How to Bathe a Cat, and Live to Tell About It!


By Julia Williams

Do cats even need baths? Yes and no. For the most part, cats are remarkably self cleaning. However, there are times when you might want to give your cat a bath. Cats that are allowed outside can get things like motor oil and grease on them, and should be bathed immediately so they don’t ingest these toxic substances.

Bathing a cat can help with flea infestations, provided you use other flea control methods too. Some cats are highly sensitive to flea bites, and a single flea can cause extreme itching, scratching and skin irritations. One of mine is, and to combat this I bathe him with an herbal flea shampoo with oatmeal and aloe, which does help.

Most cats loathe getting wet, which makes giving them a bath somewhat problematic. They can turn into screeching beasts that bite and claw wildly in a frantic attempt to get out of the water. If possible, have someone help you. When bathing a cat, four hands are better than two if you want kitty to stay put until you’re done instead of dashing for the bedroom closet.

Although I’ve seen videos of cats who sit calmly and unrestrained while getting a bath, most felines are quite the opposite. For those cats, here’s how to make this experience less traumatic for both of you.

Gather Your Supplies

Prior to bathing your cat, you’ll want to obtain:

● Cat shampoo (human shampoo and soap are too harsh for a cat’s skin).
● Ophthalmic ointment, to keep the shampoo from irritating their eyes.
● Rubber anti-slip mat, to keep your cat from sliding around in the sink.
● Grooming comb or brush; cotton balls
● Large unbreakable cup for scooping water
● Soft towel and (optional) blow drier

Before the Bath

Groom your cat to remove any mats and loose fur, and be sure to brush out the thick undercoat of long-haired cats. This is also a good time to check for any lumps, sores or other skin problems. The most crucial pre-bath procedure, however, is clipping your cat’s nails. I don’t recommend ever skipping this step, because there’s a very good chance your skin will be shredded by sharp claws if you do.

Next, assemble the supplies next to your chosen bathing area. I use my kitchen sink because it’s large and at a good height. Make sure the air temperature is comfortably warm and that your cat will also have a warm place to dry after the bath.

Just prior to the bath, place cotton balls in your cat’s ears and apply the eye ointment. Mix a small amount of the cat shampoo in some warm water; this will help you lather up your cat, and isn’t as shocking as cold shampoo.

During the Bath

Fill the sink with lukewarm water – three or four inches should suffice. Hold your cat firmly with both hands and gently lower them into the water. It may help to speak soothing words to your cat, who probably won’t appreciate being put into the water and may try to kick, bite and scratch her way out of the sink. If this happens, try to stay as calm as possible, because your cat will pick up on your anxiety, which will only make the situation worse.

Using the large cup, pour lukewarm water over your cat from the neck down. Cats generally dislike sprays, so I don’t recommend using the sink’s sprayer attachment to wet them down. Next, pour the diluted shampoo over them and gently lather up their back, neck, legs, tail and belly. If needed, a dab of shampoo on a wet washcloth can be used to gently clean their face. Rinse the cloth well and use it to remove soap residue. Be careful not to get shampoo in their eyes, nose, mouth or ears, and never pour water over your cat’s head.

Rinsing thoroughly to remove all traces of soap residue is a vital step in giving a cat a bath. I usually drain the sink and pour lukewarm water over my cat using my large cup, at least five or six times. The longer the hair, the more you will need to rinse.

After the Bath

Wrap your cat in a dry towel and blot their fur. You might want to warm the towel in the dryer first, to make it more soothing. Short-haired cats can get by with a good towel drying, provided they have a nice warm spot to retreat to until fully dry. Long-haired cats should really be completely dried and brushed before being let loose. A low-noise blowdrier with a low-heat setting is useful for finishing the drying process, although many cats find it too frightening.

Because you probably won’t need to give your cat a bath very often, they may never get used to it, and likely won’t enjoy it. But if you follow these suggestions for how to bathe a cat, both of you should be able to survive the experience relatively unscathed!

Photo courtesy of Gayle Lindgren

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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