricity.
Don’t ignore the hair under the armpits and behind the ears. The hair here is finer than in other areas, and more prone to tangles or mats. The rump and back of the legs are also mat-prone areas. And don’t forget the belly! When you discover a knot, just tease it apart.
Don’t pull on the knot — you’ll only hurt the cat and leave an ugly, raw, bare patch of skin. If necessary, you can use a dematting tool. Dematting tools come is a variety of different designs, but all are made to eliminate mats without destroying coat length. (Some are even available for lefties. One popular model has sharp (but recessed) blades to cut through the mats, with transverse tines to comb out and smooth the hair. Some models have small teeth on the blades which help collect the hair. You may have to try out several models before you find the one that works best for you.
Using scissors can be dangerous — one spring from the cat in the wrong direction and you could end up stabbing it. Cat skin is extremely thin and tears very easily.
Another reason not to use scissors is simple aesthetics. Not only will scissors leave an ugly hole in your cat’s coat, but cutting the hair unevenly will make it harder to trim in the future. If the knot is simply intractable, you may be able to cut it out with small, blunt-nosed scissors, but first slide your comb under the knot between the mat and your cat’s skin. You certainly don’t want to cut the skin. Skin under mats can be very sore and tender, so use care.
In some cases, you can prevent mat-formation by applying a little grooming powder to a mat-prone area. It doesn’t always work, but it does absorb some of the grease and it’s certainly worth giving a try. Grooming powder is not baby powder, by the way. It’s important to use the correct product—you can purchase it in grooming-supply stores, pet-supply stores and even online!
Another necessary tool is a natural stiff-bristle brush, but its main use is to fluff the coat after combing. The metal comb does all the hard work. When the cat is combed out, brush it vigorously against the growth of the hair. This will make it fluffy and stimulate the growth of new hair as well. If you’re going to show your cat, a pair of curved scissors comes in handy for trimming excess hairs, but that’s different from cutting out knots. Done regularly and with love, your Persian will come to regard its grooming sessions as just another way of being the center of attention — which is what it really wants, anyway.
“Longhaired cats actually benefit from a bath once or twice a month, and the more frequently they’re bathed, the more they get used to it,” says Jean DiFatta, a cat groomer and owner of Pet Care Extraordinaire in Baltimore, Maryland. “But you need to brush out the coat thoroughly first; otherwise, any knots in the fur will tighten and become inextricable.”
Before you begin, make sure that the bathing area is warm — it should be at least 75 degrees for the cat’s comfort. Since cats don’t naturally take to water, you will need to be both firm and gentle. Speak in a calm and soothing tone. Before you begin, make sure you have all the materials you need at hand—and everything else out of the way!
The last thing you want is to try to hold a squalling cat with one hand as you reach for the shampoo on the other side of the kitchen. The wet cat will escape and destroy everything in its path.
The simplest way to bathe the cat is to fill a basin (or the kitchen sink) with 4 to 5 inches of warm water. Place a mat in the bottom of the sink to give your cat some traction. Most cats accept this procedure quite well, but if your cat tries to scratch, hold it firmly by the scruff of the neck. (This is not cruel, but it’s effective!) Wet the coat, then lather the cat all over, using cat-specific shampoo.
Persians tend to get a little greasy, so some groomers pre-bathe these cats with a degreaser such as a Dawn dishwashing liquid. If you need to degrease your cat’s coat, do it before the shampooing. You can usually apply the degreaser directly to the coat, although some people prefer to dilute it first. In any case, add water and lather thoroughly. Then rinse it completely away.
One way to do this is a simple process called, in Persian circles, “floating the coat.” This means you ease the cat under the water (not its head, of course) so that the coat rises up; this allows the water to penetrate all the way to the skin. Then let the cat up. Do this several times in succession. Degreasers do make the coat fluffy, but can rob it of important oils, which you will need to add back before the coat becomes permanently damaged. For that purpose, a hot-oil treatment cooled to “lukewarm” (one specifically made for pets) or a specially formulated shampoo works very well.
After shampooing, remember to thoroughly rinse out the suds from the hot-oil treatment. After you pre-bath with a degreaser, it’s time to shampoo the cat. It usually works best to mix up the shampoo first with water, then pour the mixture over the cat. If you apply undiluted shampoo directly on the cat, it can be extremely hard to get it out. Color matters, too.
If you have a white Persian, choose a shampoo with a brightening or “bluing” agent. Be sure to use a cat shampoo designed for your cat’s coat color for optimum effect. Black cats, on the other hand, do best with a darkening shampoo. (These cats should also be kept out of strong sunlight if you plan on showing them—black cats can literally fade in bright sun. They also don’t take well to over-drying.)
Each basic color has a shampoo designed to bring out its hidden glory, so give your cat the edge up by selecting the right shampoo especially if you plan to show. Washing the face can be particularly challenging. It’s best to mix just a little shampoo with some water, and wash carefully, using a soft toothbrush around the eyes and nose. You can follow the shampoo with a cream rinse if desired.
Finally, rinse very carefully. Don’t forget the underside. It will take at least twice as long to rinse the cat as it does to wash it. Then towel dry the cat. Show groomers may blow-dry their cats at a low temperature, but pet owners can usually just let them air-dry in a draft-free environment. If you blow dry, direct the airflow backward against the lay of the hair on the upper body. Then work along the sides, forward to the front legs and up the neck. Dry each part completely before moving on to the next section The tail, belly and back legs should be done last — cats have little tolerance for people fooling with those areas. If your Persian is going to be get testy, it’s best that it happen at the very end of the session rather than at the beginning.