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Feline Friday: Cat Baths–Are you INSANE?!


Persian show cats get bathed a LOT!

Tomorrow I get to attend the Westchester Annual Cat Show and schmooze with AMAZING pedigree kitties plus rescue felines needing homes. SQUEEE! The intro of kittens playing in the Ask Amy (below) comes from video taken at last year’s event. And the question for today’s Ask Amy seems quite relevant–cat baths–since show cats get dunked on a routine basis.

Why Bathe Cats?

Lick-and-a-promise Mom-cats who allow themselves to get dingy offer a poor role model and their kittens also will be less fastidious. Illness, poor grooming habits, parasite infestation, or simply getting themselves dingy may require more help than a brush can handle–as with the poor rescue kitty in the video. A bath stimulates the skin and removes excess oil, dander, and shed hair. But bathing too often can dry the skin. As a good rule of “paw” bathe shorthaired cats no oftener than every six weeks; two to three times a year during shedding season should suffice unless Kitty gets really grubby, or is a show cat. Longhaired cats benefit from more frequent baths, and felines appearing in shows learn as kittens to accept baths.

Should you decide to take the plunge–pun intended–your cat should be thoroughly brushed and/or combed ahead of time. All mats must be removed before bathing, because water will just cement mats in place. Be sure to clip claws as well or risk having your clothes and skin shredded as Sheba tries to escape. In fact, to keep your reluctant kitty from figuring out the score and disappearing, perform the brushing routine and claw clipping the day before.

The bath area should be warm and draft free. The bathtub will do, but your knees will thank you for using a waist-high sink. Move all breakables out of reach, and push drapes or shower curtains out of the way or they may spook your cat and end up shredded. For routine cleaning, you only need a simple grooming shampoo labeled specifically for cats. Human baby shampoo or dog products can be too harsh and dry the skin or in some cases prove toxic.

Assemble your shampoo, several towels, and washcloth near the sink or tub, and run warm water (about 102 degrees, or cat body temperature) before you bring in the cat. Some cats like the Turkish Van actually enjoy water, but no cat wants to be forced to do something. Don’t torture Sheba and make her watch your preparations. Instead, save bath time as a (hopefully) pleasant surprise.

Dunking is less stressful than the sprayer.

Cats hate the insecure footing of the slippery surfaces so place a towel or rubber mat in the bottom of your tub or sink. That does wonders for cat confidence and often reduces yowls and struggles by half. Or, try standing the cat on a plastic milk crate, which gives him something to clutch with his paws, while allowing you to rinse him on top and underneath without turning him upside down.

Wear old clothes. Expect to get wet. Seren clutches my shirt, pressing her face to me as I wet and soap the rest of her. She makes sure I get as wet as she does. Also, close the door to the bathing area, or you risk having a soapy cat escape and leave suds and a wet cat print trail throughout your spanking-clean house.

For small cats or kittens, the bucket method of bathing often works best. Use the double sink in the kitchen, two or more large roasting pans, or a couple of buckets or wastebaskets set in the bathtub. Fill each with warm water, then gently lower your cat (one hand supporting her bottom, the other beneath the chest) into the first container to get her wet.

Cruel and unusual punishment?

Don’t dunk Sheba’s face or splash water on her; that’s what gets cats upset. Let your kitty stand on her hind legs and clutch the edge of the container as you thoroughly wet the fur. Then lift her out onto one of your towels, and apply the shampoo, using the washcloth to clean her face. After lathering, dip the cat back into the first container to rinse. Get as much soap off as possible before removing and sluice off excess water before rinsing in subsequent containers of clean water.

Adult cats may object to being dunked, and running water can be scary. Instead, you can use a ladle to dip water. If you have a spray nozzle from the sink, use a low force, with the nozzle close to the fur so kitty doesn’t see the spray. Use the washrag to wet, soap and rinse the face area. Keep one hand on the cat at all times to prevent escapes. Rinse beginning at the neck and down Sheba’s back; don’t neglect beneath the tail or tummy. When the water finally runs clear and you know she’s clean, rinse once more just to be sure. Don’t forget to remove the cotton from the cat’s ears.

Don't let the cat catch a chill!

Wrap the squeaky-clean cat in a dry towel. Shorthaired cats dry quickly, but longhaired felines may need two or more towels to blot away most of the water. If your cat tolerates or enjoys the blow dryer, use only the lowest setting to avoid burning the cat. Combing long fur as you blow dry will give “oomph” to the longhaired coat.

Do you bathe your cats? What does he think of it? What are some tips for keeping the blood-letting to a minimum (yours, not the cats!).


This month as a special “thank you” to all my furry-fantastic-followers, I’ll give away a paw-tographed copy of Complete Care for Your Aging Cat and Complete Care for Your Aging Dog. To get in the running, simply post a comment in the blog about your special pet (old fogey or not) and I’ll draw two names at the end of the month. You can use these award-winning updated books as a resource for yourself or wrap up for a pet-friendly holiday gift to a fur-loving friend. And as an EXTRA-special incentive–and to encourage all of y’all to mentor each other and spread the blogging/twitter/Facebook love–the two winners get to name one purr-son who gives them wags of support and deserves a book, too!

#AskAmy Sweet Tweets

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter @amyshojai and @About_Puppies are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting. We’ve become a great community including those in the #MyWANA social network twibe hosted by the awesome @KristenLambTX.  So I’m stealing borrowing Kristen’s methods and creating my own hashtag. Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

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About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

11 responses »

  1. I HAVE bathed our cats when necessary and I have the scars to prove it. Our current kitty likes a cool bathcloth rubdown. (He was a feral stray who wanted to be indoors & is and he grooms himself meticulously.)

  2. Brenda, there are good alternatives now to dunking the cat. *s* Even “dry” shampoos.

  3. I’ve got the scars, too. I like the suggestions you give and want to try them. They’re purrfectly reasonable and make sense. I’m going to try and get a crate for them to stand in and put a towel in there for them to stand on. Anything to avoid the ‘battle’ wounds.

    • Yes, that crate thing works very well! And then this weekend (at the Cat Writers con) I heard from a woman who bathed her cat while they BOTH took a shower! Just offering that option. *s*

  4. Poor old Ginger (18 years old we think) has bad dandruff on her back and near her tail. We’ve tried cat dandruff shampoo and none of it seems to work. All we can do is Furminate her every couple of days.

    She can’t groom herself properly, the best the poor old thing can do is lean against the wall to get her belly, she can’t get her back.

    Bring out the Furminator and she purrs like a phaser on overload.


  5. Pingback: Blog Treasures 11-19 « Gene Lempp's Blog

  6. We have a old cat Kirby around 18 yrs old. We bathe him in a heated bathroom where he loves it. A month ago a stray cat came up. We’ve adopted her and name is Lola. Bathed her the same way and she was sweet.

  7. I have a cat who I need to shave. Any tips there?

    • Shaving a cat, unless you’ve done it before, can be tricky especially if the cat has never had this done. Electric clippers do the job well and you don’t run the risk of nipping the kitty skin–it’s VERY thin and nick-able. Very likely you’ll need an extra pair of hands to do the job. A pillow case that you put the cat inside can help contain those claws and teeth, and then just expose a small portion of the cat at a time to clip the fur. I wouldn’t even try to go down to the skin–leave a quarter inch or so of fur to further reduce risk of injury. A pro-groomer or the vet can do the job very quickly well. *s* Good luck!


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