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( Originally Published 1936 )
A WOMAN BROUGHT A PERSIAN cat into an animal hospital. The cat's hair was long, thick, and fine, the result of generations of breeding in which the fancier's object had been to produce, among other points, just this perfection of coat. Yet the coat was tangled and full of cots, hard lumps of hair so matted together that they felt like dried peas caught in the fur. The owner said that she had been too busy to groom her pet, and would the hospital please put him into shape?
It took an attendant hours to do the job, and when it was finished the cat looked ragged, for most of the cots had had to be cut out. A tenminute grooming once a day would have kept the coat in good condition, and people who cannot spare the time or who grudge the trouble ought not to keep such an animal. A neglected Persian is a melancholy sight. They cannot valet themselves, for the small pink tongue which is a cat's washcloth and brush and comb is no match for long hair.
Brushing is not so essential for short-haired cats as for the long-haired, but it is good for them, for no matter how assiduously a cat makes its toilet your grooming will improve its coat. Moreover, when cats lick themselves they swallow the loose hairs, for the papillae on their tongues, being turned inward, carry the hairs on toward the stomach, which cannot possibly digest them all. And so are formed the hair balls that are often so troublesome and sometimes fatal. Brushing the coat free of loose hairs is the preventive.
Cats love to be groomed if you accustom them to it from their kittenhood. It simplifies things if you have a beauty box for your pet, fitted with a brush and comb, absorbent cotton, wooden toothpicks for making swabs, powdered boric acid, and fuller's earth for cleansing the coat. The best brushes are of bristles; the bristles slightly ridged down the center of the brush and stiff enough to pass through the hair but not stiff enough to hurt the skin. They are sold at pets' specialty shops, as are the steel combs for cats. Some fanciers hold that combs tear the hair, but the right sort, which have teeth rounded at the tips, are useful and will do no harm if you take care not to pull with them.
Place the cat on your knees in a crouching position and brush the neck, back, and tail, first with upward strokes to loosen the hair, then with long downward strokes to smooth and polish it. Turn the cat on its back and repeat the process, taking pains to stretch out each leg so you can reach the hair around the joints. Twice a week rub in fuller's earth and brush it out; if you have no fuller's earth, coarse, dry cornmeal will answer.
If you want your pet to look particularly nice, complete the brushing by giving it a good brisk rubbing, first with a cloth or chamois skin and then with your hand. Wipe its eyes with cotton dipped in a warm solution of boric acid; swab out its ears with dry boric acid, or, twice a week or so, warm olive oil; and the cat is clean and comfortable at the cost of very little work.
Grooming a full-grown cat unused to beauty treatments is an ordeal. There is no limit to the number of claws some cats can muster when first introduced to a brush and comb. If the cat is strong, you may need stout gloves, and perhaps an attendant to hold the head and a few of the claws. But generally one can manage alone, if one is firm and gentle and does not try to do too much at a time. Take the cots separately, first moistening them with warm water, then teasing out the lumps with your fingers and a large darning needle. Sometimes it is necessary to slit a cot up through the center with a penknife, which sacrifices some of the hair, but not very much.
Bathing is a moot point among authorities on cats. One of the best veterinarians I know, a man of twenty years' experience, warns his clients that washing is bad for cats, that dry cleaning is safer and just as efficacious. Against his opinion are instances such as that of White Aigrette, a champion in her day, whose owner, Miss Laura Hopkins, gave her a tub bath whenever her coat looked dingy. White Aigrette enjoyed it and swam around with her long hair trailing after her, like a mermaid. But undeniably there is danger of shock to a nervous cat in being plunged into water, and there is great danger that if the fur is not thoroughly dried pneumonia or some similar disease may ensue.
If you feel that you cannot keep a cat clean without bathing it, begin when your pet is young. If you must wash a grown cat for the first time, better not dip it in water, but stand it in a sink and pour the water over it. Test the water with a bath thermometer or your wrist, and be sure that the temperature is not above blood heat. Use pure soap, preferably a reliable liquid eucalyptus soap. If you use some of the patent soaps or disinfectants that are on the market, you run the risk of injuring your pet's eyes, or skin, or causing the hair to fall out. Avoid carbolic, tar, and mercurial preparations, for they are poison to a cat's sensitive skin. Rinse with clear water, then wrap the wet body in a Turkish towel and dry it thoroughly, and guard against drafts and cold rooms.
Baths are no substitute for grooming. Brushing invigorates the skin and stimulates the hair follicles. It is particularly necessary in the spring and fall, the seasons when cats shed their coats.