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How to Bathe a Cat that Hates Water

How to Bathe a Cat that Hates Water

Most cats hate water with a passion and are continually cleaning themselves. That said, sometimes they'll need an actual bath. Our vets in Farmington Hills explain the essential steps of bathing your cat - even one that hates water - in this post. 


Do cats need to be bathed?

Because cats are excellent at cleaning themselves, our kitties won't need to be bathed very often. 

A cat's rough tongue is covered with tiny, curved barbs that allow it to spread saliva across your four-legged friend's fur. This ends up being a kind of self-administered mini-spa treatment - each lap spreads healthy natural oils across his coat and skin. These little spines also help detangle your cat's fur, which is why you'll often spot your feline companion licking and biting at clumps of fur - it's his way of ensuring everything is smoothed out. 

However, routine bathing either at home or with our professional pet groomers can help reduce the amount of hair loss and prevent hairballs. 

How often should you bathe a cat?

Kittens and cats are curious creatures who tend to get themselves into mischief every so often. They'll need a bath under certain circumstances, such as if they've ingested something they shouldn't have, whether it's gasoline, antifreeze, paint, motor oil or anything that can get into the fur and prove harmful. These substances will need to be washed off immediately. 

Other cats develop skin conditions that you may be able to soothe with a bath. These conditions include sebhorrhea, a disorder that causes flaky, itchy, red skin. Your veterinarian might also recommend medicated baths for treating other health issues such as severe flea allergies or ringworm. 

Obese or senior cats will often lose the ability to effectively groom themselves and may benefit from regular baths. We recommend bathing long-haired cats about every couple of months to reduce the chance of fur becoming matted. The Sphynx and other hairless breeds will probably need weekly bathing since their oily residue can rub off onto fabrics. 

How do you bathe a cat?

Similar to bathing a baby, you'll want everything you need to be in arm's reach when you're bathing a cat. Have these items at your side:

  • Several towels to help clean and dry him
  • A shower or bath with a handheld showerhead 
  • Special cat shampoo and conditioner

Never use human shampoo or conditioner since it has a different pH level than the kind suitable for cats and may damage your pet's skin or fur. 

Pre-Bath Prep

Before you start you should brush your cat to remove any knots or tangles, particularly if he is a long-furred breed.

Set the water temperature to warm and have it running through the showerhead at a medium level spray.

The Bath

While talking to your cat and offering lots of reassurance and praise, gently place her into the shower tray or bath. Using a showerhead from above is significantly less stressful for your pet as she is far more likely to be used to being rained on than she is being lowered into 4 inches of tepid water!

Hold your cat in place by her scruff, or use a harness if you think she is going to be tricky to control. Begin washing her gently using soft confident strokes. Cats are very intuitive at picking up stress, so if you seem stressed she will be on edge too, and far more likely to lash out or try to make a run for it!

Apply small amounts of shampoo – she’s probably not as dirty as you think she is! Make sure you rinse clean and then repeat with the conditioner. Take care to avoid her eyes and nose.

Drying Off

Once she is clean you should towel-dry your cat as much as possible. Some cats are petrified of hair dryers. If your feline friend isn’t then you could consider trying to dry her using a low heat and speed. You may need to confine her to a carrier in order to do this. Alternatively, you could leave your cat in the warm bathroom until her coat is totally dry. The important thing is to ensure that she is thoroughly dried before going into other parts of the house. Damp cats can easily become chilled which can make them unwell, or in the case of kittens, particularly low body temperatures can be life-threatening.

How to Bathe a Cat That Hates Water

Many an owner has puzzled over the question of how to bathe a cat that hates water, as most cats do. Some cats will tolerate baths, but others simply won't. When a bath is inevitable, staying calm will help you both. Here are a few tips to help ease some stress so your cat is less likely to try to scratch and claw their way to freedom:

  • Stay calm. Since cats tend to pick up on their owner's energy, staying calm yourself may help to keep your cat calm. You may want to use a calming diffuser in the bathroom to mimic pheromones that help a cat know the environment is safe and secure. 
  • Choose a time after she’s eaten or played, as she’ll be more mellow.
  • If possible, trim her nails before the bath, filing the ends as well after they're clipped to dull them.
  • Allow your cat time to get used to the idea of a bath by getting the paws wet, and giving him treats. You may try floating a kitty toy in the water. As your cat gradually gets more comfortable with water, get him more wet. He may also need comfort during his bath.
  • Plan for a short grooming session to make handling her fur much easier.
  • Recruit a friend to help so one of you can hold the cat while the other bathes them.
  • Minimize running water, the sound causes many cats to panic, and the last thing you want is to grab a slippery, sharp cat.
  • Fill a sink or tub with a few inches of warm water and wash only the parts you need to, then rinse thoroughly. Have another side of the sink or tub to wash out all the flea product, shampoo or conditioner. 
  • Use a washcloth around the face and ears.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

It's sometimes necessary to bathe your cat. For advice on making the process easier or to schedule a professional grooming session, contact Angel Animal Hospital

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