Do cats like being combed or brushed?

Dr Bruce Fogle in his book Complete Cat Care writes “You pick up your cat comb, and your cat vanishes”. He’s saying that some cats associate being combed with discomfort and therefore run away when you bring out the comb.

Combing includes flea combing. They should be combined
Combing includes flea combing. They should be combined. Photo in the public domain.
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For me, it’s the complete opposite. My cat loves to be combed and I comb him with a flea comb which is a very fine comb and therefore more likely that it will catch in his fur and cause discomfort. I avoid causing discomfort because I comb him pretty well every day so his fur is completely smooth and the comb passes through it freely. Frequency is a major factor to success. All my cat have enjoyed it and I am pretty sure you have enjoyed the same experience. I would always comb with a flea comb as it serves two purpose simultaneously: combing the fur, smoothing it and removing fleas.

Cats should enjoy being combed or brushed. If they don’t it’ll be because they are new to the experience and are unsure about it or they have a negative association with the brush or comb because it has caused discomfort or pain. Under these circumstances I would introduce them very gently and build up to the point where they enjoy it.

Christiane Panis is so allergic to cats that she usually wears a mask when she combs her cat’s fur.
Christiane Panis is so allergic to cats that she usually wears a mask when she combs her cat’s fur. Photo: Video screenshot.

I would say that the feeling of a brush or a comb is essentially pleasurable to a cat because it is as if you are grooming them and mutual grooming between cats (allogrooming) is both pleasurable for the cats and functional as it strengthens the bond between them. With that premise, if a cat doesn’t like being combed or brushed the barrier should be surmountable by, as mentioned, a very gentle desensitisation to the uncertainty or anxiety caused by the presence of a brush or comb.

I would be surprised if more than 10 or 20 percent of domestic cats run away from a brush or comb i.e. eighty percent should like it. Flea combing every day is really useful because it allows the cat’s caregiver to monitor the presence of fleas both on their cat and in their household. It should be a daily occurrence, a routine, which the cat might learn to ask for.

Persian cat being combed
Persian cat being combed. Photo in public domain.

As soon as I grab the flea comb my cat meows excitedly and comes to me, lies down and waits for me to comb him around his head, shoulders, neck and at the base of his tail. These are the places where you will either see a flea or flea dirt (base of tail).

My argument is that the feeling of a flea comb as it brushes against the skin is going to be similar to the feeling of the keratin spines of their tongue as it brushes against the skin which means that the default response is pleasure from the cat. It should be done gently of course. If it snags in the fur because it is matted it should not be forced through. That is common sense but combing too vigourously will at least potentially cause a cat to take avoidance action when the comb is produced.

There is a limit to how long you can comb or brush a cat. It is the same as petting them. You can’t overdo these sorts of interactions. Keep them quite short initially and build up to learn your cat’s limits with respect to accepting it.

If your cat is unsure about being brushed or comb then you might add a treat (their favourite food) as part of the process to associate brushing and combing with pleasure and build from there.

Brushing a cat
Loving it. Pictures in the public domain.

I do it on my bed. The bed is comfortable for both me and him. It is what Jackson Galaxy calls a “scent soaker” by which he means the human bed is full of the scent of the human which domestic cats like provided the relationship is good. It helps to calm the cat down and the whole process becomes friendly and enjoyable.

Cats also enjoy being combed because you get can to the places that they can’t get to which they appreciate. This is the back of their neck and under their chin and to the left and right just below their cheeks and their cheeks as well.

If a cat doesn’t like a certain type of flea comb or brush then it might be wise to try another product. Some flea combs are quite sharp while others are softer because the tips of the comb are more rounded.

In the video below made many years ago my female cat (now deceased) likes flea combing but instinctively responds momentarily with a slap because she had associated it with me playing too strongly with her. That can happen. The response from me is to be more gentle.

Conclusion: The conclusion is that cats should like being brushed or combed and if they don’t there should be a gentle and gradual introduction to the process using different combs and brushes to find which one is preferable to your cat.

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