Written by Julia Woodbury (last updated December 19, 2022)
So it's time to wash your cat. What do you do? The best answer is to not tell your cat. If it catches on that you're about to give it a nice, wet rub-down, it might decide to be scarce for a couple of days. Taking a few preparatory steps will make the whole experience run more smoothly.
First, collect your tools. Once your cat is in the water, it won't sit and calmly soak while you find shampoo or search for towels. Here are some items that you should prepare and have at hand:
Second, prepare your cleaning space. Choose a room that is enclosed; there is nothing worse than trying to hunt down an escaped, half-washed cat. A bathroom will probably be your best choice. If you can, use a bathtub. It is a fact that you will get about as wet as your cat. If you work in a bathtub, you can sit on the edge and hold your cat in your lap while you work, giving you more control over the situation. Fill your tub or sink in advance with warm water, this will prevent your cat from getting agitated by the sound of running water. Don't let the water get to deep, you don't want to risk the chance of your pet slipping all the way under the surface.
Third, go find your cat. If you've done your job right, your cat will never even suspect what is coming. It may be helpful to keep track of the times in the day when your cat is the most sleepy and lethargic (usually after eating). A relaxed cat will be easier to work with. Before bringing your cat to the washing station, give its coat a good brushing. This will remove dirt, burrs, and extra hair that could cause matting once your cat gets wet. It also helps to put your cat in a good mood.
Now you are ready for the actual bath. You should already be in your protective clothes and you should have already placed the shampoo and towels close to your prefilled tub or sink. Take your cat to the wash station and close the door. Let the cat stand in the water or, if you're using a tub, hold it in your lap. Maintain a gentle but firm hold on your cat and, using your hand or a cup, begin pouring water over your cat's coat. Take time to rub in the water and reassure your cat—this will be its least favorite part.
Once the fur is wet enough, work in a small amount of shampoo. Pet shampoos or baby shampoos are gentle enough to use on your cat, just be sure to use something that will not be harmful if it does happen to be ingested by your pet. Use the same pouring method to rinse your cat. Make sure that your rinsing is thorough. Residue shampoo will irritate your cat's skin and will be ingested when your cat licks its fur.
When your cat is fully rinsed, take it out of the water and gently towel it dry.
Extra pointers: There is never a need to submerge your cat, especially its head. Getting water into your cat's ears could cause infection. Rather than trying to pour water over your cat's face, try daubing it with a wet washcloth. This could be done separately rather than right after a bath, since at that point your cat will be pretty annoyed with you.
Start giving your cat baths when it is a kitten. If your fuzzy friend can learn to like baths early in life, you won't find yourself struggling with a fully grown feline later.
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