How to Bathe a Cat
We all know that aquaphobia+claws+teeth=injury. But sometimes, one simply needs to bathe a cat. If your cats are anything like mine, they don't like water, and they particularly don't like being forced into it. If you are anything like me, you also don't have a couple hundred bucks to pay someone else to wash the cat. This article discusses various tips on what has, and has not, been successful for me, through the (terrorizing) process of trial-and-error. This method is completely drug-free, safe, and effective. Hopefully I can save you, the reader, from any future injury and blood loss that may occur while attempting to bathe a cat.
It is very important that you purchase shampoo specifically meant for cats. Cats are much more sensitive to product then we, as humans are. Have you ever gotten soap in your eyes? It HURTS. Bear in mind that kitty will not be aware of the need to avoid soap suds in the eyes, and a painful stinging eye will only make the cat more nervous (nervous meaning scared and vengeful). Your cat's skin is also much more sensitive than yours, and may have an adverse reaction to all the chemicals. Cats, like dogs and other furry mammals, do not sweat. Their skin does not produce nearly as much oils as ours does, and is prone to dry out if using a rough, oil-removing soap, such as human shampoo. Also, cat's noses are much more sensitive than ours are, and thus your kitty may not like your shampoo. Cat shampoo is specifically catered to kitty's needs, and is proven to be safe. I use shampoo for cats, not only because it's safe for cats, but also because it safely kills unwanted (and possibly unknown) parasites that I do not want in my home. Cat shampoo is fairly expensive compared to human shampoo, but bear in mind you will likely not use it more than once or twice a year. Sergeant's Skip-Flea
Leather Work Gloves
If your cat is anything like mine, water+cat=maniac. When fear overcomes a cat, those animal instincts kick in, and before you know it, you have a few new holes in your hand! Take some precautionary measures and invest in some thick leather gloves: I'm talking work gloves; the kind of gloves that welders and mechanics use. You can find these at a hardware store, or . I have a pair of pigskin leather work gloves, because pigskin leather is washable (thus safe to use in a kitty bath), and they also come cheap (so I don't have to feel too bad about ruining my gloves, if, and when, my cat finally figures out how to destroy them). purchase them from Amazon.com
Kitty Nail Trimmer
If your cat is not de-clawed, I highly recommend you purchase a kitty nail trimmer. These are ideal to human nail clippers, because human nail clippers tend to split the claw up the middle like brittle wood. Fingernails and claws are incredibly different; the most obvious of difference is that fingernails are flat, and claws are tubular.Human nail clippers are designed for flat nails, and cat/dog nail clippers are designed for round nails. Have you ever split a nail before? It HURTS. Don't risk any pain to your cat, especially if you want to get anywhere within grabbing distance of your cat anytime soon. I recommend you trim your cat's nails the day before the bath, so they are not already mad at you when it comes time to bathe. If your cat is anything like mine, an angry cat is an unobtainable cat.
From experience, my cat freaks out way more when I try to place him in a huge bathtub than he does when I set him in a small plastic basin, or sink. I personally use the kitchen sink. Small plastic wash basins work, as well. Buy two as you will need a wash basin, and rinse basin. No matter the method, always know that it is much easier to get a cat in a dry basin then to get a cat in a wet basin. Cat first, water second.
If you don't have a spray-hose for your sink, have a bucket of clean, warm water to rinse your kitty's fur with.
Towel You Don't Care About
Unless you want wet cat dripping all over everything, I highly recommend you get a big (person-sized) towel to wrap your cat in after the bath. Have this ready, and unfolded, right next to the basin/sink before starting anything. You will be using this towel to quickly place your cat on, and wrap up snugly with no exposed limbs. Think of swaddling a baby; this is the same concept. Make sure it's a towel you don't care about, as angry wet cats are prone to ripping not only skin, but anything else you choose to put on them, towels included. The chances are, your cat will figure out how to escape from the towel within three minutes, even with you holding him/her. At least your kitty won't be soaking wet by then.
Pretty self-explanatory, but an extra pair of hands is always handy (haha). Especially when it comes to locating a suspicious cat, or getting a wet cat into a towel.
Reasons to Bathe Your Cat
Bathing may not always be necessary. Given the known fact that bathing a cat is not fun, safe, or enjoyable, avoiding a bath at all costs is a pretty obvious course of action. Both you and kitty will be a lot less stressed without a bath.
Fleas, fleas, fleas. Ick: I cringe just thinking of the time my cats got fleas. It was awful. I gave them many baths, and found many dead fleas in the sink. Gross, I know, but dead fleas are much more desirable than living ones. Even with flea regiments out there, bathing is still a great way to kill the vast majority of adult fleas living on your cat's body. A bath should be a priority at this point. Also, this is important: If you are using a flea regimen, bathe your cat BEFORE you administer it. Re-administer it after every bath. The bath will just wash it off. Since flea regimens usually come in three steps every 30 days, I would bathe them every 30 days before re-administering the regimen. Also, make sure your kitty is relatively dry before administering it, too.
