Should we wash our cat?
May 26, 2004 9:34 AM   Subscribe

WashingCatFilter - My boyfriend suggested we wash the cat, his reason being, it will help her finish her summer shedding. Is this something that is ok to do once in awhile, or should we leave her alone? It's hard to wade through the lame google "Ha-ha-here's-a-joke-story-about-washing-a-cat."
posted by agregoli to Pets & Animals (33 answers total)
You can get hard brushes which are good for removing loose cat fur, no water necessary, ask at your local pet shop. My friend's cat loves having her fur brushed through. YCMMV.
posted by biffa at 9:50 AM on May 26, 2004

Response by poster: We already brush her with three kinds of brushes - stiff wire one, softer one, and an undercoat rake. I'm really just trying to find out if it's ok to bathe your cat like once a year, and is it worth it?
posted by agregoli at 9:53 AM on May 26, 2004

We wash our cats with a special pet shampoo and it helps with the shedding a little...brushing helps more.
posted by mkelley at 9:53 AM on May 26, 2004

It's not worth it unless the cat's fur is dirty.
posted by briank at 9:55 AM on May 26, 2004

I vote for not worth it, unless they have gotten into something stinky or have mats that won't come out with brushing.

We have never had to wash our (indoor) cats, except for an unfortunate "peeing on the way to the vet" incident.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:57 AM on May 26, 2004

Response by poster: Yeah, I don't think I want to bother (me or her) with this. Just going to have to step up the brushing regimen, I guess.
posted by agregoli at 9:58 AM on May 26, 2004

I use brushes to help with the shedding. To make the cat smell "fresh," try a rub-in shampoo. My Petsmart has this stuff called "Allergy Relief From Cats" that you rub in the fur, let it set, then towel off. It's probably just distilled water and some perfume, but it does the trick.

I have bathed cats before, and it's most definitely a two person job. If you feel you must do it, make sure the water isn't too warm/cold, and make it a very quick experience. A utility sink with a low-noise spray attachment works well, though a tub is lower to the ground and safer should the cat jump out and flee. Be very careful - even a sweet cat might bite because of the trauma of a bath. And god help you if she still has her claws.

Unless she has been bathed from kittenhood, she is very likely to flail about and just defy all laws of gravity in general. Remove anything she might knock over; it's very possible she'll jump right out of the tub/sink and possibly hurt herself, which is a big reason why I avoid bathing my cats.

Afterwards, towel her off as best you can so she doesn't get cold. Expect her to avoid you for the rest of the day.

Unless she's filthy, though, go with brushes and the rub-in stuff.
posted by Sangre Azul at 10:09 AM on May 26, 2004

A kitten too young for pet products should be bathed to help with fleas or somesuch, upon advice of the vet or even the pet store folk. Other than that, I don't think it's necessary to bathe a cat, except in extreme circumstances noted above.
posted by rainbaby at 10:27 AM on May 26, 2004

If the cat doesn't like brushes, maybe a "Grooming Glove" like this one would be an alternative.

My cats take a while to settle in to get brushed.
posted by briank at 10:39 AM on May 26, 2004

I've about had it with the shedding. Anyone ever get their cat shaved?
posted by norm111 at 10:43 AM on May 26, 2004

The cat almost certainly will hate it, and go out of it's way to share the pain. I've done my share of flea baths and neither human nor cat ever enjoyed the experience. Baths can be quite traumatic for the cat. What with the new food and skin flea treatments, I'm very comfortable with the idea of never to having to wash another cat for the rest of my life.

I don't think a bath will help with shedding anyway. You want a brush like one of these. You can get one at any pet store for a couple of bucks. I've never met a cat (of a dozen or more) that didn't beg to be groomed with one of those brushes.

If you must, you need to take care. Use lukewarm water. If it's uncomfortable to have your hand in the water for any length of time, it's too hot (or cold) for the cat. One person can wash a cat: one hand holds the scruff of the neck (loosely) while the other washes. It helps if the cat trusts you. Wet cats also get cold very easily. They need to be dried immediately afterwards, then allowed to sleep in a warm place to dry out.
posted by bonehead at 10:48 AM on May 26, 2004

I've shaved catspussy. Looks good, by the usually complain when the hair grows in again.
posted by Grod at 10:48 AM on May 26, 2004

