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How to Give a Cat a Bath

By: Kitty Angell

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Bathing is an important part of the grooming process for some cats, but many are able to keep themselves quite clean and may never require bathing. For some, bathing keeps the coat clean, reduces parasite infections and can even make life easier on those who are allergic to cats.

For cats whose lives will include frequent baths, start bathing them when they are kittens, or as early in their lives as possible. This will help accustom your cat to the process and reduce fear and anxiety that frequently accompanies an older cat's first bath.

There are many methods recommended for bathing a cat. Some people bathe their cats with just warm water and a safe pet shampoo. Others recommend additional products to make the bath more effective. Here's how to give your cat the ultimate bath:

Items You May Need

To start, here's a list of items you may want to use, all of which are readily available or can be obtained through a groomer's supply catalog or your veterinarian's office:

  • A warm room to work in, preferably with a door you can close
  • A sink with running water or a basin and a water source
  • Towels – for drying
  • Plastic cups - to scoop water for rinsing
  • A bucket
  • Eye ointment - protects the eyes from soap
  • Wetting agent - lets the water soak through the coat more quickly
  • Medicated shampoo - keeps fleas away
  • Regular pet shampoo - cleans coat
  • Tearless baby shampoo - for the cat's head since eyes can be irritated by regular shampoo
  • Conditioner - to make the coat easier to comb
  • Vinegar - to cut through any remaining soap
  • Degreaser - to degrease the coat
  • Q-tips - to clean ears
  • Otic solution - to clean the ears
  • Grooming combs and brushes - to comb out fur before and after washing
  • Blow dryer - to dry fur

    And Now For the Bath

  • Arrange all the necessary items around your sink or basin. Make sure the air temperature is comfortable.

  • Brush the cat's coat thoroughly before the bath to brush out any undercoat.

  • First, hold your cat firmly and apply eye ointment, which you can get from groomer catalogs. This keeps the soap from getting in your cat's sensitive eyes.

  • Fill the sink with tepid water and, if possible, use around three capfuls of a wetting agent like Shaklee's Basic H, which is non-toxic. This substance reduces the surface tension of a liquid, therefore making it easier for the water to soak the coat.

  • Hold the cat firmly with both hands and partly submerge her until the water is around her shoulders. Her fur should be soaked all the way down to the shaft and the hair should start to part. Speak gently to the cat as she may be agitated. Make sure to calm her as much as possible before continuing. It's important that she doesn't view this as an awful experience. If your cat becomes extremely anxious or terrified, do not continue. Towel dry her as best as possible and let her go. If your cat seems to tolerate this first part of bathing, continue to the next step.

  • Drain the sink. Keep the cat in the basin and speak soothingly to her. Hold her firmly so you don't have a wet, irritated cat jumping out of the sink and taking off for the living room. Always maintain a firm hold on the cat and keep an eye on her in case she tried to make a break for it when she feels she's had enough.

  • Start the shampooing using only a mild, tearless shampoo on the cat's head. Put a small amount on a wet washcloth and gently wash around the eyes, mouth, cheeks and forehead. Then rinse the cloth and go over the face to remove the soap. Do not get water in her ears and never pour water over her head.

  • After you wash her head, if your cat has an extremely greasy coat, apply a de-greaser to the body. Fast Orange is a non-toxic de-greaser that can be found in supermarkets. Liberally spread it throughout the coat and then rinse. Don't use it on the head.

  • Next, start shampooing the cat's body (the sink is still empty at this point). Ask your veterinarian or look through pet grooming catalogs to find a shampoo that fits your cat's coat description.

  • Rinsing off the shampoo is extremely important. Fill the sink again with tepid water up to the cat's middle. You may want to remove the cat while filling the sink. Some cats can be quite frightened by nearby running water. Use a cup or dish hose to rinse off the shampoo with clear water. Stay away from the head and eyes. Repeat the rinsing process at least two or three times. If there is still residue, continue rinsing.

  • If the cat's coat needs a conditioner, empty the water out, apply the conditioner and rinse it out as you did for the shampoo.

  • Add a ½ cup of vinegar to two quarts water in a bucket. Scoop the water out with a cup and use it to rinse out the cat's coat. This will remove any traces of soap residue.

  • Rinse one more time with tepid water and drain the sink.

  • While the cat is still in the sink, clean the ears with a soft Q-tip dipped in otic solution, a non-toxic ear-cleaning agent.

  • Next, blot her fur with a dry towel and take her out of the sink and place her on the floor or a counter top. Continue to towel dry her. A single-coated or dense shorthaired cat only needs a good towel-drying and can be placed in a warm bathroom until she is completely dry. A longer haired cat needs to be combed out and blown-dry.

  • The longer the coat, the more important it is to brush out the fur. Use combs and brushes to gently comb out the fur. The conditioner you applied should make this process easier.

  • Dryers are a matter of preference, but it is really useful for longhaired cats. Oster makes a table dryer that many breeders use. A Superduck Dryer is a little less costly and works well. You can buy these in various groomer catalogs.

  • If you use a dryer, dry the upper body by blow-drying backward against the lay of the hair. Work along the sides, forward to the front legs and up the neck. Each section should be totally dry before moving on or the hair will curl. The tail, belly and back legs should be done last because cats tend to have a lower tolerance in these areas. This way, if there is going to be a disagreement, it will come at the end of the grooming session.

    Voila! That fuzzy, greasy kitty is now a well-groomed lovely feline.

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