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How to Safely Bathe Your Cat

Updated on March 4, 2017
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Cat Bathing 101

Cats spend a good portion of their lives cleaning themselves. While they do a fairly decent job with the outer layer of hair, they cannot successfully reach each layer and remove all dirt. As a result, indoor cats may develop body odors, even if there is only one cat on the premises.

Two cats can do a pretty good job of grooming each other, but they still can’t eliminate all the dirt and odor. The benefit of having two cats is that they are pretty aggressive about keeping each other’s ears clean, and that seems preferable than using a cotton swab and alcohol.

As cool as cats may appear to be, they can get really stressed. Bath time can be very stressful if ends up being a battle between you and your pet. It is important to remain calm and talk softly while bathing your cat. If you get scratched or clawed, do not raise your voice and do not punish your cat. It's your job to ensure this is a safe process with limited stress.

There are several things you can do as prep work before you attempt to put your cat in the bathtub. I prefer a bathtub because I can close the door. If my cat does escape the tub, she is still limited to a single room.

Cat Dander

Some people think they are allergic to cats but they are probably just allergic to the dander that cats produce, and not the species. Cat dander is composed of sebaceous skin gland secretions, saliva and urine that is located on the cat’s hair. Regular brushing will eliminate a large part of dander and the pesky ingredients of the allergen. Caring for your cat through regular grooming, will also help those that suffer from dander.

A common cat health problem for felines with long hair is suffering from hair balls. Hair balls accumulate in the stomach when a cat cleans itself. If the hairball become large, your cat may vomit up the hairball and food. Regular brushing will help ensure good feline health, and keep your carpets cleaner.

My cat really enjoys being brushed, and her favorite brush is soft plastic brush that I purchased from PetSmart for less than $10.00. She will frequently grab the brush between her paws and rub her face against the brush. This is the only brush she has ever really liked and it is very effective in removing loose hair and dander.

Brushing your cat before the bath will help remove dirt and reduce the amount of hair floating in the tub.

It's really not that bad

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Cat Bath Checklist

Cats can be bathed on a regular basis, but not so much that it affects their coat or skin. They may fuss and complain about the process, but deep down I think they appreciate it. As a cat owner, be aware that there are many different types and brands of cat shampoo. Some are very mild and others may leave a residue that irritates your cat’s skin. It is very important that all residue is rinsed off before your cat is dried off. I don't recommend that you skimp on cost for cat shampoo because cheap shampoo may irritate your cats skin.

There are several pre-bath items that should be on a checklist, and each one should be within arm’s reach of the bathtub. These items include towels, cat shampoo, and a large non-glass cup. If you have a friend or family member that can help, it really will save time and frustration. Bathing a cat in the bathtub versus the kitchen sink is by far the better option because it manages the escape area.

Turn off the air conditioner. After the bath and towel drying, your cat will still be quite damp. It's best to leave the AC off until your pet is completely dry so it won't get chilled.

Put a rubber mat in the tub or a large towel in the bottom of the tub so the cat won’t slip and fall. Having solid footing will help your cat stay calm, as opposed to slipping and sliding on a smooth surface.

Keep several thick bath towels on hand. Thick towels will help protect you from being scratched, and will dry your cat more quickly because they absorb a lot of water. You probably won’t be able to dry your cat thoroughly. However, you can help remove most of the water and shorten the drying time.

I have never bathed my cat because:

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My three darlings
My three darlings

Remain Calm

The first step is to nonchalantly fill the tub with 2-3" of water, then turn off the water. Your cat may be suspicious, but act as if what you are doing, has nothing to do with them. Once you have all your items in place, and the water is turned off, it's time to bring in your cat and close the door.

I find it easier to get in the tub with my cat, because I have back issues. Calmly pick up your pet and place it in the water. Most cats don’t mind water, but they can make a big fuss about their dignity. The cat may squirm quite a bit but will be fine. Once the cat is standing in the tub begin to slowly bathe each leg from the toes upward.

Do not dump water on top of your cat because this will frighten it. Continue wetting each leg until the fur is soaked to the skin. Do not get water in the eyes, ears or nose.

If you have a hand-held shower, this is great for saturating your cats fur, and also for rinsing soap residue. Make sure that the water flow is on a gentle setting and not on a pulsing setting. Continue wetting your cat, both under the belly, under the tail and make sure the tail is fully soaked. Use a sponge to get your cats head wet. Do not spray the cat in the face with the shower head. Once your cat is fully soaked, turn off the water.

Keep One Hand On Your Pet At All Times

Put a handful of shampoo on your cats back and begin to massage into the hair. You may need to continue adding product, but ensure that each leg, the belly and tail all get the same amount of attention. The last area to shampoo is the cat’s face. Do not get shampoo in the eyes, ears or nose.

Turn the water back on and make sure the temperature is not too hot or cold. Pull the plug on the drain so the dirt, hair and soap can drain. Begin by rinsing the back, hips and tail first. Once the soap has been rinsed from these areas, move to the cat’s neck and rinse. Continue rinsing each area and make sure that all soap is rinsed from the belly. Save the face for last, and use a sponge dipped in the water to gently clean your cats face.

