My cat has a grooming phobia!


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Does your cat hide every time the brush comes out? Follow these tips to ease your cat's grooming fears.

(Q) I adopted an eight-year-old longhaired cat eight weeks ago from a rescue centre. She came with no history but is very placid and well behaved - until I try and comb her. I have tried using a grooming mitt but with no luck. She becomes very aggressive and lashes out and bites.

I have tried introducing the comb very gently around her head and rewarding her with titbits, but to no avail. I don't want to have to keep taking her to be shaved at the vets. Can you suggest anything?

Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini advises: This will be not be quick or easy, and during any programme aimed at changing your new pet's reaction to being groomed, you may well have to rely on your vet to help keep her coat under control. Otherwise you are likely to accidentally snag a matt or tangle, and that will set you back significantly, if not destroy your chances of ultimate success.

To successfully undertake a desensitization and counter-conditioning programme - i.e. changing your cat's emotional response to being groomed, all the paraphernalia that is associated with it and the actions you take when about to groom her - you need to be very patient and work within her limits.

The first step is to tackle the comb or mitt. Get a good supply of food treats that your cat particularly enjoys. Bring out the mitt or comb and have it out near her but far enough away that she remains calm. (It may help if you use a grooming tool she hasn't seen before.) Feed her treats while you handle it but don't place it anywhere near her.

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Repeat this over a few days or even weeks - however long it takes for her to remain completely calm when you bring it out. It may also be a good idea to find a new place to store it so that when you approach a particular drawer it won't be a signal to her that something nasty is about to happen.

Once you reach the stage of getting out your 'tools' with your cat relaxed and happy, use the same method to approach her with the implement least likely to upset her. Keep associating it with something good.

If she remains relaxed, just touch her very briefly and gently in the place she is happiest to accept, for example, her head or back. Don't really do anything - just get her used to the feel and make sure she has a really terrific 'jackpot' for staying put and not lashing out.

Then, very gradually, extend the areas and time you persist for. Never push any stage so far that your pet becomes aroused. If by mistake you do so, calmly stop immediately, give her a couple of days' break, then start again but go back a bit and more slowly work towards your goal.

There are no short cuts to success with this sort of strategy, but done sensitively and well it can be surprisingly helpful.