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  • Writer's pictureSieske Valk

Brush your Bestie – Why we need to brush our ageing cat or dog for their well-being and ours

My mornings are dictated by a few non-negotiables: taking time to slowly wake up and eating a wholesome breakfast preferably in bed. I get on the mat to do some form of exercise, depending on my mood and the day ahead, ranging from yoga to strengthening exercises. I use sunscreen to protect my skin. And I brush my elderly cat’s fur. 


Lewis has half-long hair that doesn’t mat, but somewhere in the past seventeen years we have added this practice to our morning routine, and it has become a non-negotiable. The moment he hears me pick up my hairbrush, his ears point upwards, he looks up (no matter how comfortable the seat in front of the radiator is) and comes running, sometimes even shouting at me to hurry up. 


We settle on the rug in the lounge and spend a good five to ten minutes vigorously brushing his fur in this direction and that. Accompanied by loud purring and heavy rubbing of the face on everything in the vicinity, he slowly ends up looking like a giant fluffy marshmallow. 

After this blissful period, we do a quick toothbrush with a muslin cloth, but always end with a high: more fur brushing.

6 Reasons for brushing your cat or dog regularly 

So, what are the reasons that I incorporated this seemingly vain thing into our routine? Firstly, it makes Lewis’s day. What more of a reason do you need? If you could get a back or foot rub daily, wouldn’t you?


Secondly, he loves brushing so much that he has started allowing me to brush his body all over. A few years back, he didn’t allow me to touch his belly or paws, he now exposes his whole body to me. Our daily session is like a mini-MOT for Lewis’s body. I notice lumps when they are still small and can have a veterinarian check them early. I see when he’s more sensitive on his joints, so know I need to call his acupuncturist or up his pain relief medication. I feel when his tummy is tensing up and can anticipate a pancreatitis flare-up and supplement his food so that it stays at bay.


Thirdly, brushing his fur keeps him clean. When pets get older, they stop cleaning some spots on their bodies. This is often due to discomfort as they can’t reach their backsides and bellies anymore due to osteoarthritis. (Read this blog post if you want to know whether your furry friend has osteoarthritis and what you can do about it). Brushing their fur, and occasionally helping them by wiping their bodies with a wet cloth, helps them to keep their hygiene in good shape and to live in a dignified way. 


Fourthly, regular brush sessions, stimulate circulation and help spread sebum to maintain the quality of the coat.


Fifthly, if you regularly brush (and massage) your pet, especially after a long nap (e.g., in the morning), this will warm up their joints and get them ready to get up and go for a walk. I always recommend giving your older dog a good brush sesh or rub to warm up their body before going on their morning walk, or even before letting them get up for breakfast.  


And last but not least, having an enjoyable ritual with your pet daily, strengthens your bond and makes it more intimate. Having them in your hands like this, and having that physical interaction can add to your interactions. Where you used to bond by going on long walks or playing with laser toys, you now have to find alternatives that are enjoyable to you both.

Seeing them enjoy the touch and feel invigorated after it, will work wonders on your well-being and blood pressure! 


Ditch the Furminator!

Whoever came up with the furminator, was likely someone without hair. Just in general, combs and brushes with metal teeth should be chucked away when dealing with pets. If you wouldn’t use it to brush your own or your child’s hair, please don’t use it on your cat or dog.

Lewis is getting brushed with my old Mason & Pearson hair brush. I once bought that as a fancy present to myself, but over the years, he managed to hog the thing and I just had to buy myself a new brush. It has been worth the money, just look at the photo!

Fluffy white cat sitting int he windowsill surrounded by greenery
Lewis after his morning brush-sesh

Using a brush with nylon, boar hair, or rubber teeth is much gentler on their sensitive skin. And for matted patches, I recommend using your fingernail to tease them out or the teeth of a plastic comb. 

Of course, you don’t have to fork out 100 quid on a fancy hairbrush, but just make sure the tools you are using don’t actually hurt your furry friend.

Where to start when brushing your ageing cat or dog?

Your pet might not be used to being brushed or has a negative association with it. I know of dogs that completely freeze when they walk into the street of their groomer’s shop. Perhaps your pet has sore spots on their body that their protective of. Or they are just very private of their private parts.


With cats, I’d recommend starting around the face. Just as they love rubbing their faces on things and you, they’d love rubbing it on a brush. Gently brush on top of the head, the cheeks and perhaps even the chin. Then slowly start moving down the shoulder blades and see how far you can go. Brush them regularly for a few minutes and gradually increase the time spent brushing and areas where you brush them. Just remember to always stop before they get annoyed with you and give lots of praise, treats or strokes with your other hand.

A selection of brushes that can be used on pets; from left to right you see a brush glove, a human hairbrush from Mason Pearson, a plastic combs and a human tangle teazer
Gentle brushes and combs; no metal teeth that can hurt sensitive skin


Dogs are usually also fine to be brushed around the face and shoulder blades and as with cats, it’s trying to find out where they feel pleasure upon touch and where they feel sore. If there are spots with heavily matted fur, this is something to leave at the beginning and pick a time when they feel completely at ease to start teasing the knots out. Make sure the brush sesh is as comfortable as possible. 


Eventually, when they associate the brushing with enjoyment and comfort, you can start to feel where they like it to be a more vigorous stroke and where gentle short strokes are needed. For instance, Lewis adores being brushed against the grain on his back, tail and chest after he’s been warmed up, but his knees ask for an entirely different approach as he’s more sensitive there. 


Want a New Year’s resolution you can actually stick to?

If you have an ageing dog or cat, or even a young one you want to start treating to a spa-moment on a regular basis, it's an easy thing to start implementing brushing into your daily routine.

I challenge you to #brushyourbestie daily for three minutes. It’s just a simple thing to do every day, like brushing your teeth, with a massive impact on their Quality of Life. It will improve their physical and emotional well-being and strengthens your bond into the autumn of their life. Do you need any more convincing?


If you have a pet who has a lot of matting and don’t know why or what to do about it, just schedule a free exploratory call with me here and we’ll find out together how. Can support you through this journey with your furry friend.


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