Grooming Your Maine Coon
by Laura Cunningham, Coonyham Maine Coons
Cat shows are beauty contests and presentation is a key element in the judging process. Your cat needs to be sparkling clean and perfectly groomed for the cat show. Grooming is not an intuitive process, it involves hard work and experimentation! This grooming regime is based on years of advice from breeders, exhibitors and judges and involved much experimentation. I hope you can take what you need from this article and adapt a regimen that suits your own cat's need. Let me know the results.
The Show Bath
Clip the cat's nails prior to the bath so the nails will be less sharp. Best is to do this 24 hours in advance of the bath so the cat can blunt the edges on a scratching post. Comb your cat's coat prior to the bath and clean the ears with cleaning solution or alcohol on cotton balls if needed.
Fill your basin (sink or bathtub) with warm water. When filled, pour in two capfuls (two for a sink, use more in a bathtub) of Woolite (a delicate laundry cleanser) or Shaklee's Basic H cleaner. Stir the water to mix it up. Both of these products will act as a catalyst to permit the water to penetrate more quickly through your cat's coat and actually get the fur wet down to the skin. Pour cups of this soapy water over the cat's coat save for the face. Do not let soap, shampoo or water get into their ears or on their faces, but do wet down the hair behind their ears, the sides of the head and chins down to their toes and tail - since their coat needs to become soaking wet and thoroughly saturated to permit the shampoos to do their cleansing job.
If your cat is a breed with a water resistant or slightly greasy coat (like many Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats), try treating the coat with a degreaser while it is still dry. I use a a mechanics hand cleaner called Goop. Another brand is D&L cleaner or D'Grease. Apply the degreaser liberally to the coat, paying special attention to the areas behind the ears, the chest, stomach, tail and britches. Pay special attention to the fur on the front and rear legs, these areas often show off poor grooming. Massage the degreaser into the coat for several minutes, then put the cat into the water with Woolite or Basic H. Goop works well on removing stains on cats with white (on their feet, hocks and chests). Be careful; don't let your cat lick any shampoo or degreaser products. Do not apply grooming products and then leave the cat unsupervised. If the cat is willing and able, try to get the cat completely submersed in the soapy water to aid in penetrating the coat and getting it truly "sopping" wet. Rub and ruffle their coats under the water to help get the coat completely wet and to remove the degreaser. Use your fingers to massage the coat while shampooing, using gentle yet firm actions.
After the coat is soaking wet and the degreaser washed away, then drain the basin and rinse the cat briefly. The second step of grooming is designed to continue removing dirt and grease from the coat. Many exhibitors do this by using a dish washing detergent; such as Dawn, Ajax, Dove or Ivory on their cat's coats. This c leaner is applied as a shampoo to the entire coat, with special attention paid to the tail fur, especially if any signs of stud tail (heavy grease, with stringy, oily fur) are seen. Multiple applications may be necessary with a degreaser and heavy duty cleaner to remove the oil in the tail. Massage gently with the middle part of the fingers so as to not damage tail or tail fur. Cats with excessively oily coats and tails may be helped by applying a grooming powder hours prior to the bath (the powders will absorb the oils which can then be more easily washed away). The best type of powder to use in this circumstance would be Fullers Earth/Diatomaceous Earth followed by cornstarch powder. Apply this coarse powder either the evening before or hours before the show bath, especially to very greasy areas such as the tail, then brushing most of the powder out but letting some remain to continue absorbing grease and oils. Please be careful using any powders or sprays around your cat's face. Do not have them breath in these powders and take care while using them yourself.
Continuing on with the bath - now is a good time to consider expressing the anal glands of your cat at this stage of the bath. If you do not know how to do this, please discuss this with your veterinarian and ask for a demonstration. I do this on a regular basis and i t helps eliminate that musky smell from the cat's rear end. We all appreciate that. :-)
The Basic Bath
If the cat is not oily, dirty or greasy, but needs a basic show bath, consider skipping the first shampoos above and commencing with the middle shampoo step. This step should use a medicated grooming shampoo, such a Mycodex, Goodwinol Rotenone, Mr. Cristals or a similar type of shampoo. Kelco's Filthy Animal shampoo is another excellent choice. I purchased my bottle from a dog grooming shop. Many of these products may be purchased from cat show vendors as well. Don't use any medicated shampoos on pregnant cats. These types of shampoos are good if the exhibitor has a problem with parasites (remember show rules prohibit showing any cats with parasites such as fleas), but are frequently used by those who do not have any parasite problems, because these shampoos tend to thoroughly cleanse the coat and have anti-static and anti-dandruff properties which will help your cat have a shiny, healthy coat. Always read labels of medicated shampoos carefully and consider all warnings or contraindictions.