Skunks. Yuck. If your cat got hit by a skunk, be warned: This may take multiple baths to remove the smell. But put that first bath on the top of your priority list, before all the upholstered furniture in your home starts marinating in skunk smell...
Stinky butt.Have you ever had a cat that didn't groom his/her butt after using the litter box? I have. And let me tell you, nothing encourages a cat to lick its butt more than scrubbing its butt in a basin full of soap and suds. Does your cat smell BAD? Probably could use a bath.
Dirt isn't always dirty: Oftentimes, cats will roll around in dry, powdery dirt. This is a natural method of cleaning the oils out of their skin and fur, and is pretty much the natural alternative powder baths (see "Bathing Alternatives" below). No need for a bath, just vacuum the carpet after they shake it off.
If the goal is to make your cat clean and pretty, then a full-fledged dunk in soapy water may not be necessary. Here are some alternatives I like to use:
Sergeant's makes a flea powder bath which I use, and there are also many other pet-friendly powder bath products to choose from. A powder bath is very easy to do: Just add powder to your hands, and begin working into kitty's fur. Chances are, your cat will just think he/she is getting an awesome belly rub complete with pets, love, and attention. Then, give your cat a brush to work the powder through his/her fur. When finished, your cat will shake the powder off by walking, or you can pet him/her "backwards" to remove the powder. Whatever you use, make sure it's safe to eat. As cats groom themselves, ask yourself; would this be toxic if ingested? I strongly encourage sticking to pet-only powders just to be safe, but if you use baby powder, do not use talc-based powder. Talc is a rock. Do you want your cat to eat rocks?
A warm soapy rag with cat shampoo, followed by a warm soapy rag with just water to remove the soap, is a perfect cat-friendly bath. To a cat, a warm rag is reminiscent of mother's grooming tongue. Chances are, your cat will sit this one through with little protest. Wetting your cat with a rag is also easier than wetting your cat with a spray bottle, because the spraying sound is reminiscent of a cat's "hisssssss..." Many flea regiments also come packaged similarly to baby wipes, too.
When to Bathe Your Cat
The most successful baths I have administered to cats have been when the cat has been relaxed to begin with. These are carefully thought out, planned-ahead moments throughout the day. Your cat will be most relaxed if one or more of the following scenarios are true:
- Your cat is sleeping.
- Your cat has eaten within the past two hours.
- You have not annoyed your cat recently (see "Kitty Nail Trimmer" above).
- There have been no new people or animals in the home, recently.
- Your cat is not curious about the bath supplies you are setting up.
Step-by-Step Guide to Bathing your Cat
- Set up the bath area: Lay the towel down right next to the basin, get the gloves, get the soap, plug the drain, and everything. I even squirt a little shampoo in the basin.
- Wait 10 minutes: Chances are, your cat has become curious. He/she will probably wander off shortly after everything has been sniffed and rubbed. If you have done this before, you may need to wait longer, as cats are very good at remembering unpleasant experiences.
- Heat up the water: Turn on the sink and run the water until it gets warm, adjusting it to a warm-feeling temperature. When you found a pleasant temperature, make it slightly cooler, because kitty's skin is much more sensitive and thinner than ours.
- Turn the water off.
- Get gloves: Put on your thick leather work gloves; it's time.
- Get cat: Hold kitty firmly with two hands, one grasping the scruff, and the other under his/her belly. Slowly lower kitty into basin.
- Keep one hand firmly on the scruff at all times, else you will get a mess!
- Turn on water: SLOWLY turn on the water, at its lowest, trickling setting. It should already be at a comfortable temperature for kitty.
- Soak Cat: As the basin is filling up, use your free hand to gently splash water onto your cat, working it into its fur until its fully saturated. This is a very important process, as the outer layer of the fur repels water from penetrating the soft, down-like fur underneath. I have a long-haired cat, and I have yet to successfully get her out of a bath and not find at least one dry spot of fur on her.
- Lather: Just like your shampoo, work the soap into your kitty's fur by rubbing gently; I like to go in a circular motion with my thumbs.
- Drain basin: If you are using a sink, pull the drain. If you are using a plastic wash basin, slowly and carefully relocate your cat to the empty one.
- Rinse: Spray hoses on kitchen sinks are very handy, and pretty self-explanatory. Be sure not to spray in kitty's eyes. If you are using a bucket of clean water, slowly pour (or scoop) water onto the cat, employing the same lathering motion as when soaping the fur. This takes a while, and it is nearly impossible to rid the fur of all soap; this is why cat shampoo is important, because it's not toxic for them if they end up licking it.
- Swaddle in Towel: Quickly relocate kitty to the already-unfolded towel, and swaddle him/her firmly in the towel until dampness soaks through (and it does, and it's and the towel will be soaking wet). Your kitty will likely be as stiff as a log until you let go.
- Place the kitty, in the towel, on the floor. Let your cat work his/her own way out of the towel... Best not to cross paths him/her for the next 48 hours.
- Clean up: As your cat is sulking, hiding, and grooming, this is a better time than ever to clean up the huge mess that probably occurred!
Best of luck to you!
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.