How to Give a Cat a Bath

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Cats don’t like water. Everyone knows it. They go out of their way to avoid it, except for drinking. If there happens to be a little bit of water on the floor that splashed out of their dish, you can bet your cat will gingerly step around it. Cats DO NOT LIKE WATER. 

Unfortunately, cats sometimes get dirtier than they can take care of themselves with their own grooming. Yes, cats are fastidious cleaners, but they aren’t miracle workers. Through whatever means, be it from outside adventures or getting into the trash inside, cats sometimes simply need a bath. You can usually tell when you need to bathe your cat when he starts smelling bad when you sniff his fur, has debris matted in between the pads of his paws, or visible dirt stuck in his fur.

So, what do you do when your cat needs a bath? He obviously doesn’t want one and will fight you on it. Even the most well behaved, sweetest cat in the world will turn into a maniacal clawing machine when confronted with a sink or bathtub full of water. So, the first thing you need to do is clip your cat’s nails, both front and back. This will minimize your risk of getting scratched during the process.

If you can get another person to help you with this, that would be great, because a partner could hold the cat steady while you wash him. If you can’t get another person to help, you’ll have to hold the cat yourself with one arm while washing with the opposite, free hand. Keep plenty of towels nearby, because things will get wet. At least one towel should be kept well out of the vicinity of the tub or sink so you can use it to dry your cat after cleaning him.

Get out all of your supplies first. You’ll need some cat shampoo from the pet store, your towels, a cup, and a blow dryer if you’re planning on using one (this is optional). Then, fill up the tub or sink with lukewarm water (not too hot or too cold) to a height that is about half as tall as your cat. The water should reach your cat’s middle when the cat is standing.

Gently pick up your cat and place him in the water, holding him steadily in place with one arm (or have a partner do it). His neck and head should be well above the water. With your free hand, fill up the cup with water and pour it over your cat’s back, neck, and tail. His belly and legs should already be wet from being in the water. For now, keep his head dry.

Once he’s all soaked except for his head, squeeze a dollop of the cat shampoo into your hand or directly on the cat’s back, and then begin gently massaging the shampoo into your cat’s fur, gradually soaping up your cat’s entire body, finally scrubbing the top of his head and under his chin, but leaving his face alone. Massage the shampoo deeply into your cat’s fur, all the way down to the skin. This way, you’ll be sure to get all the dirt that may be trapped down in your cat’s undercoat and soothe any skin inflammation.

Once your cat has been soaped and scrubbed, begin rinsing him off by filling up the cup with water and pouring it over him again and again (still keeping his face dry), until the water coming off of him runs clear and his fur feels squeaky and clean, rather than soapy. At this point, you can take him out of the water.

Once the cat is out of the water, grab your drying towel and put him down on it, then wrap him up in it, all except his face, and rub him with it until all the excess water has been absorbed. Some people choose to blow dry their cats after the initial toweling off, and that’s okay, as long as you keep the heat on low and avoid his face. You can also just let him go wander off to find somewhere to lay down and dry off naturally, as long as you make sure he’s confined to only places where he won’t get dirty again until after he is dry. It usually takes several hours for a cat to dry off naturally, as the air needs to get down into the undercoat, but many cats prefer this to the loud noise of the hair dryer.

Once you’ve given your cat a bath, you’ll know how challenging it can be, but as long as you’re firm with the cat, yet gentle, and make sure he stays in place and stays calm (talk gently to him during the bath if you like, as it seems to have a soothing effect on some cats), you can bathe him as often as you need. However, most vets recommend bathing a cat no more than once a month, as bathing too frequently can dry out his skin. You’ll be so much happier with how your cat smells and even looks after a bath. He will be more pleasant to cuddle and his coat will be shiner and more lustrous.

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