Response by poster: Already got the slicker brush, grooming glove, one other softer brush and an undercoat rake. Like I said, there's not much else to do except try to brush her more.
posted by agregoli at 11:09 AM on May 26, 2004

If you bathe your cat, whatever you do, don't use a blowdryer to help get the soggy out of your moggy: we made that mistake once - I still have the scars...
posted by misteraitch at 11:10 AM on May 26, 2004

Bathing cats too often can irritate their skin, but every few months or so won't hurt them (they still hate it, of course). I've got one who gets stinky after a while, so I asked the vet and that's what I was told.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 11:23 AM on May 26, 2004

Washing is not likely to remove as much shedding hair as good brushing unless you rinse the bejeezus out of the cat with something like the average carwash, and if you'd do that to a cat you shouldn't have one.

Bathing is only for cats who can't/won't clean their fur adequately. It it's inescapably necessary, please put a mat or folded towel in the bottom of the sink so your cat can at least stand up while attempting to levitate out of the water and sit on your eyebrow: it doesn't need the panic-inducer of scrabbling at a porcelain or steel skid-surface on top of the misery and general pissed-offedness of being forced to get wet and cold.
posted by salt at 11:33 AM on May 26, 2004

We used to wash our cat once or twice during the summer. No harm done. The stray cats that we took in used to watch and meow in sympathy, though, which was kind of sweet.

Cut down on shedding and on those weird lumps that can form under the fur, even with brushing. And after the bath, cat would enjoy acting miffed and laying out in the sun to dry off. Really not that difficult. We even did it with the strays a few times, though since we never clipped their nails it was a bit more of an effort to escape unscathed.

We used to bathe our cats in our big turkey roaster, in the middle of the laundry tub. Having the extra container gave them something (besides our arms) to put their front claws on.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:38 AM on May 26, 2004

We used to wash ours a couple times a year. They don't much like it, but they submit, especially if one person holds them and the other soaps and rinses as quickly as possible. I do think it kept the dander down.

Some of this advice was already given above, but here's our routine: We did it in the tub, with us kneeling beside it. Filled the tub first so they don't sit there and hear water running and freak. Get a big plastic cup. Keep filling it with water from tub and pouring it over the cat shampoo you've rubbed on. Make sure to get all the shampoo out or they'll itch.

When done, have one person hold a huge towel, quick wrap the cat in it. Have other towels ready to rub it dry as much as you can. It can't wait to run off, pout, and lick itself. Get it as dry as you can and keep your house warm so it won't catch cold.

Good luck! It's not such a bad thing.
posted by GaelFC at 12:00 PM on May 26, 2004

When I got two shelter-raised cats, they were accustomed to -- get this -- weekly baths and I was advised to keep it up. They didn't enjoy them much, but also didn't protest, so I went with it for a while. The routine didn't last a year, though: washing a cat is still a harrowing experience if for no other reason than because wet cats just look pathetic.

Actually, it's not the washing part that I found difficult. It was the drying.

They got monthlies for a couple more years, which eventually tapered off. Now that they are passing middle age, I'll probably pick up the habit again just to keep them clean.

Here's what my cat washing routine consisted of:

  • About 4 inches of water in the bottom of the bathtub.
  • A little cup or bucket.
  • Some pet washing gunk.
  • A big, highly absorbent towel.

  • If you have a cat brushing routine, go through it a little while before you start the bath process, but not immediately before. Maybe that morning, or a couple of hours in advance. A good, high bristle count brush will do more for helping shedding than the bath. Ideally, you'll have brushed consistently over the prior couple of days.

    Warm the bathroom to an uncomfortably hot temperature. Cats have a higher body temp than you do, and when wet are going to feel very, very cold.

    Put very warm water in the tub. It shouldn't feel scorching to you, but it ought to feel like a hot bath. Again, a cat's perception of a comfortable temperature is different from yours!

    Go find a cat. Close the door behind you, in case you have a runner.

    Insert cat into tub. If it's a struggle, you will need to scruff the animal in order to keep it still. Learn how to do this! It's a key element of being a cat owner! The cat may start emitting distress meows, but will be calmer, happier, and feel safer if scruffed. Some cats may peacefully stand in water but be uncomfortable if squashed down. Others may go into a hunker.

    Your goal will be to get the cat in and out of the water in as short a time as possible without rushing. The cat will be alarmed if you hurry through the process, so just move confidently and smoothly.

