Kitty, The Cat, Who Became A Teacher For A Day

by Anita Kelsey, UK cat behaviourist

I have been a mobile cat groomer for some time now and pride myself on the way I work with cats and their owners. I am a great believer in finding the most stress free way of working with cats and I found that by listening to what the cat was saying, rather than forcing my ways onto the cat, I managed many difficult grooms with the least possible stress for all present.

So, with this in mind, how did I manage to be at the end of the most severe cat bite, hospitalised for 5 days combined with two hand operations!

It’s quite simple actually. On this one occasion I am ashamed to admit that I had failed to listen.



Kitty is a lovely tabby cat but very nervous of being groomed. It was my first time grooming her and I was told she was passive and gentle although can become a tad grouchy if her tummy or bottom are touched. I started out as I always do, feeding the cat with treats on my grooming table and letting them relax with a catnip toy. Whilst they are busy eating or drooling over their new toy I will stroke them, talk to them and start to feel around their coats for any matting. Kitty seemed ok but not relaxed especially when I tried feeling the ‘problem areas’. I felt some matting around the nethers, on her back and sides towards the tail and her chest area.

I decided the best course of action was shaving the matts and keeping the tummy, chest area and nethers shaved so that her owners could cope for the future. Kitty had a towel wrapped over her shoulders to prevent her from biting me and her sides were shaved. She didn’t mind this position but the problems started when trying to shave her other bits. I changed tack after a while and gave her a thorough comb through from the top which she liked. After the comb through I tried again with her tummy, chest and nethers.

Kitty was gently wrapped in a towel and placed on her side with her daddy assisting and giving lots of strokes and TLC. I shaved in short bursts giving her lots of breaks. Kitty hated being on her side so a few other positions were tried until all of her undercarriage had been clipped. During the process Kitty was beginning to change her temperament and was becoming aggressive, trying to bite and scratch, ears flattened to the head. I used an Elizabethan Collar to complete the groom and this seemed to calm her slightly.

Elizabethan collars are better than muzzles because a cat can see and hear what is going on AND can be comforted by their owners by way of head strokes. What it cannot do is bite!

Elizabethan collar are better than muzzles because a cat can see and hear what is going on. What it cannot do is bite!

Elizabethan collars are great because the cat can get its head stroked by its owners. This usually has a calming effect and means I can complete a groom safely.

Dandruff on a cats coat

Dandruff on a cats coat

So the groom was completed but I was not satisfied because her coat was filthy; oily and covered in dry skin. This gives the appearance of terrible dandruff.

I have bathed many difficult cats and make this suggestion, to the owners, when I feel it’s needed and when I feel the cat is not so stressed that it can take a quick bath and be manageable. I know my methods are gentle and the whole process is usually over very quickly. And so I suggested to the clients that we attempt a bath. I always say if it’s too stressful for the cat then the bath is stopped straight away.


Kitty was placed on a rubber matt in the bath and wore a safe noose attached to the side of the bath to stop her from wriggling all over the place. She also wore an Elizabethan Collar. Both collar and noose can be taken off if I feel the cat is struggling with either and in this instance mistake number 1 was made (or two if you consider the idea of a bath in the first place was wrong) in that I removed the Elizabethan safety collar so that she could see what was happening to her. Her daddy filled a jug with warm water and she was gradually introduced to it by my hands. She was fine with this and so we progressed to a light sprinkler coming from a shower head. She became a little vocal at this stage, which is usual behaviour, but she was still manageable and didn’t show any other signs of major distress such as panting. I bathed her as quickly as I could but as the bath was progressing Kitties vocalisations changed and here’s where mistake number two came into play. I didn’t listen. I was so busy trying to get the bath finished so she had a lovely dandruff free coat that I failed to stop when Kitty’s cries turned from what’s normally expected to deep stress.

What was I thinking.

