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How to Give a Cat a Bath and Survive!

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Sinks are cool places to hang out in.

One would think that any creature that can so beautifully emulate the flow of water would not harbor such a longstanding hatred and fear of it. The fact is, most domestic cats do not enjoy getting wet. Some will even lift their noses at the thought of walking over a damp floor. So, do cats need baths and how do you bathe a cat? Let’s review how to give a cat a bath.

Why Do Most Domestic Cats Hate Water?

A black and white cat clearly not enjoying his bath.

Most domestic cats hate water… but why?! Photography by fotoedu/Thinkstock.

Before looking at how to give a cat a bath, let’s look at why our domestic kitties hate water. In the wild, there are many species of big cats that actually enjoy the water. Tigers and jaguars like to soak in water, most likely because their usual habitat is in a hot environment and it helps keep them cool. Tigers will actually swim in deep water and they have been observed catching fish.

Domestic cats may have evolved to dislike water because most breeds have coats that absorb rather than deflect moisture. It’s harder for them to get dry after they’re soaked.

Do Cats Need Baths?

The next question that comes up when wondering how to give a cat a bath — do cats actually even need baths in the first place? In most cases, a cat would not need to be washed with water. Cats groom themselves naturally, so regular brushing is usually enough to keep your pet looking clean and comfortable.

However, there are occasions when giving a cat a bath is necessary. They may have soiled themselves in the litter box. Cats have been known to try to climb up the inside of a chimney. Perhaps you’ve just adopted a new cat and she’s home from the animal shelter for the first time. Sometimes cats will also need bathing with flea or fungicidal medications.

How to Give a Cat a Bath — Have These Supplies on Hand

The best answer for how to give a cat a bath is to make it quick and efficient. Ensure you have all the necessary supplies handy before you start:

  • Rubber gloves (even the most placid feline may scratch during a bath)
  • Cat shampoo (various brands available at pet stores or supermarkets)*
  • A large pitcher for rinsing or (even better) a gentle spray nozzle
  • A large towel
  • Cotton balls to clean the ears
  • A small cloth to clean the face

*It’s best if you have the time to purchase a shampoo specifically formulated for cats. Virbac is a good brand that many veterinarians recommend, and it comes in medicated, hypoallergenic and antibacterial varieties. If you don’t have any cat shampoo, a mild baby shampoo may be used. You don’t want to use any other kinds of human cleaning products, as it may sting your cat’s eyes or irritate her skin.

How to Give a Cat a Bath — Step by Step

It’s much easier to wash your cat in a kitchen or bathroom sink than bending over a bathtub. The following is a step-by-step procedure for how to give a cat a bath.

  1. Fill the sink with about 2 or 3 inches of lukewarm water.
  2. Wet the cat from the shoulders to the tail and apply shampoo.
  3. Just like your own hair, lather and rinse thoroughly.
  4. Since most cats really hate having water splashed on their face, use a damp washcloth to gently clean your cat’s head.
  5. Use a cotton ball to clean inside the cat’s ears. Never put any kind of object (not even a Q-Tip) in your cat’s ear.
  6. After a thorough rinsing, lift your cat onto a large towel and fold it around her.
  7. Rub as much water from her fur as possible.
  8. Longhaired cats may require the use of a blow dryer, but only if the noise does not terrify them. Set it on low and see if the cat will tolerate it.

What to Do If You Can’t Bathe Your Cat

Still baffled on how to give a cat a bath but think your cat could really benefit from a bath? If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of washing your own cat and want to make sure they hold someone else to blame for the experience, you can choose to bring kitty to a groomer or a pet care clinic or store where they provide grooming services. Costs will range from $20-$50 and will include services such as shampoo and blow dry, trimming, ear cleaning and nail clipping. There are even mobile pet grooming vans in large urban areas now that have a complete grooming facility right inside the van. These services cost a bit more, but they come right to your door.

Thumbnail: Photography by Okssi / Shutterstock.

This piece was originally published in 2009.

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