By David Tayman, D.V.M.
3:49 PM EDT, September 16, 2013
It really does seem to be true (and not just in cartoons) that most cats are not fond of baths. Cats typically devote considerable daily time and energy to grooming their fur with their barbed tongues, and they generally keep themselves quite clean. Indoor cats -- especially those with shorter hair -- might never need a bath unless their coats become oily or they come in contact with a substance that gets them dirty or sticky.
But if your cat spends time outdoors, has long hair or gets into something messy, then here are some tips for minimizing bath-related stress, for feline and humans alike. The ASPCA suggests clipping your cat’s claws before attempting to give your kitty a bath. (If you’re not sure how to do that, ask a veterinary technician to show you on your next visit to the animal hospital. It’s a useful skill to learn.)
Choose a bath time when your cat is naturally more relaxed, or tire her out with some vigorous play. A sleepy cat may struggle less. Before getting started with water and shampoo, give your cat a good brushing to remove shedding hair, and carefully work through any matted or tangled fur, especially if your cat is long-haired. And put some cotton in your cat’s ears to keep water out.
A cat bath may go more smoothly when it’s a two-person job. Whether you’re using a sink or tub, put a rubber non-skid mat at the bottom before filling it with 3 or 4 inches of water -- and use lukewarm water, never hot. To gently wet down your kitty, you can use a hand-held spray hose if you have one, or simply an unbreakable plastic pitcher or cup. And do keep water out of her eyes, ears and nose. Massage diluted cat shampoo into her coat, rather than human shampoo -- head to tail, keeping soap out of eyes, ears and nose. Once you’ve rinsed with lukewarm water, rinse again to make sure you’ve washed all the shampoo out of her fur, since soap residue can irritate kitty skin. To wash her face, you can use a damp washcloth or a towelette -- and be careful and gentle around eyes and ears.
Dry your cat in a warm, draft-free place by wrapping her in a large soft towel. Some cats don’t mind a blow dryer -- but be sure to use the coolest setting, don’t let the dryer get too close, and keep it moving to avoid inadvertently over-drying her skin. When you’re done, reward your kitty with some of her favorite treats. And it’s not a bad idea to distract her during the bath with a few treats whenever she happens to be calm, or at least not struggling. The more you’re able to make it a positive experience, the less your cat may mind the occasional bath.
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