Cats and water go together like peanuts and chewing gum, and bathwater is a cat's only natural enemy, apart from dogs, squirrels, birds, houseflies, other cats, and... okay, cats just don't usually like taking a bath. It has to be done, though, and it's best if you can manage it without stitches and a course of antibiotics for yourself later on.
No matter your kitty's current attitude toward watersports, there are a few tricks you can try to make bathtime as easy as possible.
Cats almost always do better in the bath if they learn as kittens that there's nothing to worry about. Some cats can even learn to love water, or at least to tolerate it when the humans decide to pour it over them. Starting your kitten out with gentle baths, whether they need them or not, and making it a weekly routine all their lives can save you tons of struggle when they're grown.
Soap, shampoo, rags, if any, and maybe a few adhesive bandages for yourself, just in case. Pull all the supplies you're going to need into a basket and have it resting on the side of the tub before you do anything else. This saves the day later on when you're reaching for the shampoo with one hand and holding onto seven pounds of angry mammal predator with the other.
Once your supplies are lined up, run about four inches of water into the tub. Do this before you go looking for the cat. It's usually best to have everything ready to move in a single swift sequence rather than sit with an unhappy kitty and wait for the tub to fill. For most cats, anything higher than four inches is probably too much, and always check the temperature before putting them in.
Most cats will absolutely make a break for it when they figure out what the humans are up to with the bathtub. You'll be holding your cat the whole time, but there's a really good chance they'll shake you off and bolt. Close the bathroom door when you bring them in for a bath. That won't keep them inside the tub, but it will at least keep them within arms' reach if they get loose.
If you toss a cat toward the water, you'll have a flying cat that's 30% claws by volume. Instead, ease your cat down into the water feet first, and be ready for a sudden scramble as they try to run. If you keep a firm but not uncomfortable grip, it's okay to let them splash for a minute. Eventually, they calm down a bit and switch to the low growls and very sad mewling.
Hold your cat firmly while the bath is going on, especially for the first few minutes when they're most likely to panic or struggle. Mother cats hold their kittens with a gentle pinch to the scruff of the neck, and this has a tranquilizing effect on even adult felines. Go ahead and use this trick yourself. It's the same one mama cat used when it was time to bathe her babies too.
Bathing is stressful for cats, but petting is a familiar action that helps put them at ease. As you hold them in place with one hand, use the other to apply water, shampoo, and then water again in broad stroking motions that simulate normal petting as much as possible. This helps create a relaxing massage effect that might prevent a sudden claw-related bathing injury.
Just like people, cats have various no-go zones all over their bodies. These can, and should be, washed, but you have to be careful with your approach. Work your way gradually up toward the face from behind, making several passes with your fingers closer to the front of the head. Let your cat get acclimated to this, and then move -- gradually -- on to other sensitive areas in the same way.
It's important to thoroughly rinse your cat before finishing the bath. Cats have two coats of fur, with a soft, downy undercoat beneath their outer fur. Make sure you're getting the soap out of this layer, or else kitty's in for a nasty experience when they lick themselves afterward. If your cat will tolerate it, you can rinse them with a handheld shower head. If not, dip a cup and pour water over them repeatedly.
You and your cat have just been through a lot together. When the bath is over, gently lift your cat out of the tub and into a warm, dry towel. Wrap kitty up loosely but thoroughly, and gently pat and scrub until their fur feels dry to the touch. Take your time here and get the water out from the root of the hairs. When you have a happy fluffball, it's time for a nap.
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