Health Topics

Bath Time

(This article was originally published in the Fall 2008 Issue of Cat Basics and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)

It can be a struggle, but sometimes cats do need baths.

Cats, in general, are well known for their fastidious self-grooming habits. They seem to spend hours licking their coats. Some cats will even groom other pets!

Because they are so conscientious about cleanliness, most indoor cats do not require regular bathing, especially if their owners regularly brush them. But once in a while, it is time for a bath.

Time for a bath?

While outdoor cats can get dirty, they do not usually require a bath. Most often, the only reason to bathe a cat is for medicinal purposes. If your cat is suffering from ringworm, a type of skin fungus or a bacterial skin infection, your veterinarian will often prescribe medicated shampoos.

Bathing Battles

While some cats naturally love water, it takes most cats several days, or sometimes weeks, to be trained to allow bathing. The trick to bathing a cat is to try to minimize the stress he feels. Train your cat slowly and carefully to help decrease anxiety.

Step-by-step training:

  • Start by wetting a soft cloth with warm water and wiping your cat's back with it. This is best done when your cat is in the mood for petting and attention. Cats often change their moods and desires quickly, so always be ready to back away and let your cat relax. Your reflexes should be quick as a cat, so to speak, to prevent being scratched or bitten. Do not force your cat to do something by physical restraint.
  • Once your cat is comfortable receiving spot baths, introduce him to the bathtub or sink. First, gently trim your cat's claws to help minimize damage if they lash out at you. Praise him with food, attention or treats after the nail trim.
  • Line the bottom of the dry sink or tub with a rubber mat or a towel so your cat will feel comfortable and have something to grip on to. Place food treats and toys in the sink and then gently place your cat there, allowing him to jump out if he wants to. Do not turn on the water. Repeat this several times per day.
  • Once your cat is familiar with the tub or sink, you can start the training with water. While your cat is in the sink, slowly fill a pitcher with warm water and pour it slowly over your cat in small amounts at a time to wet his fur. This is a two-person job. It helps to have one person petting and talking to the cat and the other person pouring the water.
  • If your cat is not too anxious, massage a small amount of the shampoo into the cat's wet coat. Keep the shampoo in for the amount of time recommended by your veterinarian. Then, pour fresh water over the cat until the shampoo is washed out. Prevent the water and shampoo from entering your cat's ears and eyes. If your cat's eyes or ears are irritated after the bath, bring him to your veterinarian for an examination. Ensure that the shampoo is rinsed out thoroughly because cats are thorough groomers and will ingest any soap left on the skin.
  • To dry your cat after a bath, use soft towels to get most of the water off and then give him access to a warm, sunny room to dry off. Some cats may also be accepting to gentle, warm blow dryers.
  • Forced-grooming may not be fun for your cat, so always reward him with treats, petting and playtimes when he allows brushing or bathing.