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Grooming Your Cat for a Show

You might wonder why an organization with members who show cats would help novice exhibitors groom their cats in a way to make them competitive to the organization’s own cats. The simple truth is that we want to go up against cats in their best condition. We want new exhibitors to enjoy competition just as much as we do. If new exhibitors are able to final (place), they’ll continue to show. Winning is fun, and it’s all about everyone having fun.

Whether you are an experienced exhibitor or a novice, you should always present your cat in a well-groomed manner. It is not as simple as bathing your cat before the show; however, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as some exhibitors go through to prepare their cat for a show. If you are a novice and this is your first show, or you have shown before and have been told by a judge that you need to work on your grooming, follow the next steps to get your cat ready for her first show.

Nail clipping

A cat or kitten must have its nails clipped before each show. If you are unfamiliar with clipping your cat’s nails, you can have a vet or groomer do it for you for a nominal fee. When I was learning how to clip my cat’s nails, my husband would help me. He would hold our cat while I clipped her nails. Now I can clip my cat’s nails on my own.

Use only pet nail clippers. These are designed to cut the toenails quickly and efficiently. If you use something else, like scissors or wire cutters, you could damage the cat’s nails or toes, and cause the cat pain. Once a cat associates pain with nail clipping, it will become difficult to do it in the future.

Be careful with a long haired cat if the hair covers the toes. Make sure you pull the hair back so you can see the nail. Clip the nail well above the pink quick so you don’t draw blood or cause pain. Make it a quick snip to complete the cut. A good rule is to clip above the curve of the nail. It is better to be safe than sorry. Remember, you’re not trying to cut the nail down; you’re only taking off the tip that scratches. Blunting the end is all you need to do.


This is the key to winning finals (placements) in a cat show. A well bathed cat will have a coat that is shiny, smooth, and luxurious. No matter what length of hair your cat has, a bath is essential preparation for a show. A good bath will cut through the grime that has accumulated within its coat, regardless of whether you can see it. A proper shampoo strips the hair shafts of dirt and prepares the hair for the natural oils to coat them again. Follow these simple instructions and you will have a cat with a wonderful coat to show.

Do NOT use an over-the-counter cheap pet shampoo. These will not give you the heightened level of beauty that you can achieve with an appropriate show shampoo. Personally, I use Chris Christensen’s White on White for my high white cats (mostly white cats). I follow this up with Chris Christensen’s Thick and Thicker, then the After Bath. Between each application, I rinse, rinse, rinse. If there’s anything you cannot overdo in bathing your cat, it is rinsing. When you think you are done rinsing, rinse again. Your cat’s coat should have a squeak to it when you try to pass your hand over it. There will be some resistance to smoothing your hand over her coat. This is what you are looking for. Note: Some professional exhibitors use a teaspoon of vinegar to one gallon of water to rinse their cat, but I’ve never tried this. I find that rinsing with water works well enough.

Some experienced exhibitors have a lot of funky ways of bathing their cat that would make your head spin, but keep it simple until you get some shows under your belt. A quality pet show shampoo will expose the true beauty of your cat like never before. Once you get to know a few veteran exhibitors, you might coax their secrets out of them. You can try them on your own cat, but a word of warning: always try something new well before a show so if it doesn’t work out, your cat has time to recover from the grooming “mishap.”


Some cats, like dogs, have teary eyes or develop “crusties” in their corners. Tearing can cause an unsightly brown staining at the juncture of the eyes and nose. If you want to show your cat, keep this area of your cat’s face wiped clean. You can do this in the morning with a gauze pad or tissue. If your cat already has tear stains, there are stain removals on the market you can get that are safe for use around the eyes. However, excessive tearing in some classes (adult championship, kitten class, and alter), can be a fault. Take care to know your breed standards (if you are showing in these classes) and address their eyes appropriately. If you are showing a household pet, you still want to present a cat with clean eyes.