Following the medicated shampoo, finish the shampoo steps with a grooming type of shampoo, such as Orvus Paste (purchased at a tack shop), Shaklee's Proteinized shampoo, a high quality pet or human shampoo or a colored grooming shampoo. Colored shampoos should be used last to keep the desired attribute. White, silver and blue cats frequently will use a whitening, brightening or silver type of shampoo such as Sho Sno, F1R2 Snowburst, Bubbling Blue, Nexus Simply Silver or similar shampoos. Tortoiseshells and blacks may use a black coloring shampoo to enhance this coat color. Brown tabbies may use a copper or brown tone shampoo to enhance rufusing. Generally exhibitors of particolor cats (with whitemarkings) should not use a colored shampoo save for one which enhances their cat's white coloring. Experiment and see what works best for each of your cats. You may need to apply a light conditioner should your cat coat be easily stressed while being dried, or if your cat's hair is brittle. Joico makes a nice light conditioner; while other exhibitors swear by a pea sized amount of Finesse or similar conditioner. Apply the condition to the area which needs it and immediately rinse it completely out of the coat.
The Vinegar Rinse
After the last shampoo is well rinsed out of your cat's coat, consider this as a last step to ensure soap film is removed from your cat's coat. Fill a one gallon bottle with warm water and 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. Pour this over the cat (avoiding the head!) and t hen rinse very, very thoroughly. Some exhibitors will set timers to ensure they rinse their cats for a minimum of five minutes during their final rinse. Another step to consider is rinsing down the basin and refilling it with clean, warm water. Submerge the cat in this water and agitate the coat under the water. If you see a lot of dead, loose hair, soap film or bubbles, it is likely that there is a soapy area somewhere on the cat and therefore requires additional rinsing. Please take the time to rinse well because coats which are not completely rinsed clean are slightly sticky and will act as dirt and dust magnets. You may have done a wonderful job washing your cat, but your rinse job may mitigate all of your efforts. So - rinse, rinse, rinse!
Drying your cat
When done, slick the water off your cat's coat with your hands and towel dry with several towels. What is nice is to run several clean towels in the dryer while you are about to bathe the cat so that when you need them, they are nice and warm for your cat. Try to remove as much moisture from the coat as possible to reduce the amount of time needed to dry the coat. Prior to drying the cat, use a washcloth on the cat's face after the bath and pay attention to the eyes and mouth. Check the ears again and look for acne on the chin or by the si des of the mouth. If necessary, administer sterile saline to your cat's eyes to rinse away any irritant and to soothe them. If you cannot use a dryer on your cat, then heat several thick and absorbent towels in the dryer as mentioned above while bathing the cat. Wrap the cat into a warm, dry towel and hold the cat still for several minutes. Change the towels every few minutes. Comb out the cat in between these drying wraps and make sure the cat is thoroughly combed out as it dries to prevent an unkempt looking coat.
What kind of dryer?
Most semi-longhaired and long-haired cats look best when dried by hand from start to finish with a hair dryer. The best dryers to use are the professional ones such as Oster and Metro dryers. An inexpensive alternative is to put the cat in a plastic carrier (such as a Kennel Cab) with a heater-air fan pointing at the front of the carrier, on medium and warm airflow/temperature (not fast/hot). Air fans (or heater fans) may be purchased at most drugstores for under $30. Partially drape the carrier with a towel to restrict the airflow from the front to the back (but make sure the carrier will is vented in the back so your cat does not get overheated). Never leave a cat unattended with a heater or dryer on! Cats can overheat easily, so do not use high heat and keep an eye on your cat for signs of heat exhaustion. You can also sit in front of the carrier with a hair dryer if you don't have a heater-fan. Some hardy people can hold their cats on their laps and blow them dry from start to finish. :-)
If you use the carrier method, when the cat is approximately 1/3 dry, remove the cat from the carrier and start to comb out the coat with the dryer or fan blowing on the fur you are combing. Wet hair is easily damaged. Donít back comb to tease the coat, donít pull hard on fragile hair or over dry the coat with excessive heat. Gently comb the coat first in the direction of the coat with a wide toothed comb to separate the coat and permit faster drying, and then progress to using a smaller comb and eventually being able to comb the coat against the direction of the coat (i.e. backcomb very gently). Comb and completely dry the entire coat (britches, stomach, ruff, tail, groin, armpits, behind ears and top of the head and feet and legs). Best is to use a combination comb such as a 7 inch Belgian Greyhound comb with wide and medium spaced teeth and also a fine tooth comb such as a 4 inch Greyhound or flea comb.
You can spray the coat with a small amount of Texturizer spray during the drying process to add volume, lift and body to the coat. If your cat is sligh tly damp in the groin, chest or armpit areas, these areas will end up curly or wavy and look unkempt (albeit clean!). Spray hair that tends to curl or wave with Bay rum and take the time to dry your cat's coat completely. The better the job you do in drying the coat now, the better your cat will look at the show and the less grooming you will need to do at the show which will make your cat happier too!