When your cat is fully rinsed, turn off the water and open the drain. Wrap a thick towel around the cat, starting from the back and gently dry the cat. Many cats will handle the bath better than being dried off. Dry your pet as much as possible and put it on the floor. Leave several dry towels on the floor of the bathroom and allow your cat to walk around. If you can contain the cat in the bathroom while it dries, you will protect it from getting a chill. You will also protect the furniture from getting wet.

Just remember that regular grooming and baths is all part of having a healthy cat, and will provide many years of happiness.

© 2012 Michelle Orelup

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    • lifelovemystery profile image
      Author

      Michelle Orelup 8 months ago from Houston, TX

      I do think that having two cats helps keeps their coat cleaner, because they do clean each other. Elmo is an only cat-child right now, and is on the portly side so a couple of times a year, she she gets a little help from me. Thanks Paula!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 8 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Totally interesting, as well as a big surprise to me. I love cats and have been a Cat Mommy to too many to count over the years. I loved them all dearly but it never once occurred to me to bathe a one of them.

      I suppose had I ever rescued a kitty that had been dragged through the mud and had ratted fur or something really grubby about it, I may have tried to bathe it. Even then, knowing what I know about cats, I may have done a "sponge-bath" type procedure.

      All of my many felines has been pretty feisty and as cats will, have made it crystal clear, they don't do tubs of water! LOL I got myself scratched up often enough just playing with them.

      I know one person who had a really expensive "exotic-type cat" and she took him to a salon, believe it or not. However, the pet groomer sedated the cat. I wasn't too keen on that idea.

      All my cats spent lots of time on their self-grooming and primping. They seemed to look pretty good and of course being cats.....they were quite proud of themselves! Like I said, it's interesting to know that some people do bathe their cats. I doubt I'll ever try it! LOL

    • lifelovemystery profile image
      Author

      Michelle Orelup 8 months ago from Houston, TX

      Don't Taze Me Bro, I am laughing so hard from your comments! A welders helmet would probably be more efficient than a beekeeper mask, but I digress. It is better to introduce kittens to the bathtub so they will learn early that the bathtub isn't a scare place. My cat is currently 16 years old. She complains loudly during a bath, but understands the process and doesn't try to escape. She does give me the cold shoulder for a couple of days, but she's old...so she forgets.

      Cheers!

    • Dont Taze Me Bro profile image

      Banned cause of pissants promisem and deantraylor 8 months ago from TWO OF THE MANY LYING LIB CRYBABIES OF HUB PAGES

      Starting them young is a good idea. Getting in the tub (dressed I hope in thick clothing) with a ten year old cat that has never been bathed is not! :-)

      If I were to try that, first I'd give him all the catnip he wants, put on heavy duty gloves that go over my elbows, wear a beekeepers mask, grasp him behind the neck like a mother cat carries her kittens and have someone else bath him in the tub as you suggested while I hold him in the water.

      Great hub page llm, i'd like to hear from someone who tries your methods.

    • lifelovemystery profile image
      Author

      Michelle Orelup 4 years ago from Houston, TX

      I love the image of wetnosedogs giving a cat a bath. Greatness!

    • lifelovemystery profile image
      Author

      Michelle Orelup 4 years ago from Houston, TX

      Very true. It is much easier if you start bathing them young so that it is less scary. Thanks for voting!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Very interesting. Have never known a cat that liked getting wet. They're often intrigued by soap bubbles, but dislike the water. Expect it would be helpful to get them started bathing as you describe when they're kittens. Voted up and interesting.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      My cat is getting better about being bathed as he gets older. I do close the bathroom door and talk to him constantly while bathing. Thanks for your great hub.

    • lifelovemystery profile image
      Author

      Michelle Orelup 5 years ago from Houston, TX

      Great tips becoming thirty! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. My cat is usually so irritated after the bath that I have never used the blow dryer.

    • becomingthirty profile image

      becomingthirty 5 years ago from Australia

      Hi,

      Great article, interesting topic because some people don't often think of bathing their cats.

      We sometimes bathe our cat Isa with a flea rinse. Because we have done so since he was little, he doesn't mind too much now.

      Some things I have learnt during this process are:

      - if you place something like a towel or mat or blanket underneath your cat it gives them something to sink their claws into and provides them with reassurance

      - our cat prefers if we don't put any water in the sink/bathtub, he doesn't really like to stand in it but he doesn't mind it being gently poured over him with a jug

      - it's always easier with two people (one person to hold/reassure your cat and one to do the washing/shampooing)

      - it's a good idea to use a hair dryer to dry your cat through thoroughly after initially towel drying. This will stop them getting a chill. Isa actually likes the dryer, but remember to have the setting low

      Thanks again for your article, hope my tips are useful for others! :D

    • lifelovemystery profile image
      Author

      Michelle Orelup 5 years ago from Houston, TX

      Thanks for stopping by! It really isn't as traumatic as it may seem. You just have to remember that they are slippery when wet, and constantly looking for a way to escape!

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 5 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      I have 7 cats, and have never had to bathe them. I wouldn't want to try. I like my arms the way they are.