Should I give my cat a bath?
May 3, 2013 3:10 AM   Subscribe

My cat, Gem, got into her first fight today. Heard some screeching, saw her getting chased, but managed to get back home. She doesn't appear to be hurt, just a bit roughed up and shaky. Thing is though, she smells of poo now. Do I give her a bath, and if so, how?

I'm not sure how she managed to get poo on her. Maybe she sharted due to the fear? Anyway, I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't bath cats... she normally keeps her coat in excellent condition, but she does smell pretty bad. I've given her a wipe down with a damp cloth, but that hasn't really helped.

I also don't want to traumatise her again. I can imagine dunking her in the sink would not go well without thick gloves!
posted by derbs to Pets & Animals (18 answers total)
I had a cat who actually used to enjoy baths, this is how I did it. Stand the cat in an empty bath or trough. You do this as opposed to putting them in an already filled tub because they can feel the bottom, have a sense of stability and don't think they're being drowned.

I would put toys in the bath (not a sink, you want them to be able to stand) then run warm water around their legs as it slowly filled up. Don't run it over their head or ears, that's no fun. Gently talk to them as you rub warm water little by little into their fur. You shouldn't need soap. If the water's a comfortable temperature and you give them a kitty massage and rub their back as you go, the cat should quite enjoy it. Toys are a good distraction if it gets too much. Maybe try giving a treat, though I never needed to.

Work reasonably quickly and when the cat has had enough, don't hold it against its will, let it go. You want it to remember it as a good experience in case you ever need to do it again.

Whatever you do, don't fill it with cold water and just dunk the cat in willy nilly, that's traumatic for anyone and will guarantee kitty will never go near a bath after that! Good luck, report back!
posted by Jubey at 3:21 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

She may allow you to sponge her off while she's standing in a finger deep layer of warm water. This generally goes over a lot better than dunking a cat in a tub or sink. Jubey's advice sounds good to me.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:22 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice. Just one (important) point - my small house doesn't have a bathtub! Just a shower. Perhaps I could try it in the kitchen sink. Good idea about filling it up with her already in there. I will keep you updated!

ps. She's calmed down a lot now. Gave her a bowl of cat milk and she's sleeping like a baby.
posted by derbs at 3:33 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your sink has a flat bottom and is a decent size, it could work. If it has curved sides where the cat could get frantic and slip, trying to get traction, it may work against you. If kitty shows signs of really not being into it, let it go. Persistence could end with you covered in some pretty nasty scratches and cat bites are no laughing matter.
posted by Jubey at 3:45 AM on May 3, 2013

If you have no suitable sink, you could use a cheap plastic wash tub and fill it wish warm water from the sink poured in by hand. That would let you do the procedure on the floor, which might a) be easier to clean b) less foreign.

I used to have a partner whose cat would get sap on her fur all the time. Although she was a fighty little devil, she quite patiently dealt with being bathed. Sap tastes nasty, I gather.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 AM on May 3, 2013

keep a bath towel really handy in case kitty tries to climb and scratch her way out of the sink. rather than you getting all scratched up you can just wrap her up in a big towel that she can't escape from. don't worry about the towel getting soaked. better that than cat scratches all over your neck and chest. i discovered this trick the hard way. :P
posted by wildflower at 4:36 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

My cat is fine if I let her stand in a plastic wash tub inside the real tub like this (front legs on the edge of the plastic tub).
Then I start filling up the bowl with warm water until it reaches her belly while splashing some water up onto her or running the shower head (just gentle stream) over her back. Since her head and upper body are this far out she seems less scared and I can easily clean her.
Don't get the head wet though.
After a few minutes when the cat gets antsy let her go - put towels nearby before the cat runs off.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:36 AM on May 3, 2013

You could pop out to a pet store and pick up some dry cat shampoo. This goes better than a bath for my cat.

Also, has the smell faded at all? I don't know if cats do it, but when my dog is upset about something, he expresses his anal glands for a little bit, so there's the smell but nothing to actually clean up.
posted by mibo at 4:50 AM on May 3, 2013

The one time I successfully bathed a cat was the empty sink and pour water over her method. Make sure the water is warmer than you'd think is comfortable, cats have higher body temperatures than we do. So water that we would find to be a bit warm, they find to be a bit chilly.

I did of course have to hold onto her to keep her from darting off, but she wasn't panicky.
posted by gjc at 5:58 AM on May 3, 2013

The only time I ever bathed a cat was as a teenager, when one of our farm (indoor/outdoor) cats got into some spilled engine grease that we didn't want her to lick off (for obvious reasons). Anything organic will go away with time, so I'd probably wait a day or two before trying to bath your cat (unless it's super, super strong and you absolutely can't stand it).

With engine greased cat, we really had to scrub and soak her back and side to get it out, because the cloth and gentle washing wasn't working. The process involved my sister and I held her still while my mom cleaned her. She howled and stopped coming around to cuddle with us on the couch for about six months afterwards, instead choosing to sit across the living room in the evenings and glare at us. But eventually, she got over it and didn't poison herself from engine grease.
posted by Kurichina at 7:07 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

A bath every once and again is fine for cats. True they usually don't need your help, but if she reeks one bath might be good for you both.
Sometimes when certain animals are panicked or terrified they release their anal glands and that is some nasty stuff. That might be what you are smelling versus actual poo?
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 7:37 AM on May 3, 2013

If you've never bathed her before, it might be a lot of trauma for one day! Were I you, I would pick up a small box of baby wipes and do some spot cleaning.
posted by ersatzkat at 8:12 AM on May 3, 2013

I once had a cat that had the curious habit of becoming quite pungent when she was frightened. We eventually figured out that she was "expressing her anal glands" (eww). I think that's the most likely explanation for what you're smelling. An appropriately targeted approach to cleaning her may be all you need.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:04 AM on May 3, 2013

You can actually get baby wipes that are targeted to cats ("kitty wipes") at your local Petco, or whatever you have. They're a little bigger than regular baby wipes and IMHO don't have as cloying a fragrance. I used them for spot-cleaning our elderly cat when she had the grooming difficulties that came with age (and occasionally that come with having long fur that attracts stray poo) and they worked well.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:23 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to bathe my large, adult cat in a small bathroom sink without problems. I would stand him on his hind legs (he'd be in a sitting position) and hold the cat's front arms tightly in my left hand and wash/rinse with my right using a mug to pour water over him. He didn't love it, but he was fine and generally would be calm after realizing that he couldn't struggle away. I'd use a mild baby shampoo with very little scent. Afterward, I'd wrap him in a large towel and would try to rub him until he was damp dry.
posted by quince at 10:03 AM on May 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers everyone. Tried a bath in the kitchen, didn't go well and she got pretty scratchy. Didn't want any more trauma for the day, so I'm going to use the baby wipe/sponge bath idea.

The smell's fading now anyway, so I think I'll just let nature take its course.
posted by derbs at 10:43 AM on May 3, 2013

The kitty wipes work really well. My parents have a cat that naturally smells bad and also likes to roll around in shit, and the kitty wipes make him smell pretty much normal.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:18 PM on May 3, 2013

Unless you can physically SEE the poo, that's not what it is - it's pheromones of the 'I'm bat shit terrified get the fuck away from me' variety. My two cats fought off a stray in out yard once, and they both smelled TERRIBLE for hours. I realize I'm a few days late with this comment, but I thought I'd nth letting nature take it's course - good choice.

Hope she's feeling better (poor baby!)
posted by jrobin276 at 2:44 AM on May 4, 2013

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