JMcFarland is a current student of comparative religion and history. They are also a cat owner and cat-bathing expert.
How to Bathe a Cat
While cats are typically self-cleaning, semi-regular bathing is still an integral part of maintaining a healthy, happy animal—despite how the bath itself will be viewed by animal and owner. Any cat owner knows how much their feline companion hates the water—despite a few random cats here and there who will willingly jump in the tub with their owners at a moment's notice.
Cats and bathing seem to be mutually exclusive propositions, but there are several tips that can enhance the process and make a chore into a semi-enjoyable experience for both cat and owner. This will lead to health, longevity, and happiness for all.
Before the Bath
Before going anywhere near the tub there are three main tasks that need to be accomplished.
1. Trim the Terrors
Before approaching the bathtub and sink, you'll want to give you and your animal a chance at survival by clipping your cat's claws before going anywhere near running water. Cat claws grow extremely rapidly, and they can easily be wielded as sharp and deadly weapons—especially when the cat figures out that you intend to not only get them wet, but hold them down, pour water ON them, and apply soap.
2. Find a Secure Location
While it may seem ideal to stick your cat in the kitchen sink, the kitchen area is usually an open area with lots of possible escape routes. I choose to bathe my cats in the bathtub in the bathroom, where I can close the door and leave the two of us (perhaps incorrectly) confined in a closed, small space. That way if they do manage to wriggle out of my grasp, they don't have that far to go—and I have a higher chance of recapturing them to complete the process
3. Give Them a Thorough Brushing
You'll want to remove all of the excess fur before dousing your feline pet with water. Cats shed when stressed or under duress, and nothing says duress like a cat + water. Brushing your cat has an added benefit as well—brushing and petting automatically acts as a calming mechanism. It lets your cat know that they are loved, despite your insistence that you're doing this for their own good, they're not going to take you seriously. Bath time allows your typically docile kitty to turn into a screaming lunatic. Brushing can act as a calming agent before the bath—but its effects will only last temporarily.
During the Bath
Now you're ready to dip your kitty in the water.
4. Water Temperature
Unlike their human companions, cats do not find scalding hot water to be particularly relaxing. Instead, you'll want to use lukewarm water that is neither cold or hot. Find a happy medium that will serve the purpose of adequately cleaning the animal as well as avoiding pain or additional discomfort.
5. Use Pet-Specific Products
As tempting as it may be to reach for your own shampoo or conditioner in the bathing process, cat shampoo is designed specifically for your cat. Inappropriate product use can harm your cat by drying out their skin and making their day to day life uncomfortable or even painful. Cat shampoo is created specifically for use on their fur and is not harmful to the tender skin underneath.
6. Apply Water Considerately
When you first introduce water to your stressed and traumatized pet, make sure that you're considerate of their sensitive areas. In other words, don't just dump water over their face willy-nilly. Cats are extremely sensitive around the face, nose, mouth, and ears. Instead of dousing them in this area like you're free to do with the rest of their body, you'll want to use a damp washcloth to ensure that the area is thoroughly cleaned but not completely soaked. When rinsing, make sure that you remove all residue of the shampoo so that it is unable to dry on their skin or coat - dried cleaning product can also dry out the skin and can actually act as a magnet for dust, dirt, and grime—the very thing that you're bathing them to remove in the first place.
7. Keep Them Steady
No one likes to turn their bathtub into a slip and slide, and everyone knows how slippery these surfaces can become. Since your cat is already going to be feeling some serious anxiety from the bath in general, keeping them as calm as possible includes providing them a steady surface to stand on so they don't lose their footing and gain a continual sense of falling. Lay down a towel, washcloth or slip-free mat that can keep their footing stable. They'll thank you for it, despite how it seems in the heat of the moment
Additionally, no matter how hard your cat struggles, wines or cries, continue to remain calm. Talk to your pet in a calm, assuring voice. While it seems to have no effect that the time, remaining calm, and passing on that calmness to your animal will seep through the surface. Tell your cat what you're doing, remind them that this process won't last forever and thank them for doing such a good job while you perform a task that neither of you finds particularly enjoyable.
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After the Bath
Here's what to do after they're all cleaned up.
8. Dry Thoroughly
After the water portion of the day's festivities reaches its natural end, it's not time to simply let them go on a free-for-all flurry to the nearest hiding spot. Remove them from the sink or tub and wrap them up in a clean, dry and comfortable towel. Remove as much of the excess water as possible while simultaneously calming them by rubbing them. Continue to talk calmly to them and reward them vocally for a job well done.
9. Accept Their Behavior
After the bath, don't expect your cat to be the loving, gentle, and snuggling kitten that they are 90% of the time. They're going to be angry at you for subjecting them to such treatment. It comes with the territory. Instead of chasing them around the house to try to force-love them, let them come to you. Additional stress after the fact will only delay the healing process, and subject them to additional anxiety
10. Offer a Reward
Even if your cat won't come anywhere near you for a good portion of the day, leave them a special treat in their bowl. If you catch glimpses of them around the house, talk to them and reward them with your voice. When they do eventually approach you for some attention, let them know that they did a good job and that you're proud of them. The best reward, of course, is some specified loving. Pet them, love on them and let them know that although the process was rough for you both, you both came out on top—and you probably won't have to repeat the process for a good long while to come.
Time to Get Clean
Now that you know how to bathe a cat (without dying), hopefully the ordeal will be easier on both you and your feline friend. Just because this isn't something that either of you particularly wants to do, doesn't mean you can't make it a little enjoyable.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Elizabeth
Elizabeth (author) from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions on March 20, 2014:
Yes, we must not tempt the feline displeasure. Or they'll pee, poop, bite etc.
Marcy J. Miller from Arizona on March 20, 2014:
I am just celebrating my first year of cat-ownership, having always surrounded myself with dogs and every other animal known to humankind -- and I have not yet bathed the kitties. It's amazing what I'll do to not risk their disapproval! Your informative and well-written hub gives me some confidence that I (and the cats-in-charge) will survive the process after all.
Best -- MJ
Lioness on March 20, 2013:
Bath Time. Words to incite fear into any dog or cat owner! I don't have a cat, but my dg detests baths with every fibre of her being. Good Hub!