Training Your Cat To Tolerate Petting & Grooming

Training Your Cat To Tolerate Petting & Grooming
Reasons for Intolerance

Most cats enjoy human contact, but many animals have areas of their body that are sensitive to touch. Animals instinctively guard some body areas because these are more vulnerable. They often protect the abdomen, or belly, and the throat area. The "sensitive" areas vary with individual animals; for example, some animals resent having their tail touched.

Certain body areas may also become sensitive because of previous injury. If an animal is sensitive to touch because of past injury or illness, ask your veterinarian how to avoid causing your pet discomfort. It is probably worthwhile to discuss the possibility of an underlying medical problem with your veterinarian whenever your pet seems uncomfortable when touched. If your pet naturally resents having certain body areas touched, you may decide to simply avoid touching those areas. If these areas must be manipulated for routine grooming, work slowly to gradually increase your pet's tolerance by offering a reward at each training session.

Some dominant cats resent even gentle caresses over the top of the head, neck, and back. Their reaction may be worse if your hand holds a brush or comb. If your pet resists being touched over the length of its back, consider how other elements in its general behavior fit the profile of a dominantly aggressive pet. If your cat does not avert its eyes from yours during direct eye contact, stubbornly resists assuming a "down" position, persistently jumps on everyone even in apparently friendly greetings, it is most likely displaying signs of dominance.

Practice with minimal grooming and petting for a very brief time. Over a period of days and weeks, increase the duration of the interaction. Stop well before your pet shows any sign of intolerance or irritability. Keep a record of the length of each session to give you a clear idea of your progress. Lack of further improvement may suggest that more training may not be productive.

Reward your cat's tolerance of your handling with a small food treat. Scheduling the inter action before meals can form a positive connection between petting or brushing and eating. In some cases, grooming can be made into a game. Your cat may enjoy gnawing on the comb for a few seconds in between brush strokes. You may alternate a stroke of the brush with a caress of your hand.

Choice of Brush or Comb

Although you may not believe you are exerting excessive pressure while brushing your pet, your pet may not agree. Some of the brushes recommended for your pet's coat type may cause discomfort. Although a particular comb may be effective in removing knots from your cat's long coat, it may also scratch the skin and pull the hair. Make sure that the comb or brush used to groom your pet is comfortable for the animal.

Though a certain type of brush or comb is recommended for specific coat types, it is of no use if your pet won't allow you to use it. Find a grooming device that is both effective and accepted by your pet. Be careful not to exert undue pressure while grooming your pet, particularly in naturally sensitive areas.

Tolerance Training

To improve your pet's tolerance of being petted or groomed, withhold all petting or grooming for several weeks. When you resume grooming and petting, identify the circumstances most often related to your pet's intolerance. How long does it take for your pet to reach the limit of its tolerance and react negatively to grooming or petting?

Once you know at what point your pet becomes predictably irritable, stop well short of the limit. If you discover that your pet resents these activities at certain times of day, you may wish to reschedule them. If your cat is most playful and agitated in the evening, as many are, it might be best to brush it in the afternoon, just before its nap.

Make sure the comb or brush used to groom your pet is comfortable

Training Your Pet To Tolerate Nail Trimming

Some cats resent having their paws held or their nails trimmed. This intolerance is partly instinctive in young animals, and may also be learned from an unpleasant experience during nail trimming.

The living portion of the nail bed contains sensitive nerves and blood vessels (the quick). If toenails are cut too short, a cat learns that nail trimming is painful. This negative experience is not easily forgotten. Once a cat has learned to anticipate discomfort when its feet are touched, its evasive reaction can intensify each time. Most cats rarely need to have their claws cut if they use a scratch post.

Training Tips

If your cat is instinctively cautious about having its feet touched, and even if it shows no sign of withdrawing its paw, teach your cat that this interaction is not unpleasant.

Before you ever attempt to trim your cat's nails, begin by touching its legs, feet, and toes, and associate this with an activity it enjoys. When it is resting, begin petting it, gently passing your hands over its back and legs. If this is well tolerated, you may wish to give it a small food treat. Do not try to do too much the first time.

Gradually manipulate your cat's foot more each time. Eventually, you should be able to slip your fingers in between each toe, gently squeezing each one to flex the nail, putting gentle pressure as you hold each foot and manipulate the leg. Do not attempt this exercise when your cat is in an agitated or playful state, as it is most likely to resent any restriction to its movement. Once your cat tolerates having its feet touched during quiet times, you may begin to incorporate this into elements of play time.

Trimming Tips

If you are unsure of how to trim your pet's toenails, ask your veterinarian or a technician to show you how. They can show you where the sensitive nerves and blood vessels are likely to be found. The nail bed is seen as a pinkish triangle at the base of the nail; however, it may not be evident in dark-colored nails.

There is more variety between the shape of toe nails in dogs than in cats. Some pets' nails grow in a more curved shape, as compared with those growing more parallel to the ground. This may determine how short they may be trimmed. Even a skilled professional can misjudge the depth to which a nail may be trimmed. It is also not uncommon for a pet to withdraw a foot while the nail is being clipped, because of pressure on sensitive nail areas.

