Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a 19-year-old cat and for some odd reason she has stopped cleaning her tail. Her tail has become greasy and knotted. Why has she done this, and how can I help her?
Siouxsie: The most common reason why elderly cats stop grooming is because they’re in pain.
Thomas: Senior cats can develop arthritis and loss of flexibility, which can make it difficult if not impossible for them to reach certain areas of the body.
Dahlia: The primary symptoms you’ll see in a cat with arthritis are pain and stiffness (and possibly lameness) when getting up after a long rest, sensitivity to having certain parts of the body touched, and perhaps crankiness. Siouxsie sure is cranky when she gets up in the morning!
Siouxsie: Grrrr. Do I need to come over there and swat you?
Thomas: Because cats tend to hide their pain very well, you may not notice lameness as easily as you would in a dog. But you will probably notice the reluctance to jump or leap, lack of desire to be touched, and failure to groom certain parts of the body. Arthritis pain is generally worse in cold, damp surroundings.
Dahlia: The first thing we’d recommend is that you talk to your veterinarian and make sure that it is arthritis that’s bothering her, as there are other conditions that can cause cats to stop grooming. He or she can provide you with a diagnosis, probably by taking an X-ray, and then offer you some treatment options.
Siouxsie: Arthritis is not curable, so treatment will most likely involve pain management, accommodating your cat’s special needs, and assistance with grooming areas she can’t reach.
Thomas: Your vet can tell you what pain relievers are safe to use on your cat. Do not give your cat acetaminophen (Tylenol) under any circumstances; it’s a deadly poison for cats. Most NSAIDs are not safe to give cats, but your vet can offer you medicines you can use safely.
Dahlia: Another treatment option your vet may give you is a nutraceutical (pharmaceutical-grade nutrition supplement) containing glucosamine and chondroitin. As in humans, glucosamine-chondroitin helps to prevent the further breakdown of the cartilage of the joints, slowing the progression of the arthritis.
Siouxsie: There are a number of glucosamine-chondroitin treats on the market, and some of them are very tasty. We recommend that you purchase a high-quality supplement made specifically for cats.
Thomas: You can also provide your cat with a warm bed. Some manufacturers even make heated beds just for cats with arthritis.
Dahlia: Giving your cat some assistance to get to certain high places she enjoys, such as windowsills, will also increase her quality of life. You can make pet steps yourself (instructions for this and lots of other kitty-related DIY projects are available online, just Google for them) or you can purchase pre-made ramps or steps at pet supply stores.
Siouxsie: You can also help your cat groom the areas she has trouble with. Because your cat may be in pain, comb the knots out very gently. If she won’t tolerate being combed, you may have to cut the mats out or bring her to a professional groomer to give her the once-over. After that, start fresh with gentle daily combing.
Thomas: You can keep your cat’s fur clean by grooming her daily with a damp (not wet!) cloth. This will keep the fur free of parasites and the skin healthy, and it will reduce the buildup of oils in her coat.
Dahlia: Pet grooming wipes and waterless shampoos are also available. We’ve never used these products, so we don’t know how well they work or if there’s a particular brand that’s better than others. However, you might be able to ask your vet or a professional groomer about that, too.
Siouxsie: So, Deb, there are some things you can do to help your cat get clean and stay clean.
Thomas: But before you do anything on your own, please make sure to talk to your vet so you can find out what’s really going on with your cat.
Dahlia: Good luck, Deb, and please let us know how everything works out.
Siouxsie: Before we sign off, we want to let you know that a redesigned version of the Paws and Effect website will be going live very soon. There may be some delays and problems with functionality while the new page templates are uploaded, but these issues should be resolved quickly. We’d love your feedback on the new layout, so please let us know what you think.