One of the greatest things about cats (besides the love, purrs, and jellybean toes), is their self-sufficiency. You can go out to dinner without worrying about them destroying your house, and they don’t demand attention or require constant training (ahem, dogs). They’re even pretty good at keeping themselves clean. Most cats are happy to bathe themselves, and you rarely need to do it for them. Occasionally, however, your cat is going to need a bath. And if the thought of giving your cat a bath has you reaching for the Band-Aids and Neosporin, you’ve come to the right place.
It’s old news that water and cats don’t mix. There are some cat breeds, like Maine Coons and Bengals, that actually enjoy a good splash. But most of our feline friends will bring out the claws if you threaten them with a bathtub full of wet stuff. That enmity can make bath time a real struggle for cat moms and dads.
Here’s what you need to know before giving your cat a bath.
Is Giving Your Cat a Bath Really Necessary?
Like we said above, cats are good at bathing themselves. In fact, cats spend anywhere between 15 and 50 percent of their waking hours doing some sort of grooming activity. One of their favorite things to do is sit inches from your head at three in the morning and loudly lick their toes. You can bet that afterwards, those toes are probably cleaner than your floors.
Your healthy, short-haired, indoor cat definitely does not need a bath under regular circumstances. But there are times when a cat can’t handle their personal hygiene on their own. Long-haired cats, like Persians, need regular baths to keep debris from getting stuck in their luxurious locks of hair. Senior cats might also need occasional baths if arthritis or other medical issues affect their ability to groom themselves. Your cat might also need a medicated bath if they have fleas or some kind of skin condition. And last but not least, mischievous cats can land themselves in hot water (or at least lukewarm bath water), when they get into messy situations. There are some messes even a scratchy cat tongue can’t take care of.
Give Your Cat a Bath The Right Way
If you’ve determined that your cat does indeed need a bath, don’t panic. Some cats tolerate forced grooming better than others. Maybe you’re one of the lucky cat people who has a cat that sits patiently in the tub. But if luck isn’t on your side, there’s still hope that you can get through this chore without needing the first-aid kit.
Warm Up to Bath Time
Part of the reason why cats hate baths is because it’s a new and nerve-wracking experience. But if you slowly introduce the concept of bath time, they’ll be less likely to freak out. No matter your cat’s age or how long you’ve had them, start getting them used to the sounds, smells, sights, and feelings of bath time as soon as you can. Encourage them to investigate water in the sink or tub. Let them smell their cat-safe soap, and let a few drops of warm water drip on their fur. Make sure all bath-related experiences happen in a calm environment. And it won’t hurt to reinforce the idea that baths are good by giving your cat a treat after each new experience.
Prepare With a Nail Trimming
It’s a natural instinct for a cat to try and claw their way out of an uncomfortable situation. You can hardly blame them if your skin gets in the way when you’re giving your cat a bath. If you know your cat hates water, it’s best to be prepared for the inevitability that their claws will come out. Trimming their nails ahead of time could make bath time a lot less painful from your perspective.
Pick the Right Time
Your best chance of having a scratch-free bath time is to choose your moment wisely. If you have a young, active cat, wait until your feisty feline has just depleted some of their stored-up energy. Engage them in a rousing game of ‘catch that feather!’ or let them take a spin on their kitty wheel. You want them to be good and tired. If you have an older cat, after they wake up from a nap might be a good time. If they’re not yet fully awake, they’ll be less likely to put up a fight.
Keep Your Emotions in Check
Cats are more perceptive than you think. They feed off your energy. And if you’re a stressed-out ball of nerves, they will be too. Do your best to keep yourself cool, calm, and collected. Lead by example and show your cat that getting a bath is no big deal.
Use the Right Equipment
Before you fill up the tub and grab your cat, make sure you have everything you’ll need. Remember, human shampoo is no good for cats. Make sure you get a shampoo that is specifically made for feline fur. It might also be a good idea to use a harness and leash to keep your cat in the tub. This will go better if your cat is already trained to be on the harness, but either way, it could help you keep control when you have a cranky, wet cat in your hands.
Be Quick and Efficient
The quicker you can give your cat a bath, the better. But at the same time, you want to do a thorough job. Work your way from top to tail while gently massaging shampoo into your cat’s fur. When it comes time to rinse, you might be able to get away with a hand-held faucet attachment, but those things can freak out an already-nervous cat. A plastic pitcher will be the safer bet. If your cat is especially wiggly, you might want to recruit a brave friend to help keep your cat in the bath.
When the suds are rinsed and the water is draining, you have a chance to redeem yourself in the eyes of your cat. Cuddle them up with a nice comfy towel and bring out your tastiest treats. Tell them how wonderful and brave they are, and they will probably forgive you by dinner time.