Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a little 6-month-old kitten. I found him outside under my car and he was just too cute to turn into the humane society. My husband and I took him to the vet, where we learned that he suffered from numerous infections and parasites. One of the treatments is a medicated bath every other day. Whenever I go to give him a bath I walk out scratched from head to toe. It now takes two people to give him a bath and he has to have a leash on in order for no one to get hurt. Why do cats not like water and how can I train him to be comfortable in water?
~ Dreading bath time
Siouxsie: Well, Dreading, we can assure you that your sweet kitten is dreading bath time at least as much as you are! But we have found some tips and tricks for making this necessary evil easier for both you and your new baby.
Thomas: Before you even think about bathing him, be sure to trim your kitten’s claws. This will make it easier for you to survive baths without looking like you got into a fight with Edward Scissorhands. Check out this video for a quick tutorial on trimming your cat’s nails.
Dahlia: If you find out that your kitten hates having his claws trimmed, like me, just do one or two claws at a time until you’re finished. If he has long hair, give him a brushing first in order to get rid of any mats.Siouxsie: The best place to bathe your kitten is in the sink. It’s easier on your back and less traumatic for your cat. If your kitchen sink has a sprayer, that will be really helpful. If you don’t have a sprayer, use a shampoo spray head attachment that slips over your faucet.
Thomas: Alternately, have a plastic cup on hand to pour water over your kitten.
Dahlia: Before bathing your kitten, make sure you’ve got everything ready. Put a rubber bath mat in the bottom of the sink or tub so he’s got something to grab onto (other than your skin, that is). Have the shampoo nearby, and open, as well as a baby washcloth and several towels.
Siouxsie: Gently put a cotton ball (or half a cotton ball) in each of your kitten’s ears to keep water out, and put a drop of mineral oil or artificial tears ointment in each eye to reduce the burning sensation if the shampoo gets in his eyes.
Thomas: Fill the sink about 4 inches (10 cm) deep for adult cats or three inches (7-8 cm) deep for kittens with warm water. Test the water temperature on your inner forearm to be sure it’s not too hot or too cold.
Dahlia: Holding your kitten gently but firmly by the back of the neck, lower him into the sink with his back toward you. Gently scoop or spray warm water over his back, then lather the coat well. Don’t forget to suds his chest, legs, abdomen, hind end, and tail.
Siouxsie: Keep in mind that medicated shampoos can cause stinging and burning in tender parts such as the genitals and anal opening. Try to avoid getting shampoo in those areas.
Thomas: If your kitten has fleas, be sure to lather around the neck first so that the fleas don’t all migrate to his head to escape the bath.
Dahlia: To get the shampoo on your cat’s head, dampen the baby washcloth and rub a little soap on his scalp, cheeks and chin. Use an un-soaped (or thoroughly rinsed) part of the washcloth to remove the soap.
Siouxsie: Once you’ve finished all your lathering, rinse your kitten very thoroughly to get all extra soap residue off him. If you’re using a sprayer, put it as close to the skin as you can, in order to keep the noise to a minimum.
Thomas: When the bath is done, pick your kitten up and wrap him in a towel. Don’t rub him to get him dry. Just continue blotting him until you get most of the water out.
Dahlia: Then let him do his own grooming. Be sure to leave him in a nice, warm room until he’s dry so that he doesn’t get a chill.
Siouxsie: There are very few cats that actually like being bathed, so it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be able to get your kitten to like baths.
Thomas: But if you follow the steps above — and stay calm, and do the bathing in a quiet area — you’ll probably be able to get your kitten to at least tolerate this torture until his skin conditions clear up.
Dahlia: Good luck, Dreading. Please let us know how things turn out!
Actually, many cats do enjoy the bath! I’m a professional cat groomer and if the cat is bathed correctly, they relax during the bath.
Points to remember:
Their skin is much more sensitive so what’s warm water to you may be hot to a cat
Never noose a cat around the neck
Have all mats out before the bath
Blow dry with a cool dryer so tangles don’t form. Alternatively, comb fur while air drying
Use cat specific shampoo as human & dog shampoos may contain cat toxins
We’ve only bathed Saffy, who is way too large for the sink. She did pretty well. We used the blow dryer on a cool setting. The “staying calm” part is key — cats are very intuitive and pick up on our anxiety!
You’ve all pretty much covered most of my tricks. I was the designated bather for our Maine Coons prior to shows when I was a kid. Not only that, I made quite a hobby from adopting/rehabbing strays and ferals; so much so that they eventually started finding and adopting ME! I got very good at keeping them calm/coming out with minimal scarring. ;)
A few tips I read/discovered in my years on bath duty:
1) If fleas are a concern, don’t wait until the cat is in the water. Prior to the bath, rub a ring of your cat shampoo of choice around the entirety of their neck. Why? The moment a drop of water hits the cat’s coat, the fleas all get the signal and begin running for the hills–er, head. With the pre-emptive strike of having the soap around the entire circumference of the neck, they’ll be running right to their death.
2) The best way to keep a cat calm/keep it from escaping the bath(room) is, number one, to close the door. Number two, however, is all in the way you hold them. You need to have a hand on their chest/upper front legs, ready to restrain them (gently). Should they start to tense for a jump to freedom, not only will you feel it immediately, you will have the best position to keep them in place. Lastly, but not leastly, is not just to stay calm, but to actually keep a running, gentle, quiet monologue going of praise, and the general goofy adoration it is so easy to lavish on them. Your hands should be more attuned to massaging/rubbing than to scrubbing, so that the experience has a more pleasant tone, both in physical and emotional feel.
I must heartily second the notion of having some kind mobile spray head, and the idea of keeping it right up against the skin. The noise and volume of water are going to freak your cat out more than anything if you simply turn the water on them. Also, I have found that trying to use your hands to cup water and dump it on them–or even using a cup–is ineffective, since you’re, at best, not getting enough volume to actually rinse efficiently, and at worst simply putting dirty, soapy water back into their fur.
I don’t want to forget, either, to mention the towel thing–I always had great success with soaking a bath towel and submerging it, so that your kitty has a stable surface. Nothing freaks them out more than the slipperiness of the bath tub’s floor surface, and not being able to get a firm grip on it.
Hope some of these tips make the bath experience less traumatic for both you and your kitty friends!