bathing a catHave you ever wondered “What in the world was I thinking?” after bathing, or attempting to bathe your cat? If so, we offer 10 best practices for the death-defying art of bathing a cat…and living to tell about it! But, first, you may be asking…

Why oh why would anyone bathe a cat?

It’s true; some cats never need to be bathed. They groom themselves and regular brushing is enough.

However, some cats have bad hygiene despite their natural grooming activities. For example, heavier cats can only clean where they are able to reach, and arthritic cats can have trouble reaching all areas. Those neglected areas can become dirty and irritated, or flakey.

Cats can get into icky things like antifreeze, gasoline or motor oil, leaving their coats greasy or sticky with things they shouldn’t lick. An indoor cat may have issues in the litter box or get into paint or ashes. Every cat is a potential candidate for bathing.

Long-haired cats may not be able to keep up with the grooming requirements of their longer coats. Other cats may need bathing with flea or medicated shampoo, or need medicated baths for ringworm.

Why do cats hate water?

Not all cats hate water. Some domestic cats actually enjoy water, especially those in hot, dry climates. Their big cat relatives in hot climates often enjoy soaking in water. The water is cool and refreshing, so your cat may enjoy soaking in it too. We frequently see cats who enjoy sitting in the sink as cool water drips down on them. Arthritic felines may enjoy a warm-water bath and massage.

In cooler climates, cats may not enjoy the water because it makes them feel cold. It doesn’t help that baths also tend to make them feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

First, Prepare!

Before even considering running a bath, recruit someone to help you. You’re going to need it! Next, gather your supplies. Your hands will be busy, so have everything within easy reach. We recommend thick rubber gloves, a towel, cat shampoo (available at pet stores or your vet), and a cup, pitcher, or gentle spray nozzle for rinsing. We highly recommend a few treats to reward or bribe your cat. Additional options are a rubber tub, cotton balls for cleaning kitty’s ears and perhaps a smaller cloth for cleaning kitty’s face.

Brush your cat before the bath to remove excess hair, tangles and mats. Then dress in long sleeves in case kitty turns into a mountain lion at first hint of water. Ready? Let’s begin.

Our 10-step method for surviving your cat’s bath

  1. Here’s a little secret: help your cat stay calm with Feliway spray or diffuser in the room, or administer a calming natural essence such as Scaredy Cat, or Bach Rescue Remedy. (Is this cheating? No, because everything is fair in bath wars!)
  2. Place a non-skid surface, like a wet towel, on the bottom of the sink or rubber tub you will be bathing your cat in. This will make your cat feel more secure. If you’re using a bathtub, we recommend placing a laundry basket or rubber tub inside the tub to help kitty feel more secure.
  3. Run 2-3 inches of lukewarm water. Make sure the water is finished running before you bring your cat in, or he or she may get scared by the sound.  
  4. Pick up your cat and carry him or her to the bathing area. If you call your cat, then you place them in the bath, they may associate being called with the bath and not come to you next time.

The Nitty Gritty

  1. Getting your cat wet – wet your cat starting at the nape of the neck and working your way to the tail. You can do this with a moveable sprayer or a cup or pitcher. Be careful not to get her head wet–cats especially hate a wet face.
  2. Use cat-specific shampoo – preferably with no smell – and lather your cat from tail to neck.
  3. Rinse with the pitcher, cup or gentle sprayer, being sure NOT to get soap or water on kitty’s face. Don’t forget to rinse those out-of-the-way places, like the belly, under arms, tail and neck.
  4. Use a damp washcloth to gently wipe your cat’s face if needed. You may want to use the cotton balls now to clean kitty’s ears (or wait until they’re out of the water).
  5. Lift your cat into a towel to dry him or her off (or maybe two towels–one when they’re very wet and a second one to finish). Rub your cat to remove as much water as possible and to ensure that kitty will be warm before you let them out. Warmth is important to cats! Use a blow-dryer for long-haired cats, but only if they’re okay with the noise.  
  6. If your cat freaks out – let him or her go. In most cases, don’t force your cat to take a bath. You could get hurt and your cat severely distressed. And please don’t yell at your kitty, no matter how frustrated you will likely get.

Most importantly, prepare for the revenge your cat will be plotting!

OVRS hopes our tips for defying death while bathing your cat are of help. Hopefully, your cat won’t need a bath. If they do, you now have the steps for the most “pleasant” experience possible. If your cat has a medical need for baths and freaks out every time you try, discuss options with your vet.

Or simply drop kitty at your local groomer (or call a mobile groomer) and they will do it all for you.





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