To Bathe Or Not To Bathe Your Cat

kitty in the shower
This kitty is seriously planning your killing

Though bathing your cat may seem like a daunting task, with the proper pampering and preparations, it can be accomplished.

Why even bother? Though cats are vigilant in their grooming, there are circumstances when bathing your cat may be helpful or even a necessity. Steve Arnold, manager at Texas Allbreed Grooming School Inc., explained that for shorthaired cats, bathing removes dander and excess oils, leaving the cat with healthier skin and a beautiful coat. Longhaired cats also receive these benefits, and the pre-bath brushing removes mats and tangles while the bath eliminates foreign matter that can become caught in long fur, explained Arnold.

Be prepared!

Once you’ve convinced yourself that both owner and cat will benefit from a feline bath, preparation is in order. Preparing everything needed for the bath in advance is one of the most important tools Henker uses to help make Winnie’s bath a pleasant experience.

“It’s important to have no surprises that would break the mood,” Henker said. She runs a warm bath in her bathroom sink and ensures that the room temperature is comfortably warm. She uses her fingers to warm the shampoo and gently rubs it into Winnie’s fur as if she is petting her. “By the time she realizes she is covered in soap, she is more than ready to be rinsed off,” Henker explained. She uses a cup to pour water gently over the cat, all the while talking soothingly to her. She then dries her off with a large, fluffy towel. Using this technique, Henker said both she and Winnie enjoy the bathing experience.

Fleas begone! Bathing to eliminate flea infestation is best left to a professional groomer, said Cindy Grimaldi, manager of the grooming department at Creature Comfort Animal Clinic.

“Cats have very sensitive nervous systems and are easily stressed,” Grimaldi noted. She emphasized shampoos and solutions used on cats must be carefully chosen for safety. In some rare cases, Cindy said a cat is tranquilized if it is very tense to help ease the stress. This should only be done professionally.

What’s so bad about water, anyway? It’s obvious cats are clean creatures-they bathe themselves several times a day. So why do they hate water so much?

Catherine Ulibarri, a veterinary professor at Washington State University, theorized that because a cat’s fur acts as insulation from the cold, getting wet means losing this protection, thus threatening their survival. Studies have shown that wild cats living in warm climates actually like the water, but those from cold climates shun it. Experts at the Office of Research and News & Information Services at Washington State University suggest that most domestic cats may be descendants of wild cats from colder climates, and their dislike for anything wet may be an instinctual reflex held over from their ancestors.

An ounce of prevention

Grimaldi also recommended regular and frequent brushing sessions for your cat. “This keeps the fur from matting,” she said, which in turn helps the skin and coat remain cleaner and fresher. Since Grimaldi estimates that only about 50 percent of the cats she grooms handle the bathing process well, anything the owner can do to buy time between baths is beneficial for both the cat and the owner.

Taking the plunge

If you’ve decided a bath for your cat is an activity you both could benefit from, here are some tips to make the experience a pleasant one:

  • If possible, start bathing your cat when it is young. It will become accustomed to the water and will handle the procedure more calmly.
  • Brush your cat well to eliminate any mats or tangles before wetting the fur.
  • Use only shampoos approved for use on cats.
  • Talk in soothing tones to your cat as you bathe it to reassure it that there is no need to panic.
  • A rubber mat or towel in the bottom of the sink or tub provides more secure footing for your cat.
  • Be sure to have both the room and the water at a comfortably warm temperature.
  • Apply the shampoo gradually using stroking motions that mimic petting. Most cats love the attention.
  • Do not attempt to wash the head or face. Since cats breathe through their nose, water running over their face can panic them. If it is necessary to clean their face, use a soft damp cloth to gently wipe it clean.
  • Begin washing at the neck and work towards the cat’s tail. If there are fleas present, this will force them away from the face where they would be less likely to be washed away.
  • Rinse thoroughly by pouring water slowly over the cat, preferably with a cup or other container. Most cats don’t like the sound of a sprayer.
  • Dry your cat’s fur completely. Some cats will tolerate a hair dryer, but most will react best to hand drying with a towel.

Now you have a gorgeous, clean cat and the two of you have shared a bonding experience. Unless of course, the opposite has happened and your cat is looking at you as if you betrayed him in the worst way. In that case, call the groomer for an appointment, and you and your cat can sunbathe instead.


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