I was watching a popular television show featuring "talents" performing various activities, some very dangerous. Inevitably the smiling emcee would say "Don't try this at home". However, when it comes to grooming your cat, you'll want to try at least some of these activities at home.
When first deciding on the type of cat you want to have, you should ask yourself some basic questions. Do you enjoy brushing and combing a cat on a daily basis? If the answer is yes, a medium or longhaired cat is a good choice for you. If you like your cats completely self-cleaning, stick with very shorthaired cats. A plush shorthaired cat will need less grooming than a Persian and more than a Siamese.
Let's start with an activity that every cat needs done -- the often dreaded task of trimming your cat's claws. As a veterinarian, I'm amazed how often this basic task is neglected. In older cats, claws can actually overgrow and end up penetrating into their footpads, causing painful infections. Active cats who go outdoors tend to keep their claws in good operating condition, but indoor cats need their claws trimmed regularly. It helps a lot if you start this activity with your cat as a young kitten. If you're beginning with an adult, you may want to try just one or two toes at a time when your cat is very drowsy. Gently take the paw into your hand. If your cat is foot sensitive, you may want to work on getting your cat accustomed to having his or her feet handled, while you give treats, prior to attempting nail trimming.
Next, gently squeeze your cat's toe until the claw becomes completely visible. Unlike many dogs, cat claws are almost always pale in color so you can easily see the "quick", or blood vessel that resides in the first half of the claw. You will want to avoid cutting this vessel as your cat will bleed and be painful. The nerve to the nail lies adjacent to the blood vessel.
Happily, it is easy to avoid knicking the "quick" since it is so visible. Simply snip a few millimeters off of the tip of the claw, leaving some claw past the "quick". Your veterinarian or groomer can demonstrate for you.
Don't forget the dewclaws, which are analagous to human thumbs. The front claws need to be trimmed every week for young kittens and every 2 to 4 weeks for older cats. The rear claws don't need to be trimmed at all for many cats unless your cat is elderly and inactive.
Moving onto brushing and combing, shorthaired cats need a few strokes using a sturdy flea comb, with tines that lie close together. During shedding season you might do this daily, but most of the year you only need to do this weekly.
Medium and longhaired cats can be divided into two groups - silky coats that don't tend to clump and "matt", and powderpuff coats that matt easily. Matting refers to dead undercoat that should be shed getting trapped under living hair. Serious matting should be handled by a professional groomer or veterinarian. I have had to repair many a skin laceration (cut) caused by a cat's owner trying to cut matts off.
Prevention of matts is easier. Have your veterinarian or groomer show you the type of "rake" brush or comb to use to remove trapped undercoat before a matt forms. Powderpuff coats will need significant brushing daily, and silky coats at least 2 to 3 times a week.
If your cat becomes severely matted over most of his or her body, a groomer can do a "lion cut" which will radically decrease your grooming chores until the coat fully grows out, and make yoru cat much more comfortable. By the way, if your older cat starts developing matts over his hip area, it may signal arthritis starting to develop. If an older cat is no longer grooming at all, please see your vet as soon as possible, as there may be a serious illness or dental problem.
Bathing is best done by professional groomers, unless your cat is an extremely mellow shorthaired cat. Of course most shorthaired cats don't need baths unless they have gotten something stuck on their coats or they're extremely dirty. Don't bathe a cat with matts present as the matts will get much worse. If you must bathe a cat, use tepid water and gentle soap designed for use on cats. Rinse very thoroughly and dry with a warm towel. You may need a blow dryer for longer-haired cats- another good reason to let the groomer bathe him or her!
With regular claw trimming and daily to weekly combing or brushing, visits to the groomer can be minimized or eliminated. Short haired cats rarely need baths, and silky haired cats can easily be managed at home. Powder puff coated cats such as Persians will benefit from regular trips to the groomer, unless you opt for a lion cut which will cut your trips down to once or twice a year. This is ideal for the cat who is nervous and really hates going to the groomer. Mobile groomers who come to you can be helpful, since your cat won't be exposed to the sight, smells and sounds of other pets.