The general perception is that cats hate water, but in fact, they are natural swimmers. Certain breeds such as Abyssinians and Turkish Vans might even willingly join you in the shower. This misconception probably persists because the average domestic feline isn’t usually exposed to water on a regular basis. For an adult cat who has never been bathed to suddenly find herself in warm water can be very stressful and could even cause her heart rate to spike. However, if you introduce your feline to water from kittenhood, she will learn to tolerate a bath—and may even enjoy it.
It’s a good idea to get everything ready before you bring your cat into the equation. Make sure you have your shampoo and conditioning products open and have at least two towels in place. Special absorbent pet towels are excellent for removing excess water before you wrap your cat in an ordinary towel. If possible, warm your towels in advance by placing them in the dryer.
Remember, you have options. You can bathe your cat in the kitchen sink, in your bathtub or even in the shower stall. It will depend on how tolerant she is. Wherever you decide, be sure to put down a rubber mat or a towel on which she can stand. This will give her traction and make bath time less stressful for her—and for you.
Often, cats don’t like the sound of handheld shower sprays more than the actual water. The best way to deal with this type of hesitant cat is to place her in position and have several buckets of warm water on hand along with a sponge and a cup. The idea is to use the first bucket of water to sponge her before and during the shampooing and conditioning ritual and then to use the second bucket of water and cup to gently pour water over her fur for the final rinse.
Start washing your cat from her neck down to her toes and tail. Massage the bath formula into her fur—she will like that part. Dab shampoo and conditioner onto a cotton ball and work gently around the eyes, nose, ears and under the chin. Some cats might prefer the use of a pet wipe on facial areas.
If you are using any kind of special skin treatment, experts suggest that you apply it twice during a bath for it to effectively treat the condition. Leave the second application on for 5 to 15 minutes (cat permitting, of course) to allow the active ingredients to be properly absorbed.
Rinse the fur well to remove all traces of shampoo and conditioner, especially if you are using the “buckets-of-water” routine. If you are showering the products off, allow the water to run over your cat for at least 5 minutes to enable her skin to be properly hydrated. It’s very important to rinse well because products not designed to be left on the skin and fur can cause irritation. They might also be ingested when your cat takes over her own grooming and starts licking herself after you’ve completed the bath.
Also, never allow water to enter your cat’s ears—fold them over when rinsing. It’s not a good idea to place cotton balls in the ears because you may forget to remove them.
When your cat has been thoroughly rinsed and while she is still in the tub, use an absorbent pet towel to remove excess water. Then scoop her up in a warm, dry, fluffy one for the final toweling.
Longhaired cats should be gently brushed or combed after a bath so that their fur doesn’t mat during the drying process. If you are going to use a hair dryer, make sure that it’s made specifically for pets because those designed for humans are far too hot—and noisy.
No matter how efficient you are and how wonderful the experience is, you will probably still get a look from your cat that implies you didn’t do a proper job, so she is now forced to “clean up” after you.
But that’s just her natural grooming instincts kicking in. It’s what cats do.
About the Author: Sandy Robins is the 2013 winner of the “Excellence in Journalism and Outstanding Contribution to the Pet Industry Award.” Her work appears on many of the country’s leading pet platforms, such as MSNBC.com, MSN.com and TODAYShow.com. She is a regular contributor and columnist in multiple national and international publications, including Cat Fancy, as well as the author of the award-winning books “Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat” and “For The Love of Cats.” Learn more about Sandy on her website or Facebook page. #welovecats