    Gently scoop and pour water over the cat. As soon as it's relatively wet -- don't worry about soaking it -- apply the pet washing goop, massage it in briefly, and rinse it off.

    Gather up the cat into the towel. Wrap it. The closer and tighter you wrap the cat, the better off it will be. Most likely, the animal will be glad to be out of the water, and will appreciate being wrapped. Hang on to the cat for a while and let the towel do its work. After a minute or so, you can try frisking the fur with the towel, but you're eventually going to reach a point where the now-wet towel is doing the cat more discomfort than good.

    Park the cat in front of the space heater. Keep it company for a while. Give it a bath mat or a fresh towel to sit on and lick itself dry. Yes, the licking is drying the cat.

    After a while, expect the cat to want to GTFO of Dodge. Hopefully it is dry enough.
    posted by majick at 1:04 PM on May 26, 2004

    The only vet I've spoken to on the subject was against bathing. Brush instead. It has the added benefit of being loved by the cat, whereas they hate baths. Seriously. Either you or the cat stands a decent chance of being hurt in the course of a bath. That's how much they hate them.
    posted by scarabic at 1:12 PM on May 26, 2004

    We wash our cats(shorthair mix) about every eight weeks and started when they were kittens. (I did however start washing our previous cats when they were adults. They were Himalayans and pretty docile so I could do it alone. I also had to blow dry them because otherwise their fur felted up into a giant mat.)

    We do it mainly because of allergies in the humans, but it does help with shedding and ease of grooming. If it's winter, we turn the heat up ahead of time. I put a rubber mat in the kitchen sink for them to stand on and fill many containers with warm water so they don't have to deal with the sound of spraying water. I use a very mild shampoo and start by diluting some in a glass of water which I pour over the cat--helps with wetting the fur. I soap them up well, but don't do a lot of massaging or scrubbing. I don't soap their head and am careful not to get water in their ears. Then we rinse very thoroughly. Next we wrap them in a towel and hold them. This gets a lot of the water out of their fur. Then we gently rub them to dry a bit more. They usually go sit in a sunny spot afterwards. We are forgiven quickly and life goes on.

    Cat bathing can be done especially if it means the cat doesn't get given away due to allergies. I have always gone into it with the acceptance that I might get hurt, and I think being confident and unafraid helps control the cat. Also if you hold a cat by its chest by running your hand through their front legs so your first two fingers are pointing towards their chin, with a thumb hooked through their armpit and your pinkie and ring finger hooked through the other armpit, you can pretty much control all their motion. This works whether they are lunging or trying to go backwards. I have actually never been injured by a cat while bathing them or even when I had to blow dry the Himalayans.
    posted by lobakgo at 1:34 PM on May 26, 2004

    I've washed many a cat.

    Watch your eyes - wear goggles.

    Two people are helpful to the process.

    Towel your cat off well when done - otherwise, it might catch a cold. You might want to turn the heat up for a bit or turn on a space heater in the cat-drying room.
    posted by troutfishing at 1:43 PM on May 26, 2004

    Cat bathing horror story:

    It started with ants. Ants all over the cat feeding area. So I moved her bowls and sprayed some bug killer. Kitty wanted to know what was happening in the space where her bowls used to be and walked on the Raid-dampened floor.

    Thinking that the cat would lick the Raid off her paws and die, I decided I needed to wash her paws. I put about two inches of water in the tub, grabbed the cat, set her down...

    ...and those back legs, claws out, came up faster than the speed of light and raked eight matching furrows into my arms (four each) so deep that by the time I managed to find the cat and attempt to dry off her poor paws, my forearms looked like special effects extras in a D'argento movie.

    The really sad thing is that getting her paws wet insured that she licked them with much more thoroughness than she would have otherwise, to dry them completely.

    Surprisingly, the cat is still alive, healthy, and seems to not have held that one against me.

    So no, don't bathe the cat.
    posted by jennyb at 1:49 PM on May 26, 2004

    Echoing jennyb: My ex, a cat rescuer, decided a new adoptee (Hoot) needed something more than brushing. She only had an inch of water in the tub, but the instant Hoot's paws got wet, she went ballistic.

    Hoot jumped from the bathtub to about 4 feet into the living room, tore around the tops of the couch and chairs, and ended her flight by literally climbing the blinds and hitting the ceiling.

    She fell to the floor and laid there for a few seconds before launching herself under the couch, where she hid for two days.

