What can owners do about an older cat that won't groom itself anymore? My rescued stray is 17 or 18. But in the last year or so, she has stopped grooming herself and her undercoat gets clumpy. She never liked being brushed even when younger, but now she is impossible and tries to bite me if I brush her. I've used several types of brushes but she acts like all of them hurt her. I don’t have anyone else to hold her down while I try to force her to be brushed.
My solution so far is to take her to the vet. She is so frightened about being there that she holds still and lets the assistants groom her, but she really needs the brushing every month or six weeks. She is too frail to risk anesthetic or sleepy pills. I have tried Rescue Remedy, and that mellows her out some, but not enough to keep her from biting when I try to brush her. She seems fairly happy otherwise, eats well, and asks to play now and then, though she is very thin from thyroid problems and has been on medication for that for a few years.
What you are describing is not a hygiene issue, but a symptom of a health problem. Whenever a cat stops grooming herself, it can indicate any number of concerns that warrant further investigation. The matted fur is clumped together and when you brush her it is painful. The analogy for people would be twisting your hair into a bun, and then giving it a good, hard yank over and over, and you start to get a feel for her experience.
You mentioned her hyperthyroid condition and having been on medication for years. Depending on the method of giving her medicine, her thyroid levels may be out of line and a dosage adjustment might be needed. Hyperthyroid cats also are prone to high blood pressure if the blood levels of the thyroid hormone are too high. Over time, cats with hyperthyroid also can suffer from deteriorating kidney function. Weight loss and frailty can be signals that her disease may not be well-managed. Many older cats suffer silently with advanced dental disease and one of the few outward signs is a progressive deterioration in grooming habits.
Because of her health issues, I would not suggest giving any over-the-counter sedatives like Rescue Remedy without consulting your veterinarian first. The main reason she seemed “mellow” was that it is 54 proof, about the same as some hard liquors. Cats are extremely sensitive to many substances that we would normally consider safe. There are some pheromone-based products like Feliway available that can have a calming effect and are safe to use.
Once you have determined why she is not feeling well and get her on the road to recovery, you might need to start fresh by shaving her coat down. This may require sedation, which should only be performed under the close supervision of her veterinarian. Good luck.
Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.