It is better to cut less than to cut more than necessary! Trim off small sections at a time and stop well short of the sensitive part of the nail. Cutting the nail too short results in a painful experience for your pet. Cut your pet's nails frequently, a little at a time, rather than occasionally when toe nails are uncomfortable to both your pet and to you. In this way, nail trimming will become a routine event, rather than a periodic wrestling match. Continue to manipulate your pet's feet and toes between nail trims so that it remains a familiar sensation.

It is better to cut less than to cut more!

Problem Pedicures

If your dog or cat has already had an unpleasant experience with nail trimming, you can train it to tolerate it by starting from the beginning. Even if you have followed the preliminary training steps above, start over as if its feet had never been conditioned to manipulation and gradually desensitize your pet to this interaction once again. Your veterinarian may recommend a small dose of a mild, anti-anxiety medication to facilitate retraining in extreme cases.

Problems Related to Grooming

Excessive Grooming

Fear, frustration, inactivity and isolation can lead to anxiety. A cat direct this anxiety against objects, such as destruction of property, or against itself. Excessive licking, nibbling, chewing, sucking, and rubbing at hair and skin can result in self-inflicted injury.

Excessive grooming can be a sign of various physical problems

It is important to determine whether excessive grooming began in response to an underlying medical problem or whether an underlying behavioral problem created a medical condition. It is often necessary to treat the pet for both the behavioral and medical problems that contributed to the skin problem, regardless of how it began.

Behavior problems related to grooming may be the result of:
• Separation anxiety

• Addition of a new pet or member of the household

• Lack of exercise and attention

• Inadequate brushing or combing; mats and tangles in the haircoat often cause discomfort and predispose to skin problems

Regardless of how excessive grooming begins, it may persist long after the initial cause has disappeared. Behavior that allows immediate release of anxiety tends to be repeated, becoming an enduring and persistent pattern. The excessive grooming may resolve temporarily, only to re-emerge in times of stress. It may be performed in your absence. You may unknowingly encourage excessive grooming by paying attention to your pet's selfmutilation.

Consult your veterinarian at the earliest sign of any grooming problem. A referral to a veterinarian specializing in pet behavior problems can help curtail a problem before it becomes firmly established.

Sucking In Cats

Some pet cats have a habit of sucking on a blanket, an article of clothing, or some other selected material, such as wool. This may begin in young kittens and persist into adulthood.

Typically, sucking and gnawing are accompanied by the alternating kneading with the front paws, as seen in kittens during nursing. The cat may purr loudly and salivate profusely.

Sucking is more common in Siamese and Abyssinians but has been reported in many breeds. Sucking behavior can be objectionable if the cat damages valued items. Ingestion of some of the material could result in intestinal obstruction.

Treatment depends in part on the cat's preference of material. If it is limited to one object and the cat's health is not in jeopardy, it may be easiest to sacrifice the object and tolerate the behavior. If a preference for a specific texture, such as wool, draws the cat to several items, it may be necessary to block access or make them unavailable.

The cat's attraction may be discouraged by applying a distasteful scent, such as citrus or mint, to the desired items. Increased exercise and positive social interaction with owners may also be beneficial. A wider variety of toys and more play time also help to control sucking behavior.

Psychogenic Licking In Cats

Injury caused by excessive licking in cats is aggravated by the normally rough texture of the feline tongue. Hair loss and skin inflammation can occur anywhere the cat can reach with its licking. Unfortunately, the cat's flexibility gives it almost complete access to most body surfaces, except behind the head and neck.

Some anxious cats cause only slight damage to their coat, whereas others lick themselves raw, creating ulcers and thick scabs. They may do this when they are left alone or in your presence.

Regardless of the initial stressful situation or stimulus, psychogenic licking must be controlled quickly. Appropriate medication, prescribed by your veterinarian, is frequently necessary to treat the injured skin. In many cases, psychoactive medication must be used to alter the cat's emotional state, in addition to adjustments in its daily routine. Consult your veterinarian and ask for the name of a veterinary behaviorist near you.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Medical disorders are commonly accompanied by behavior changes in pets. In fact, a change in normal behavior may be the first sign of a medical problem. Loss of appetite and reduced levels of normal activity (lethargy) are typical complaints of almost every pet owner reporting a pet's ailment.

Excessive grooming can be a sign of various physical problems, such as external parasites (fleas and ticks, for example) or internal parasites (tapeworms or roundworms). Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can cause skin eruptions. Allergic reactions to inhaled particles, food, and medication, or contact with irritating substances can be manifested by skin abnormalities. Autoimmune processes and metabolic or hormonal imbalances are associated with a variety of skin conditions. Discomfort from anal sac impaction or infection can result in redirected grooming of completely unrelated body parts.

Behavioral disorders must always be included in the list of possible underlying causes when excessive grooming or skin problems are noticed. Anxiety resulting from separation or isolation or in response to addition of a new pet or human housemate may be expressed by excessive grooming. A cat that chews or licks excessively at its foot may have been stung by an insect or stepped on a sharp object or an irritating substance. It may have seasonal allergies to pollen or dust, or it may have an ingrown toe nail. It may also simply be anxious about a change in its environment or a lack of attention and exercise.

Some cats have even been known to bite their nails. A relatively inoffensive behavior, nail biting can become a habit long after the initial cause has passed.

Consult your veterinarian at the earliest sign of any grooming problem!