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To Bathe or not to Bathe.

Bathing a cat is far from straightforward. With some exceptions, cats do not like water and vigorously object to being bathed in it. So, given that the cat will probably hate it and you wonít enjoy it much either, the question is - why bathe a cat in the first place? Is it really necessary, and if so, how should this be done, and how often?

While many people have the idea that cats need regular baths, the truth is that most cats are quite capable of keeping themselves clean. A healthy cat which grooms regularly is pretty clean to start with and with long-haired breeds all that is needed is generally help from a human by keeping the coat brushed.

So it is quite possible for a cat to lead a healthy (and more stress-free) life without ever needing to be dunked in a bathful of suds. That said, there are times when there is no option but to give your cat a bath. For example some skin problems or a tick or flea infestation might make a bath necessary. Likewise if the cat has walked into something particularly dirty or smelly. For example with an oil spill, a bath will be necessary as it would be dangerous for the cat to groom the oil off herself, since cats swallow some of the hair they are grooming.

Before we discuss bathing your cat at home for the first time, you might consider some of the other options. If you are considering bathing your cat at home for the second time, it is almost certain that you will have already considered these options and reluctantly had to rule them out for one reason or another.

  • Try a professional cat grooming service.
  • Use a dry shampoo

If either of these options seems too expensive, remember that aggravation and the (hopefully temporary) severing of diplomatic relations between you and your cat also costs, even if not in money.

  • See if a good rub-down with a wet cloth might do the trick.

If there seems no alternative, and you have to bite the bullet and bathe your cat at home here are a few survival strategies to make the process less stressful for human and feline alike:

  1. Brush the cat beforehand. You will have to brush the cat after the bath to get all the tangles out, and this job is easier if the cat had been pre-brushed just before the bath while the two of you were still on speaking terms.
  2. Use warm water. Remember that cats have a much smaller body volume to skin area than an adult human and what feels lukewarm to you might bring your cat close to hyperthermia. If you are unsure of the right temperature, check with someone who regularly bathes a baby.
  3. You might consider getting the catís claws clipped, assuming you can do the job safely or can get a professional to do it. Remember that many cats consider a bath as an attempt to drown them, and will resist bitterly. You might have a cat that goes passively to her doom, but many others will fight literally tooth and nail to avoid their fate.
  4. Donít try to do this single-handed. Thereís a joke that it takes three people - one to hold the cat, one to bathe the cat, and one to call the emergency services. Person three may not be required, but the other two are a good idea.
  5. Choose clothes that you donít mind getting wet or shredded. Remember that a hysterical cat may lose bladder or bowel control or both, and factor this into your clothing choice.
  6. The best places to bathe a cat are a bath with a shower head or an upright shower. Put a rubber mat or an old towel in the bath. When cats are uncomfortable or scared, they like to dig their claws firmly into something, and you do not want to be the only available option.
  7. Always try to keep the cat as calm as possible. Talk soothingly, and be gentle. Whatever the provocation, donít get upset or handle the cat roughly. You will just make a bad situation worse.
  8. Start by putting warm water on the cat to wet her fur. At this point you will get some idea how rough a ride this is going to be. This is the last moment to pull back. Once you have added shampoo, you have to see the thing through until the end.
  9. Use cat shampoo, not your own brand. Catís skin pH (thatís the natural acidity) differs from that of humans, and even baby shampoos will dry out the natural oils protecting the catís skin. If you are not sure what shampoo to get, ask your vet. He will be able to advise you or even get one for you. Be careful not to get the shampoo anywhere near the catís face.
  10. Rub the shampoo in gently but firmly. If you are bathing the cat because of skin problems, avoid causing further pain or damage. Rinse well afterward, remembering to use water of the right temperature.
  11. Lay on towels prepared beforehand to wrap the cat up, and dry her as well as possible. Some cats will get agitated by the noise if you try to use a hairdryer. Others will tolerate or even like it (you might try getting your cat used to this before the actual bath - cats prefer familiar things). If you do use a hairdryer avoid directing air at the catís face or head and remember to set the dryer on cool rather than a hot setting.
  12. Brush the cat carefully after her wash. Wet or semi-dried hair is probably easier to brush than fully dry hair.
  13. After the bath, the cat will probably want to run and hide from you. Make sure the hiding place is dry and warm. Cats can get cold very quickly after a bath and even an apparently well-dried cat might still get a chill. You might consider having a hot-water bottle pre-warm her usual sulking spot.
  14. Have her favourite treats handy to get her back on your side. Bribery works on cats.

We would recommend watching a few videos on how to bathe a cat before you decide to do it yourself. Thereís an example here and plenty of others can be found on websites such as youTube. But remember that your cat is unlikely to be as co-operative as the kitties on those videos.

Remember also that most animal health experts advise that the average cat generally would - at most - need to be bathed once or twice in her life. Some cats and humans would advise that once is one time too many.


The information supplied here is intended as a guideline only.

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