Since cats generally keep themselves very clean, you should not bathe them any more often than is absolutely necessary. Everyone knows that cats hate getting wet. However, even the cleanest cat will still need a bath every now and then. For those times when your feline does get into something really dirty, gets a flea or tick bombardment, or finds something that is toxic or otherwise harmful, it is a good idea to bathe your cat.
Bathing a cat is difficult enough and will feel like it takes forever, but good preparations beforehand will help make the process go much smoother:
- Decide whether your cat really needs a bath. Cleaning your cat by simply brushing, combing or even rubbing it down with a cloth will be sufficient.
- Wear appropriate clothing; it is important to be safe from any possible scratches, whether minor or major. A jumper or a long-sleeved shirt is a good idea so your cat has no bare skin to scratch. If you don't have a long-sleeve shirt, you could wear long-sleeved gloves. It is also a good idea to wear clothing that isn't new.
- It's best to have two people. If you can enlist a helper, it will make the job easier and take less time. A helper is a good idea especially if your cat is large and rather strong, and could wriggle out of your grasp. One person should hold the forelegs and the cat's jaw so it can't open its mouth to bite you. However, be sure you don't hold the jaw so tight that it brings discomfort to the cat or makes it difficult to breathe.
- Trim all of the cat's nails before even attempting to bathe it. Trimming them will greatly reduce scratches and injuries to you.
- If your cat is long-haired or if it has burrs, comb the fur thoroughly before you put the cat in the water. Gently remove knots and tangles before wetting the fur, otherwise the bathing will be very difficult and may not get your cat's fur completely clean.
- Fill the tub no more than 4 - 5 inches deep with warm water (this depends on the size of the animal), or a little less for a small cat. Try to fill the tub before bringing your cat into the bathroom; the sounds and splashes made by running water can by unnerving for most cats.
- If your cat is especially skittish, you may opt to fill a bucket or two with extra water for rinsing the cat. This extra step works well if you don't want to run more water during the bath, which may frighten or startle your cat.
- Put a rubber mat or cloth towel in the tub so the cat has comfortable and stable footing. Sometimes, a hard, slippery surface is frightening to a cat.
- Have the pet shampoo open and ready for your cat (you may need to go to your veterinarian to get some). If you are budget conscious, you could use baby shampoo, flea shampoo or a mild shampoo and conditioner. Do not use normal shampoo because it may be toxic to your cat. You may also want to have a small wash cloth ready, to help gently scrub your cat's body.
- Pre-treat any oily stains. Cats stained with something greasy may be very difficult to clean with mere shampoo and water alone. A cat smeared with engine or axle grease, motor oil, flypaper goo, or even crisco-based cake frosting can be helped by doing the following:
- Use a low-melting point edible oil such as softened butter, bacon grease, or vegetable oil, and spoon or dribble it directly onto the affected area
- Do not use any water. Massage the fur gently between your fingers until the stain appears to have blended with the oil
- Blot away excess with a dry washcloth
- For severely stained cats, repeat the process to help dilute the foreign substance as much as possible
- Finish by massaging some shampoo directly into the oily patch
Cats don't like the water. However, if you follow the same procedure each time you give it a bath, this will become less traumatic for you both. Eventually your cat may accept this ritual with less resistance, once it feels familiar with it.
- Use a calm, quiet voice while washing your cat, and keep a good grip on the neck or shoulders. Sometimes cats, will try to get out of the tub. If they prefer to have only two of their feet in the water, face them toward the back of the tub and let them stand on two feet.
- Have two towels at hand for drying your cat. The first towel will be used to wrap around the cat immediately (almost swaddling him) to keep it calm, and to remove a good portion of the water. The second towel is to finish drying and rubbing your cat down.
- Soak the cat from the neck down, using a wash cloth. With a little bit of shampoo and water, wash your cat's neck, body, legs, belly and tail. Do not pour water over the cat's head and face. You can take the damp washcloth (before it has shampoo on it) and gently wipe over the face slowly and carefully. Make sure you do not get shampoo in their eyes, nose, mouth, or ears.
- Once the cat is clean, rinse it thoroughly with the water in the tub. Then, drain the tub and rinse two more times with water from the bucket or warm water from the tap. It is essential that you remove all the soap from the coat, as residue may cause skin irritation and discomfort.
- Let the water drip from your cat while gently blotting to remove as much water as you can from the fur before you wrap your cat in the towel. Rub gently with one towel. When the first towel gets too wet to be effective, switch to another dry towel. Don't stop until your cat is barely damp. Try warming the towels in the dryer first, as many cats find this comforting.
- Short-haired cats can finish drying themselves in the bathroom, as long as they're away from drafts. They will appreciate a heat source (space heater or warm air vent) and a dry towel to sit on.
- With long-haired cats, you will have to use a comb and more towels. Long hairs mat more easily when wet, so you may wish to comb the coat until it is completely dry.
Try to make this experience a positive one, and a great opportunity to bond with your cat.