    From then on, any cat my ex deemed to need a bath went to the vet instead.
    posted by mischief at 2:15 PM on May 26, 2004

    On the other hand, we had a cat that was so lazy it would actually walk through a children's paddling pool rather than walk around it, and was even known to try and get in to a full bath with people. So it might not go so badly for you.
    posted by biffa at 2:52 PM on May 26, 2004

    I don't think this is going to help with the summer shedding problem - the cat will still shed but there will be some temporary relief. I'd go with the allergy dry shampoo someone mentioned earlier if you think your cat will wigout over the water. I've bathed my cat ever since he was little so he's used to it, just not thrilled by the whole thing. And it is critical to keep the bathroom door closed or you'll never manage this.

    I usually put a plastic storage bin (larger than the average litterbox but not too much larger) and fill it with water. I soap and later up a sponge (with cat shampoo) - then put the cat in the tub and lather it up (never the head), then rinse with cupfuls of water from the bin, maybe one quick dip in the bin (only about 8 inches of water deep). The key is quickness - the cat is not having fun and neither will you if you take too long.

    Quickly wrap the cat in a fluffy towel. Sit on the floor of the bathroom - if cat is calm, unwrap and rub with a second towel. (If cat is not calm sometimes holding it while it's tightly wrapped in the towel and just waiting lets it calm. Sometimes this will lead to a wigout. Hard to know.) I actually got my cat used to a blow dryer by turning it on in the room and leaving it on the counter, far from him. When he figured out it was warm he really liked it, but I always had to turn it on far away until he got used to it.

    Strangely the cat will go play in a damp bathtub or under the dripping faucet until he's wet enough to need toweling off. But then that's his idea.
    posted by batgrlHG at 4:05 PM on May 26, 2004

    It helps a lot for the cat to be accustomed to being bathed from a young age. I've washed my cat about twice a year for over 14 years now and find it relatively easy and profitable to do so. Not sure I'd want to toss a big old tomcat who'd never touched water into the tub, though.
    posted by rushmc at 4:21 PM on May 26, 2004

    I would not put a cat down into standing water to start off. We just slowly pour water over the cat and let it run down the drain. Also I found washing a cat in the bathtub much harder than in the kitchen sink. You aren't as agile bent over a tub. It's much easier to control the cat in a kitchen sink.

    I would also suggest trimming the cat's claws.
    posted by lobakgo at 4:35 PM on May 26, 2004

    lobakgo: I suggest precisely the opposite for the reason that the sound of a faucet -- a noisy if not loud hiss -- is likely to be more alarming to the cat than being placed in cat-knee high water. Also, because if the cat goes into a hunker, the belly will be easier to wet and wash.

    But obviously various animals will differ. I've got one cat that isn't afraid of the faucet at all and actually trots in to investigate whenever it's running. Quite a few cats are in fact attracted to running water or full, steaming tubs.

    So you could take it either way, I suppose!
    posted by majick at 5:16 PM on May 26, 2004

    majick--Yes, I agree about the sound of the faucet which is why in my first comment I wrote that we fill many containers with warm water so they don't have to deal with the sound of spraying water. And in my second comment that we just slowly pour water over the cat.
    posted by lobakgo at 6:16 PM on May 26, 2004

    Your technique is impressive and thoughtful, lobakgo. There are enough horrible anecdotes here about lowering a cat into water, and the containers idea is superb. I guess allergies can present a real need to do this, though otherwise it just doesn't seem worth it to me. The cats themselves certainly don't need it.
    posted by scarabic at 10:21 PM on May 26, 2004

    Washing the cat:
    1) Dress in heavy denim pants AND jacket. Optional gloves.
    2) Fill top to neck-high for cat. You don't want kitty to be able to jump out. IMPORTANT to keep ears dry!
    3) Take cat to bathroom and close the door.
    4) Quickly put cat in water, rub fur once FAST.
    5) Remove cat to (empty) sink, apply cat shampoo. Talk sweetly to your upset feline.
    6) Return soapy cat to tub. Pet in water to rinse very well.
    7) Remove cat directly into towel. Hug. Repeat with fresh towel.
    8) Apply styptic pencil to any areas of your skin which may be bleeding.

    If done correctly, step 8 is not needed.
    posted by Goofyy at 2:08 AM on May 27, 2004

    oops. Top = tub
    posted by Goofyy at 2:09 AM on May 27, 2004

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