Is it really OK to bathe your cat?


Constance Brinkley-Badgett

Constance Brinkley-Badgett

Contributing Writer

Constance Brinkley-Badgett is MediaFeed’s executive editor. She has more than 20 years of experience in digital, broadcast and print journalism, as well as several years of agency experience in content marketing.

Published October 3, 2017|4 min read

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Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ve seen those adorable photos and videos of cats sitting peacefully in tubs or sinks of warm water, loving their bath time.

Well, I don’t know about your cats, but there’s not enough kitty Xanax in the world that would make any of my three cats let me bathe them. Nope. Not gonna happen. It would look something much more like these cats (poor kitties) or worse. I think. I mean, I’ve never actually attempted to bathe my cats. I like my skin intact, thank you very much.

I’m basing my thinking around bathing my cats on the fact that most felines don’t care too much for the water (mine don’t even like rain). And as a friend of mine put it, “aren’t cats supposed to be self-cleaning? Isn’t that part of their charm?” Well, for me it is, but there are a surprising number of folks out there who give their cats baths. And when you read how-to tips like those on the ASPCA’s cat grooming page, it all sounds so pleasant and calm. Soothing, even.

The ASPCA suggests scheduling baths “when your cat is at her most mellow,” and “gently placing cotton” in her ears to keep the water out. Have these people met cats?

Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe most cats are really mellow and don’t actually mind a bath. I’m doubtful, and frankly, I’d pay a pretty penny for pet insurance that also included periodic bathing services just in case I ever thought it necessary. Anyway, to get a better idea of what it’s like to bathe a cat, I reached out to some people I know to see if they’d be interested in sharing their experience so both you and I can know what we’re in for if we ever have to put our cats in water.

Cat bath fever

Katherine Fredland Richardson of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, agreed to share her story of the time she bathed her cats — and lived to regret it. But lived. No cats or humans were irreversibly harmed in the bathing process.

Richardson had just moved to Los Angeles and, because of the warm weather, both of her cats ended up with fleas. Being an experienced dog owner, she decided some flea shampoo was in order.

“‘Well, this should be easy because I’d had dogs,’ I thought,” Richardson said. “I’ll just get the flea shampoo and put them in the tub and I’ll wash them. It’s like washing a dog, right? No.”

First up was Zillah, Richardson’s “high-strung” tortoise shell tabby who was already grouchy by nature.

“It was not the brightest thing I’ve ever done,” Richardson said.

So, long story short, she’s holding Zillah with one hand, the shower sprayer in the other, she has her good friend, Mark, there to help just in case this situation goes south. It does. Of course.

“So, I get her lathered up and she slips out of my grasp because, soap,” Richardson recalled. “And she proceeds to climb me.” Not once, but twice. Scratches and gashes and blood, everywhere, Richardson and Mark are both in the shower now, one holding Zillah by the scruff, the other scrubbing away, the cat screaming like death is imminent.

“It’s ridiculous that it took two people to wash an eight-pound cat,” she said. Once it was over, Zillah scrambled away to a far corner to “hate me for a month.”

Make sure you're prepared

Of course, it’s perfectly fine to bathe your cat if it isn’t too traumatic for them (or you). So if your cat has gotten really dirty, go ahead. But it’s not absolutely necessary for most cats to have more than a good brushing and a damp cloth to remove any soil or fecal matter.

If you do decide to bathe your cat, especially if it’s the first time, you may want to consider some protective gear, like wearing dish gloves or some other rubberized gloves that will shield you from scratches and bites on your hands and arms. A denim jacket is also a good choice when it comes to further protecting your arms and torso from the same. Likewise jeans or some other thick material to cover your legs can be a good idea.

Armor. Basically, you need armor. And if you do decide to bathe your cat, send pictures, please.

Image: Ivan Mikhaylov