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Hair – hot or not

A 44-pound cat, found wandering the southern New Jersey community of Voorhees last Saturday, is seen on Monday, July 28, 2008 in Sicklerville, N.J. The cat's owners have until Saturday, Aug. 2, 2008 to reclaim her; then, she'll be up for adoption. The cat, only a couple pounds lighter than the heaviest cat on record, is being cared for at the Camden County, N.J., Animal Shelter. (AP Photo/The Camden Courier-Post, Al Schell) **PHILADELPHIA OUT** ORG XMIT: NJCAM102

Hair makes an obvious difference to behaviour as cats try to cope with the extremes of too much or not enough of it. Both extremes can cause difficulties or discomfort to the cats involved.

Sphynx cats, a hairless breed, always seek out warm surfaces and are happy in, rather than on, the bed with their owner. They need seriously warm living quarters and, should they be allowed out of doors, require the feline equivalent of dog coats. Naturally they are more prone to skin infections, as they do not have hair to protect their skin surface. Rex cats, that lack the outer layer of hair, will also need more warmth. Sometimes cats of these breeds are born without whiskers and are thus deprived of an important sense organ.

Conversely, all long haired cats, whether pedigree or not, will be far less likely to be lap cats. Wearing a thick fur coat, even in a centrally heated house, they seek out cool places rather than the warmth of body contact with their owner. Long-haired and semi-longhaired cats are more likely to be found stretched out in an attempt to lose heat, rather than curled up in an attempt to preserve warmth. In hot weather they may need air conditioning or at least a fan. Some people shave their Persian cats’ coats off during the summer.

Long haired cats of all breeds, even moggies, also require regular grooming. A Persian will need grooming daily while even a semi-long haired cat needs grooming every other day. If you do not groom your cat, hairballs will often form in its stomach and your cat may become constipated and lose its appetite. It may also vomit up the hairballs – probably just where your foot first lands when you get out of bed!

A long-haired cat that is not groomed has fur that begins to mat up very quickly. The mats tighten, pulling at the roots of the fur, and soon the skin under the mat becomes sore. *

Once the mats have been allowed to form, grooming becomes painful for the cat and naturally as soon as it seems the grooming tools, it will run away. It will be afraid of being handled and grooming becomes more difficult. A vicious circle has been set up.

To retrain your cat to accept grooming will take weeks of retraining, using a programme of rewards and endless patience. But it can be done. Deal with any existing mats with the help of the vet.

Then lay in some very, very tasty treats. Allow a week or two or even longer for each stage. Patience is the key. Do not hurry this process.

Accustom the cat to being touched by a non-grooming item like a banana while you hold a treat in front of it. Touch then treat for several days.

Over several days start moving the banana through the hair. Pretend to groom and treat with it till the cat is completely relaxed about the procedure! Then move to a soft brush. Holding the treat in the left hand, let the cat nibble it while you gently brush the back with it.

Only when the cat fully accepts this brushing, proceed to brushing the neck ruff. Brushing the top of the body is often enjoyed by a relaxed cat. Then retrain your cat to accept brushing below! Hold the treat at ground level so the cat has almost to lie down to reach it. Say “Lie Down” while you do this. When the cat lies down, give the treat.

When this response is established, hold the treat and brush a little along the side of the body before giving the treat. Hold the treat so that the cat has to lie on its back to nibble it. Then brush round the tail a little, while it is still nibbling. Most cats will respond by moving their back paws nearer the head, thus exposing their tail area.

Once the ordinary brush is accepted, you can change to using a slicker metal brush or even a comb. If mess is getting caught on the backside fur, of if there are small mats, consider clipping this with blunt scissors. This will need two people, one to hold the cat, one to cut. Be very, very careful. If you hurt the cat, it will be terrified of the grooming process.

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