Giving a Cat a Bath

Giving a Cat a Bath


The following article was given to us by Michael Olsen at CallisteCats Birmans

Giving kitty a bath doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. Fear of water or bathing is learned, and if the kitten is introduced to bathing correctly, then bathing your cat will be easy. Indeed, some cats like water so much that their owners actually have difficulty keeping the cat out of the tub! Bathing should be introduced to your kitten as a game. The kitten should be allowed to first play with the water, then play in the water with you.

What you will need: claw clippers; a shower or bathtub (a shower will be assumed); a swimming suit; a hand-held shower attachment (the sort that plugs onto the shower head); a bucket; shampoo (unscented ‘Dawn for Dishes’ is great); two old bath towels; a cat carrier; and a small electric space heater.

Good footing in the shower is very important for a successful bath since any cat will be frightened if unsure of their footing. Keeping this in mind, do not slide the cat from side to side across the floor of the shower, but rather pick the cat up and set him down. It’s awareness to subtle little things like this that will make bathing fun for your cat.

The First Bath

Fold one of the bath towels and place it into the bottom of the carrier. Place the carrier on the floor about two feet away from and facing the space heater. This is how you will dry the kitty. Don’t use a hair dryer as they are too hot, noisy, and scary. Space heaters are quiet and provide a large volume of uniform and gentle heat.

Clip the kitty’s claws. Both you and your kitty will be more comfortable if you do this before bathing.

Attach the hand-shower to the shower head and allow it to hang down with a very slight but constant dribble of warm water. If your shower has a door, leave it open and allow the kitten to observe the water. Assuming he’s interested you can now leave the room for about ten minutes. The kitten’s curiosity will lead it to explore the water and get its feet wet. Once the kitten knows that the water is nothing to be afraid of, place the bucket, upside-down in the shower and sit on it and play with kitty. Splash the water around and play ‘footsy’ games. Before long you will be able to dribble the water directly over the cat’s back and get him quite wet.

When your kitty is having fun, his tail will curl up and over his back. If he feels threatened his tail will hang down or even curl under his belly and he will try to escape. If this happens, the bath is over. If you don’t stop now, he will be afraid the next time and will hate bathing for the rest of his life. Unless the kitten is covered with mud, it’s not necessary to go on with this bath.

Don’t get too carried away with the first bath. Your objective is to introduce the kitty to water and have some fun. Do not get his head or face wet as this is very scary when it first happens.

Let the kitty out, and towel him off. Again, don’t get too carried away – just be sure that he’s not sopping wet. Now, put him in the carrier and turn on the heater. If the grille at the front of the carrier gets too hot to touch, turn it down or move it away. Kitty will be content to sit in the carrier and lick himself dry.

Once he’s completely dry, you can comb his coat. It is important not to use a brush before combing as this can tangle and pull out hair.

The Second Bath

Prepare the carrier and heater. If necessary, clip the claws. Have your bucket and shampoo ready, attach the hand-held shower and start the warm water. As before, get the kitty’s interest first and let him play with the water. Gradually get him wet enough to shampoo. If you have a shut-off valve on your shower head, use this to regulate the water flow so that you will always have warm water of the correct temperature.

Put a small dollop of shampoo, about the size of a quarter, on you hand. Rub your hands together then quickly rub a thin film all over the cat. Drizzle some more water over the cat and then briefly work the shampoo over his entire body, except for his head. The objective is to get a little of the shampoo to ‘break’ the oily film that naturally sheds water, so there probably won’t be a lot of bubbles.

Hopefully, kitty thinks this has all been a lot of fun, but if he’s getting antsy then rinse thoroughly, and it’s time for the bath to end. Otherwise, rinse the majority of the shampoo off and reapply a similar amount and work it in. It’s a good idea to leave a steady trickle of water running, so you can periodically add a drizzle to help suds-up your kitty. Use more shampoo if needed, but with a kitten it really doesn’t take much. Wash his neck up to the back of the ears, but it’s not necessary to clean his head at all. In fact, you should be careful not to frighten him by getting more than a light splash on his face. Rinse thoroughly, standing him up to allow the water to flow down his belly and legs. Drain, towel-off, and dry as before.