Don’t forget to clean your cat’s ears, especially in Household Pet. I’ve seen a lot of judges look into the cat’s ears in this class more than other classes. To clean a cat’s ears, it is as simple as taking a tissue or baby wipe and wiping the dirty areas of the ear. Do not use a Q-tip in or around the ear canal. Just use the tissue or wipe. If there is a lot of dirt or wax in the ear canal, especially if it has a foul odor, take your cat to the vet. This could be the sign of an infection or mites. To break up ear wax, there are products on the market made for this and can be administered rather easily, but they should not be used in place of seeing a veterinarian.

Overdoing it

If you are showing a household pet or kitten, you don’t have to worry about whether your cat conforms to any specific standards. With that said, you don’t have to worry if your cat’s ear tufts are the proper length or if her eyes look as big as their breed standards demand. You simply want to present your cat in the best way possible–bathed to perfection. In other words, you don’t have to cut any eye lashes, slick hair down, use makeup, or whatever else to enhance her beauty. Clip her nails, bathe her with a good shampoo system–rinse, rinse, rinse–and have a brush and metal comb with you at the show. Don’t forget some gauze pads for the eyes if your cat’s eyes tear a little to wipe them during the show day. These simple steps will make your cat a competitor in show.

What is considered beautiful?

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder in a cat show. Judges definitely have preferences for breeds, hair length, colors, and patterns. It’s just human nature. This is never more applicable than in judging Household Pet classes (kitten and cats). Since a household pet is not recognized by pedigree or breed, it is not judged by its conformation to standards. It is judged by how healthy it appears, how well it is groomed, it’s personality, and finally, the judge’s personal preferences. You have some control over the first two aspects of judging, but the other two are relatively out of your hands. Work on presenting a cat that is healthy and well-groomed and you will have a leg up in finaling.

What is considered healthy?

A cat showing in one of the Household Pet classes (kitten or cat) does not have to have four legs, a perfect tail or ears, or two eyes. Your cat can be handicapped and still show in Household Pet without judgment on her impairments. Health is determined not by a lack of disabilities, but by the condition you maintain your cat in. In other words, does she have a healthy coat and weight? Is she vibrant and alert? A sickly cat is obvious by poor weight management, a listless or patchy coat, dull eyes, and weakness. We want pet parents to take care of their cats so they live happy, healthy, and long lives. This is what judges applaud. To learn more about maintaining a healthy pet, click here.

Grooming, as discussed above, is wholly in your hands. Should you like to know more secrets about grooming, ask around at shows. Listen to judges who compliment a particular cat on its grooming and ask the owner if they would share some of their secrets with you. Ask a judge after the show what they recommend; most will be more than happy to give you pointers. And you can always ask us. Below are email links to our club members who would be willing to share our grooming secrets with you. They all have accomplished championship cats under their belts.


Your cat’s personality in Household Pet is a significant point in getting a final (placement). Not all cats are meant for showing, and even the most pedigreed, beautiful cat can be a nightmare to show. Learn how to help your cat improve her chances through enhancing her personality at a show here.

Judge’s Preference

As for a judge’s personal preference in judging Household Pets, there’s nothing you can do about it to improve your chances of finaling (placing). If you have a brown tabby and the judge has a preference for reds, you might lose a final or final lower than a red cat. Just move on to the next judge. There are plenty of judges who will final your cat for their own preferences if all the other factors are there to give your cat a chance. We’ve all lost finals to a judge’s preference.

We truly enjoy making cat shows competitive. We want everyone who wants to show their cats to the public to present their cats in the best possible manner so the public can see what you do in her. We especially want to help junior exhibitors start in showing. The following are club members who would be happy to share their grooming secrets with you.

Catherine Rudy @ wolfpirateprop@aol.com                          


If you are interested in becoming a part of Garden of the Cats, click here.

Learn more about The International Cat Association (TICA) here.

Junior Exhibitor

Are you a minor and want to show your cat? Lean more about junior exhibition here.