How to Bathe a Cat

posted: 05/15/12
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Make bathtime a relaxing experience for your kitty.
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Cats seem to wash themselves 24/7. In reality, they spend only half their lives grooming. That fastidious cleansing does more than polish their fur; those deposits of saliva on their coats regulate their body temperatures, allowing them to stay cool in the summer and warm during cold winter months. With tongues covered by tiny grippers that remove dead fur and dirt, cats swallow and process the debris, keeping their rituals tidy.

But sometimes they can benefit from a dip in the tub. If your cat smells foul after recovering from an illness, if he's gotten into something sticky or stinky, if he's heavily infested with fleas or suffers from a skin problem, a real bath with specially formulated or medicated shampoo can restore his coat to gleaming perfection.

Baths are stressful for a cat, so trim his claws beforehand to save yourself from any errant scratches while bathing him. Do the manicure several days before the bath, allowing him to calm down before facing the next traumatic aspect of the beautifying experience: detangling. Brush out your cat's coat to tame any long or wild fur at least a day before the bath.

Because cats are wary of water, help him acclimate a day or so before he takes the plunge. Place him in an empty tub or sink to get used to this new space. Some cats will play with a drip or trickle from a faucet, placing a paw under the flow. Run a damp washcloth over your cat's fur and see if he begins to self-groom, which he may do if he feels you're encouraging him to wash. Once he's comfortable in the sink or tub, you can proceed to full bath mode and fill the basin with warm water. If you have a kitten, he'll adapt to the process and may grow up enjoying bath time.

Always play with your cat before bathing, and be sure he's mellow, not nervous or fearful. If bathing your cat is too much for you to handle, or your cat is just too traumatized, a professional groomer is an option. Whether the cat accepts bathing or still dislikes it, he won't associate you with the indignity he endures.  Read on for more tips on what to do if you're going to bathe your cat yourself.

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Before the bath, prepare yourself, donning old clothes, or, if you anticipate a tidal wave, a plastic poncho. Collect all the supplies before alerting the cat, and keep the bathroom door closed to prevent him from escaping while covered in lather. You'll need:

- Feline shampoo (never the human kind, which dries out a cat's skin)

- Large, clean, dry towel

- A no-slip bathmat (for the cat to grip in the tub)

- Small sponge or washcloth

- Faucet spray attachment (or plastic pitcher/cup, for wetting and rinsing)

- Comb or brush

Keep the water temperature warm, never hot, so it is comfortable for your hands and your cat's sensitive skin. Firmly but gently, hold the cat by the scruff (the loose skin around the base of his neck) and, using the hose, cup or washcloth, wet him down.

Start at the top of his head and work toward his tail, adding water until his fur is saturated but not sopping. Moving in the same direction, apply a small amount of diluted shampoo, working up the suds. If you're using a medicated shampoo for a skin condition or fleas, check the directions to see how long to leave it on. Thoroughly rinse, because shampoo residue can irritate him or make him ill if he ingests it while washing himself later on.

By now, your cat will resemble a wet rat! Carefully squeeze excess water from his fur and wrap him in a large towel, fluffing the fur and rubbing him dry. If your cat tolerates a blow dryer, you're lucky. Most hate either the sound or the feel of moving air, but if he's OK, use it on the lowest setting. If not, keep rubbing with the towel to remove most of the moisture. Then comb and air-dry the cat's damp fur, praising and rewarding him with a treat for enduring a bubble bath.

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