The Third and Later Baths

These are the same as the second bath, except you may want to do an initial sudsing, a partial rinse, a better sudsing, another partial rinse, and a final sudsing (you won’t need much shampoo for the last sudsing) and a thorough rinse.

The Show Bath

Bathing a show cat is a little different. First of all, it’s a process involving three weekly baths, so you have to plan ahead. The goal is to clean the cat thoroughly, and most importantly to rinse out the last bit of detergent. Even a slight residue of un-rinsed shampoo will result in a noticeably clumped and matted-down coat.

For the show bath you will need a detergent to strip body oils without damaging the skin or coat (Dawn), and a conditioning shampoo (F1R2 is excellent for Birmans). You will need the bucket, some ‘Goop’ mechanic’s hand cleaner, Dawn, F1R2, and (for the final bath) one gallon of distilled water. Distilled water is actually a very aggressive (and safe) solvent, but be careful to buy it only in a plastic (not glass) jug as you will be bringing it into the shower with you.

The First Show Bath (two weeks before the show)

Clip the claws. For males with ‘stud tail’ and behind the ears of all cats, apply enough Goop to the dry cat to thoroughly saturate the greasy hair. Rinse the cat to remove most of the Goop and wet-down the cat for the first sudsing with a little Dawn – just enough to break the oily film over the body. Do a partial rinse and then re-suds with more Dawn. Again, do a partial rinse and then suds-up with the F1R2. Scrub until you feel the coat becoming silky smooth, paying special attention to the cat’s bottom, belly, chest, and legs, but it is unnecessary to clean the face. Rinse thoroughly. Presumably you’ve been using the inverted bucket as a seat – set it upright, and fill it to the brim with very warm water. Pick the cat up and lower him up to his neck into the bucket. You’ll have to work quickly and deliberately as the cat won’t like this. This is ‘The Big Dip.’ Let the cat drain a little, then dry as usual.

The Second Show Bath (one week before the show)

Do not clip the claws. The second show bath is identical to the first except that the Goop treatment won’t be needed except in particularly bad cases of stud tail. Stud tail is a very tenacious substance and would probably make a good material for paving interstate highways! If your cat still shows signs of stud tail, eliminate it now because it will only get worse, and the final bath may not finish the job. For the first time, work some F1R2 up along the cheeks, but be careful not to get water on his nose while rinsing. If you get it in his eyes, F1R2 will not sting!

The Third and Final Show Bath (one or two days before the show)

Clip the claws. Depending upon your cat, you will want to give this bath either one or two days before the show. Some cats look better two or even three days after their bath. If you’re aware of how your cat looks over the several days following his bath you may want to give this last bath on either Thursday or Friday night.

Before beginning the bath, warm one gallon of distilled water in a microwave. It should be very warm but not hot. Bring the jug of distilled water into the shower with you.

This is the last chance to deal with stud tail and greasy ears, but presumably the coat in general will be quite oil-free. Begin with the Dawn. Rinse lightly, then suds-up with F1R2. Rinse and suds-up with F1R2 again, working up the cheek-line but keeping away from the eyes and nose unless the cat’s face really needs washing. Rinse very well, and then give The Big Dip. Let the cat drain a little and then rinse thoroughly with distilled water. Distilled water is very effective at rinsing-out the last little bit of shampoo, and if you have softened water it will be the only way to thoroughly rinse the cat. Dry as usual.

Once you have given the final bath handle the cat as little as possible, especially if you wear makeup. If you can, wash your hands before handling the cat to avoid getting your skin oil onto the cat. Excessive grooming may cause the coat to either frizz or go flat.

To deal with static at a show, anti-static products work well, but need to be applied very sparingly: spray a little onto your hands, rub your hands together, then give the cat a light ‘once over’ to distribute the anti-stat. Then breathe on the cat, wait a moment, and comb-out the coat. Anti-stat products are humectants – they sorb water out of the air and chemically bind the water to the hair. It’s water that dissipates static, not the anti-stat itself, therefore you can ‘re-charge’ the anti-stat by breathing on the cat if the show hall air is dry. If you want to avoid using chemical anti-stat products, the same effect can be achieved with just water. A lightly moistened chamois wiped over the coat will introduce a little moisture, but its effect will be very short lived. As an emergency ‘fix’ when bringing your cat to a ring, just breathe onto his coat.

Michael Olsen  CallisteCats Birmans