When this has happened once before the shower was turned off, the cat helped to relax again, before attempting to remove the shampoo with water from the hand, or even by towel (although it’s advisable to try to get the shampoo out with water). But this one time I lost who I was, the type of cat groomer who prides herself on putting the cat first. Kitty struggled out of her noose and bam. Bit me hard on the hand. She made me finish and I thank her for that.


Top of my hand

My hand within 24 hours


Palm of my hand

q1 Palm of my hand









I told Kitty’s daddy to wrap her in a towel and we carried her downstairs to be towel dried. I was in agony but wanted to show the client how to comb through the wet fur so that it would dry un-matted. Kitty was then put out in the sun to dry naturally (lucky for us it was a beautiful sunny day) whilst I was driven to the nearest A&E. My lovely client stayed the whole hour with me and we chatted over a coffee about our studies. Within 24 hours of being seen my hand had become badly infected and the next day I was admitted into Westminster and Chelsea Hospital. Lucky for me that a previous client of mine’s husband was also bitten by their cat (not so lucky for him – sorry!!!) and had to be admitted into hospital. This client of mine works as a skin surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital so it was her who advised me to go straight to A&E after recognising what was happening to me by my description. It was, in fact, exactly the same as her husband. 5 days in hospital with a couple of operations!! Also lucky for me that Chelsea and Westminster Hospital have the leading hand surgeons based there.

My hand within 24 hours

My hand within 24 hours

A word about cat bites

Cat bites, especially on the hand, must be taken seriously. 95% of cat bites to the hand have the potential of becoming infected. This is due to the fact that millions of bacteria live on cats’ teeth and their teeth are like needles so can penetrate right through to the muscle and tendons. In this area bacteria can take hold before the body has had a chance to fight it. The first thing to do is flush out the wound under water to encourage the infection to seep out along with the blood. Squirt with Iodine (if you have any in the home), then wrap your hand in a bandage and go along to your closest A&E department. If your hand starts to swell and hurts badly, after already being seen by an A&E department, then you need to go back as a matter of urgency. Swelling and pain are signs that an infection has taken hold deep within the hand. Also look out for tracking marks which look like red lines coming from the wound. This means that the infection is spreading. If you see this do not delay but get straight down to your local A&E.

Anyway – to cut a long story short. I was in hospital for 5 days and had two operations on my hand to flush out the infection.

A typical hand brace

A typical hand brace

My hand was placed in a brace to encourage my fingers to stay straight rather than in a claw position which is the position the hand naturally takes when the muscles and tendons are dealing with scar tissue and pain.

The surgeons are keeping a close eye on things and I have been booked up with hand therapy for the next 2/3 weeks.


So… Back to Kitty!

Well, I learnt a really important lesson actually. I was clearly being told by Kitty that she was in distress and nearing the end of her threshold. Saying to myself ‘one more minute and I’m done’ should not have been present in my mind . I should have stopped the shower then and there. Perhaps Kitty would have calmed down enough to allow me to get the remainder of the shampoo off with a jug of warm water. For a cat groomer who has spent years perfecting a way of working WITH the cat this episode hurt me in more ways than one.

I still get upset when I think of a cat being that scared on a groom of mine that it resorted to giving me one hell of a bite. It’s made me reflect on everything I did wrong that day and how, for the future, I will never get so complacent that I stop listening to what a cat is trying to tell me.

Flowers by client and also signed by Kitty ;-)

Flowers by client and also signed by Kitty 😉

Today I received a lovely bouquet of flowers from kitty’s owners.

I let them know that I will groom Kitty in the future, except one difference. Kitty will not have a bath and she can talk to me as much as she likes.

This time I’m all ears!!


About Anita Kelsey - Cat Behaviour Consultant

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Anita's debut book, Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer is published by John Blake Publishers and is out on 7th September 2017 (available for pre-orders on Amazon UK)
This entry was posted in CASE STUDIES, FELINE BEHAVIOUR ADVICE, PAST POSTS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: GROOMING AN AGGRESSIVE CAT | Catnips – one stop feline shop for all cat related advice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s