A wet cat grumpily receiving a bath.

I’ve had nightmares about it. In fact, if I were to be struck dead and sent to my own personal Hell, you would find me listening to Toby Keith while being forced to bathe cats. The only people not laughing at that statement are Toby Keith fans and people that have never had to give a cat a bath. Cats are notoriously bad bathers.

Unlike dogs, cats naturally clean themselves. Or, at least, they’re supposed to. Cats are amazingly flexible, and can reach almost every spot on their body, including their rectums and the tips of their tails. Cats even know to lick their paws and run them over the parts they can’t reach with their tongues, like the backs of their ears. So you’ve got some luck there. Unless your cat is particularly old, has a medical condition or handicap, has gotten into something it shouldn’t lick off (like chemicals or feces), or has very long hair (like a Persian) and can’t manage it, then your cat should be fine without you giving it a bath. However, we’re not all that lucky…especially if the cat is wearing a cone of shame.

Steps to Cleaning a Cat

  1. a shaved catGet rid of mats of cat hair. Sometimes, if your cat is unable to groom herself, mats of hair will develop. These mats are painful and itchy and can cause odor and skin irritation. Remove these gently with a pair of small scissors. Try to cut only a few hairs at a time, around the edges of the mat, so your cat isn’t so uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a little hair-pulling, and your cat will not be happy. Just don’t try to brush out the mats or cut through them. That could be painful to your cat and to you. However, brushing your cat regularly will help prevent these hair mats from happening.
  2. cat brush and pile of hairBrush your cat before, or in lieu of, bathing. Try to choose a time when your cat is particularly calm, such as after a nice nap in the sunshine. If your cat has claws, be sure to be wearing thick and sturdy (and not particularly nice) clothes, such as a jean jacket and long jeans. Place the cat in your lap and try to psych her out by petting her before using the brush. This’ll usually extend brushing time by a minute or two. Using a brush specifically for your cat’s need (long hair, short hair, dander, etc.), gently brush from the nape of the cat’s neck to where the tail starts. Move down to the sides and onto the belly, if you can. This just might negate the need for a full bath.
  3. cat biting a wristPrepare for battle. If you’ve brushed your cat and she’s still smelly and in need of a bath, then you need to prepare yourself. If she has claws, you really need to prepare yourself. Make sure you’re wearing heavy-duty clothing that is as resistant as possible to cat claws. Cover your arms, neck, chest, torso and legs in this clothing. Fill the tub or sink with warm water. Make sure you have rubber matting or something of the like for the cat to grip to on the bottom of the tub. Have towels, bandages, and antibiotic cream available. Make sure the room is closed off, as cats are amazing escape artists. Never give a cat a bath outdoors, as they are sensitive to the elements.
  4. bathing an unhappy catSubmerge to the neck and scrub quickly. The reason “submerge” and “scrub” aren’t two different steps is because these two do tend to blur together. Cats don’t like water and will try to make as quick an escape as possible. You have to try to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Put the cat into the water up to her chest. NEVER fully submerge a cat. When the coat is thoroughly wetted, apply the cat shampoo. Do NOT use people shampoo on your cat. Only use a dog shampoo on cats if the label says it can be safely used for cats. Use shampoo for your cat’s specific grooming needs, such as shedding, dander or itchy skin. Gently work into the coat while avoiding the flying, unsheathed claws and snapping jaws.
  5. rinsing angry catRinse. Leaving cat shampoo on your newly scrubbed cat can cause problems. It can cause irritation of the skin, dryness, itchiness, and sometimes even hair loss. Worse, your cat will most likely try to lick off the remaining cat shampoo, and could get sick. So make sure you rinse your cat all the way down to the skin. There will most likely be yowling, and possibly some scratching, and a lot of wriggling, and you may want to give up at this point, but it’s essential for your cat’s health that she be thoroughly rinsed. Just keep the leather strap between your teeth and bear it.
  6. fat gray catDry thoroughly and beg for forgiveness. After you give your cat a bath, make sure that you dry your cat well. If your cat likes the hairdryer, then you’re lucky. If not, a cotton towel will do. Blot the cat dry and make sure that the cat is protected from the elements. Cats originally came from the desert and can be susceptible to the cold. I would also recommend having a nice little spot for your cat to seek sunshine. From that place, commence your worshipping and begging for forgiveness. Many cats experience “redirected feline anger,” and yes, that means that your cat will remember that bath. And she may be plotting your doom.

Dirty, Dirty Cat

A dirty cat is oftentimes a sick or unhealthy cat. Healthy cats spend hours a day grooming themselves. If your cat has always been a good self-groomer, but has suddenly stopped cleaning herself, you should check with your vet. Many cats suffer from kidney problems or get urinary tract infections. A dirty coat is sometimes the only visible symptom of a cat in pain, or a cat suffering from an unknown medical or dietary condition. Along with regular checkups and bringing your cat to the vet for symptoms of illnesses, always make sure your cat’s litter is clean. A dirty litter box is dangerous for both cats and people. It can spread awful odors, and it can cause respiratory distress in cats, people, and other creatures in the vicinity. Clean kitties are happy kitties.

Cat Grooming Products

package of grooming wipesGrooming Wipes. Earthbath’s All Natural Grooming Wipes are a nice alternative to trying to get a frantic, well-clawed creature into a bathtub. These are the wet wipes of the animal world. Safe to use on both dogs and cats, these wipes can help get rid of dander, get rid of odor, and help make your cat’s coat shiny and fresh. Easy and disposable, these pet wipes are safe to use on both dogs and cats over the age of six weeks. You can order Cat Wipes from Amazon.

Soft Paws. Cats and water frequently don’t mix. Soft Paws can help protect you (and everything else) against cat scratches. A humane, safe, nontoxic, and inexpensive alternative to declawing (or getting clawed up), Soft Paws are vinyl claw caps that can be glued onto your cat’s claws. Invented by a veterinarian, they are highly rated by customers, are fairly easy to apply, and last four to six weeks per application. They also come in super cute colors.

Spray bottle of Cat CoatCat Coat Spray.Dander-Out cat (and dog) spray is another alternative to consider before you give your cat a bath. Composed of naturally occurring enzymes, Dander-Out spray is an earth-friendly, non-toxic, biodegradable product that you can use to help keep your cat clean. This spray will help deodorize your cat and help to get rid of dander and dandruff for your freshest kitty yet.

Bottle of Vet SolutionVet Solution Aloe and Oatmeal Shampoo. As a Sphynx (hairless cat) owner, it can be difficult to find shampoos that aren’t medicated, made to detangle a cat’s coat, or prevent hairballs. Most people who bathe their cats are looking for a specific trait such as this, making it difficult to find just regular cat shampoo. This is what I use. Available at your local vet’s office, this cat shampoo is gentle and effective, and the bottle lasts a long time.

About the Author

Jonathan Hatch Jonathan has been research writing, now, for a majority of his life. He started what is now Saint Paul Media in an web content development course in 2005 and never looked back. These days, you can find him designing websites for nonprofits in the Twin Cities, Minnesota while he learns how to be a new father.

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