Since cats pretty much take care of themselves, we tend not to realize they can use a little help from time to time.
Brushing and combing should be a regular part of cat care, along with nail trimming. For long-haired cats, combing and brushing should be a daily event, to keep their soft, silky fur free of fecal matter and painful tangles.
Although it's easier to start training a kitten, almost any cat can learn to appreciate -- or at least endure -- regular grooming. Brushing should be a special time, full of praise and petting. Don't look on it as a chore; instead, think of it as time for you and your pet to share, and keep the whole procedure as upbeat as possible. Don't be quick or jerky in your movements, and work out kinks and mats gently.
Bathing is a bit more of a problem, although many cats learn to tolerate a regular dip into the suds. With some patience on your part, both you and your cat will make it through the event without major trauma.
Get the bath ready before finding the cat, drawing the water (warm, but not hot) behind closed doors. The bathtub is fine, but for most cats a deep sink with a spray nozzle is a better choice. Put a mat or towel at the bottom to prevent slipping, and put the shampoo and a couple of towels close at hand. Make sure everything is in place before you look for your cat. (Try the closet, or under the bed.)
Prepare your pet with a drop of mineral oil in each eye and some cotton in each ear. If you're using a prescription shampoo or one designed to kill fleas, take the time to read the label and follow instructions exactly. Otherwise, use a shampoo designed for cats.
The trickiest moment in the whole process is when the cat realizes that the water is for him, and decides, at just that second, that the water is not for him if he has anything to do with it. Hold your pet's legs firmly, to keep the claws from your arms, and slide the cat quickly and gently into the water. (Two people make the job easier.)
Be encouraging with your pet, and don't forget the compliments and praise. Wet the cat's fur thoroughly, and gently work the soap into a lather. Use the spray nozzle to rinse, making sure not to leave any soap residue. While your pet is still wet, take the time to check for fleas, injuries or lumps. Finish rinsing, then pop him into a towel, rubbing the excess water off gently but thoroughly.
Use a comb to gently separate the fur and make drying easier. Some rare cats will tolerate a hand-held dryer, but it's usually easier to let your pet dry on his own in a warm, sheltered place.
Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.