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A vet's guide to brushing long-haired cats

brushing long-haired cats
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Though cats are natural experts at grooming, brushing long-haired cats is essential to keep your feline friend tangle-free and reduce those dreaded hairballs! Regular brushing can also help improve skin and coat health and even enhance the special bond between you and your cat. 

But with so many grooming tools on the market, it can be difficult to know which type of brush is best for your cat. This article will discuss the benefits of a regular grooming routine, which tools to use, and answer all of your frequently asked questions about brushing long-haired cats. 

Do you have to brush long-haired cats?

Yes. Even though healthy adult cats can spend up to 50% of their day grooming themselves, they still benefit from regular brushing. Brushing helps to remove dirt, loose hair, skin flakes (dandruff) and also stimulates blood flow to the skin. It can even help with skin and coat health by spreading natural oils throughout your cat’s coat. 

Long-haired cats, in particular, are also more likely to develop tangled or matted fur, which can be painful and makes cleaning themselves difficult. Brushing can even help reduce hairballs by removing loose hair before your cat can swallow it. 

Grooming is also an opportunity to bond with your cat and check them regularly for visible health problems such as parasites (fleas, ticks), wounds, lumps and bumps. Understanding what’s normal for your cat means you’re more likely to pick up problems early and seek veterinary attention if something isn’t quite right. 

How often to brush a long-haired cat?

Though short haired cats may only need brushing 1-2 times a week, it’s best to brush long-haired cats daily to help avoid matting and tangled fur. Take particular care to reach under the armpits, behind the ears, and the back of the hindlegs, as these areas tend to knot easily and are easy to miss. 

Making grooming a positive experience is best for both you and your cat and will help strengthen your unique bond. Cats enjoy routine, so try brushing them at the same time every day if you can. You might choose to brush your cat before breakfast so they have their meal as a reward afterwards, or offer their favourite treat at the end of the session. 

If your cat is new to being brushed, start slowly and gently in areas they like to be stroked or scratched, like under the chin. Stop and reward your cat before they show any signs of stress or discomfort. Once your cat is comfortable you can slowly increase the time spent brushing and move on to the rest of the body. If you have trouble brushing your cat, your veterinary team will be happy to help and provide advice. 

What kind of brush and grooming tools are best for long-haired cats? 

There are several brushes you can use to help keep your long-haired cat looking their best including:

  • Slicker brush: Brush with thin, curved metal hooks for removing loose fur and dirt while detangling.
  • Pet comb: Metal comb for detangling knotted or tangled fur. Look for one with wider spacing between the teeth, as this usually works better on longer fur.
  • De-shedding brush: These brushes help prevent matting and reduce shedding by removing loose fur from the undercoat. 
  • Pin brush: A classic pet brush that works well on all coats to remove knots and tangles, while gently massaging and stimulating the skin.   

It can be helpful to trial a few different types to find which brushes work best for your cat. Many long-haired cat owners will use a combination of brushes and combs.

brushing long-haired cats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Should you wash long haired cats? 

Most healthy cats don’t require bathing to keep themselves clean and in general, do not enjoy a bath or being wet (though there are always exceptions). In certain situations, your vet may advise you to bathe your cat, for example, if your cat has rolled in something harmful, or has a skin condition. Older cats may also require bathing or more intensive grooming, such as regular hygiene clips if they’re struggling to keep themselves clean. 

In these cases, your vet will show you how to bathe your cat safely and advise you on cat-safe shampoo and other grooming products to use. Some owners may also prefer to have their veterinary team or a professional groomer bathe their cat if needed. 

How to treat matted hair on long-haired cats?

Matted and tangled fur should always be handled carefully as it can be uncomfortable or even painful when pulled. If your cat will let you touch the area, you can try to gently detangle small areas of matted fur with your fingers or a comb. Larger or more severe mats are much more difficult to remove this way and usually need to be removed with grooming clippers or scissors. As matted fur tends to form close to the skin, this can be difficult and needs to be performed with extreme care as there is a risk of cutting or injuring your cat (or yourself!) if you aren’t careful. In these cases, it’s best to take your cat to the vet to have a professional remove the matted fur. Some cats may require sedation to safely perform this procedure and reduce stress for your cat.

Do long-haired cats need haircuts?

Even in the summer heat, long haired cats tend to cope well with the warmer temperatures and don’t usually require a haircut. The only real exception is cats that are prone to a matted coat, perhaps because they won’t tolerate brushing at home or have difficulty grooming themselves.

Final thoughts

Not only does regular brushing help keep your long haired cat in tip-top condition, it’s also an excellent way to bond with your cat, reduce problems like hairballs, and keep an eye on their health at the same time. But if you’re struggling to brush your cat, don’t worry, just ask your veterinary team who will be happy to provide support and advice.

Dr. Ellen Marcinkiewicz BVSc. MRCVS

Ellen is an experienced small animal vet and copywriter who graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2012. She has worked in clinics across Australia, the UK and New Zealand, including the Massey University Veterinary Teaching Hospital where she discovered her passion for writing and education. Ellen’s veterinary interests include small animal medicine, surgery, nutrition, and rabbit medicine. She currently lives in Somerset with her fiancé and bouncy borzoi puppy named Yeti.