Tips to maintain beautiful grooming at the show
Foo Foo grooming powder - this is a Canadian white grooming powder which acts like a dry shampoo. It may be used on any color cats at the show and is usually used behind their ears to help separate the fur and to separate wavy, curly fur in the groin, chest and britches area (affectionately nicknamed poodle coat - this is NOT a variation of the rare rex gene). Foo Foo may also be used when a cat has had an accident and needs to be cleaned; usually the rear end, britches, legs and feet. Wipe away the mess or wash the cat at your grooming area or in the restroom sink or spray them with disinfectant and wipe with paper towels, then sprinkle Foo Foo or Fullers Earth in the wet fur liberally, then brush until dry, then comb out the area. If you are at home and you can re-groom the cat, it is better to re-wash the cat and have the cat look great, than to try to camouflage a problem. If you discover that your cat's tail is oily/greasy or that you have missed a spot of stud tail - if you can re-wash it, then you should do this.
Fullers Earth is a fine cream-tan powder. This should not be used on a white cat but it works well with most other colors. Fullers Earth dries wet fur very well and adds fullness and body. You must be careful with Fullers Earth when combing the fur as you may rip out some fur! Fullers Earth can also be a miracle when a cat has an accident with their litterbox or on the way to a show Some people use this product all the time after they bathe their cats, they just sprinkle this powder in their cat's clean dry coat, fluff the coat with their hands and then brush out to add fullness to their cat's coat. I am not recommending this, if your cat is thoroughly washed and dried, it should not need any powder at all. A powdered coat has a different texture than an immacculantly groomed, unpowedered coat. You can buy Fuller's Earth from cat show vendors. You want to use a very fine grade of powder and you may be able to find this product locally. A coarse grade is used to with swimming pool filters. Beware of touching a freshly washed cat very often as a clean coat will pick up the oils from your hands and become greasy quickly. Please note all show rules concerning show gr ooming and fraudulent cover-ups.
Bay Rum is useful to bring back shine to your dark coated cats. Wash your hands and spray some Bay Rum on them; rub your hands down your cat's back and sides. Bay Rum contains alcohol and brings back the sheen, or blackness of their coats. We prefer the colorless brand made by House of AnJu. Some exhibitors prefer to use Listerine instead. These products may also be used to mask litterbox odors.
Optrex is an eyewash solution made in Canada. If your cat has fur behind its ears which is starting to look slightly stringy, first try touching up with Foo Foo to try absorb any oils present, then spray lightly with Optrex and comb lightly, letting the fur air dry. Donít comb too much, it will get static-y. This works very well!
Static builds up in dry environments or overheated buildings. Combing adds an electric charge. By removing the dryness and not over-combing afterwards, one can remove or reduce static. Try using an Anti-Static spray such as the AntiStat brand by House of AnJu, else consider usin g light hair moisturizers such as Focus 21's Sea-Plasma or Joico's Integrity. Some exhibitors swear by wiping a static-y coat with a clothing dryer anti-static sheet (such a Bounce or Cling-free) but these may add oils to the coat so do not use this too often. Other exhibitors prefer to dampen a clean washcloth (with water) and simply wipe their cats lightly to remove the static and this does work well.
For cats with white, use Goop on their feet and chests before and during the bath to remove stains and just before drying, consider sprinkling some cornstarch baby powder on their damp feet, leaving it in while drying and comb it out afterwards.
Give your cat lots of kisses and a special treat after they are dry to reward them for their good behavior and patience. If you do this when the kitten is young, it is more accepting of long show baths as an adult. Practice often and groom your cats every two to four weeks, in addition to grooming just prior to a show. The more you groom, the easier it will become for you and the more accustomed your cat will become to these baths. Frequent grooming is supposed to improve coat development too, so you have a good excuse to groom well and often.
Remember - all cats are different, fur coats are different and water textures are different. Please experiment and find a grooming system and products that fit your needs. Those with hard water may not be able to use strong degreasers or dish detergents; else risk damaging their catsí coats. Those with soft water should dilute their shampoos else they will be rinsing for two hours or more. Most of these products may be found at cat show vendors, in animal supply catalogs, beauty supply stores and pet shops. Good luck with this regime. Donít be shy about asking questions about grooming; especially asking an exhibitor whose cat is well groomed. Offer your assistance and advice to anyone showing cats whose grooming is not quite perfect. Be discreet, but please help your fellow exhibitor. We all learn from others; and learning to groom well is a lifetime lesson!
This document was authored by Laura Cunningham. Copyright 1996, all rights reserved.