A vet's guide to grooming aggressive cats

Grey cat sitting on a chair shooting a disdainful look at the camera
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Grooming aggressive cats can be stressful! Most cats enjoy being groomed and tolerate being brushed quite well. However, some don’t. This can lead to problems with dead fur building up and becoming matted, especially in long-haired cats. Older cats that are unable to groom themselves effectively are also at risk. Matted fur can end up feeling tight and uncomfortable, making your cat feel even grumpier about you approaching them with a brush, and so the cycle continues. If you are struggling with knowing how best to groom your cat, then read on to explore some top tips that might help.

Why do some cats turn aggressive when being groomed?

Many cats don’t mind being groomed at all, but with others, it can be a real challenge! Some cats may not enjoy being handled either because they are not used to it, because they find it painful (for example, cats with lots of tightly matted fur or older cats with sore joints from osteoarthritis) or because they have had a bad experience in the past. Unfortunately, this can lead to some cats becoming very matted, especially if they have long or thick fur.

Cats are often not submissive and will either try and run or will fight. If your cat lashes out aggressively and you (or the groomer) have understandably backed off, then this will inadvertently reward the behavior. Your cat has learned that by fighting you will leave her alone, so next time she sees you approaching her with a brush she will react aggressively again.

Cat being groomed with silicone cat brush

(Image credit: Amazon)

How to groom an aggressive cat

If your cat doesn’t enjoy grooming, here is a step-by-step guide on how to approach things.

  • Make sure you select the right brushes. Try a soft-bristled or rubbery brush or a pin brush. Sometimes it’s worth having a selection so you can see which one your cat likes the best.
  • Find somewhere quiet and allow plenty of time.
  • Start by letting your cat sniff and rub her face against the brush in her own time. This will help her get used to the equipment slowly.
  • Try gently brushing her back if she allows you to. This is one of the easiest areas to get to on your cat. Don’t restrain her for this, let her wander away if she wants to.
  • Remember to praise and reward your cat when she allows you to brush.
  • Try and gradually move onto trickier areas like her legs, belly, and head, all the while praising.
  • Make sure you follow your cat’s cues, if she’s happy then keep going but as soon as she’s had enough then stop. You can always try again another day.

Whilst getting your cat used to being groomed you could try a grooming mitt which gives the sensation of being stroked rather than groomed or a rubbery cat brush, which feels very soft and is more like having a massage than being brushed. Both will help loosen dead hairs and help build both you and your cat’s confidence to gradually move onto a proper cat brush. Experiment with different types of cat brushes to see which one your kitty prefers.

Persian cat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What can I give my cat to calm her down for grooming?

If your cat is stressed then you may be wondering what calming aids you could give her to help make grooming easier. You could try calming pheromone diffusers in the house to help her relax or calming supplement products, of which there are many varieties available.

However, if you are concerned that these aren’t enough then speak to your veterinarian for advice. If your cat is very difficult to handle then they may suggest having them in for a groom under sedation.

When to seek veterinary help

If your cat has become very densely matted then you may need to seek veterinary help. Brushing is unlikely to sort this situation and could cause your cat pain, leading to aggression. The matted fur may need gently trimming and clipping out instead. This needs to be done very carefully as some matted hair can be quite tight to the skin so there is a risk of nicking your pet by accident. For some cats, this can be done while they are conscious if they tolerate it okay, but in very aggressive or powerful animals they may need to be sedated. This will keep both your pet and the staff member safe whilst the job is done.

Your cat may end up having a lot of fur shaved off if she is very matted, resulting in an interesting haircut for a while! However, in the long run, she will be far more comfortable, and you may be able to start getting her used to being brushed by yourself again using our step-by-step guide on brushing cats.

Some groomers are happy to manage cats as well as dogs, so it might be worth speaking to your local one. However, if sedation is required, then a trip to the vet’s will be in order.


With cats it is best to introduce grooming gradually, keeping it positive and trying softer brushes initially. If your cat has already become matted and uncomfortable then you may need to seek help from a groomer or your veterinary hospital. Your cat may end up having her matted fur gently shaved out, making her much more comfortable and more likely to accept grooming going forwards.

Dr Rebecca MacMillan

Dr Rebecca MacMillan is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. She works in the South West and loves complex medical cases.