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Let's Talk: Have You Ever Tried to Give Your Cat a Bath?

I have, and it was a lot less of a horror show than I thought it would be. Have you ever done it?

 |  Dec 27th 2013  |   50 Contributions


Nothing can strike terror into the heart of the average cat lover quite as much as the discovery that her feline friend needs a bath. Usually cats are pretty good at cleaning themselves, but every once in a while they get into something that even their legendary grooming skills can’t cope with.

Whether it’s skunk spray, oily gunk from walking around under cars, some godawful rotting horror that they managed to get into, a flea infestation, or even a coat full of ashes from that bonfire you had last weekend -- sometimes they just need our help so they don’t make themselves sick trying to get clean.

I’ve only given about half a dozen kitty baths in my life, but all of them went much better than I’d imagined.

The first of these was way back in the fog of time known as the 1980s. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but one morning the family cat, Purr Bear (of Christmas tree-trashing fame) came inside and he was filthy! Nobody had any idea what he’d gotten into, but it was gross. There was a very short discussion between my mother and me about who was going to bathe the cat. That discussion went something like, “JaneA, give Purr Bear a bath!”

Purr Bear and me, 1988.
I knew sweet fark-all about bathing cats, except that cats hate water and will try to kill you if you approach them with that Liquid Death.

With a tremor in my gut, I began preparing the tools of what I was sure would be a bloodbath. I closed the bathroom door and turned on the heater, then in my sweetest voice I called, “Purr Bear, come here.” Being the affectionate kitty he was, he trotted right over and allowed me to pick him up. I took him in the bathroom and set him in the sink, then started the water running.

I was ready for all hell to break loose any minute, but imagine my surprise when Purr Bear just sat down and purred as the water rose around him. I wet his fur and started shampooing, and Purr Bear just sat there and purred. He didn’t look the least bit anxious. In fact, if his half-closed eyes, willingness to collapse into my grasp and the smile that graced his lips were any indication, I’d say he was in throes of ecstasy. I shampooed and rinsed and toweled him off and he purred the whole time. He did draw the line when the hair dryer came out, though.

Armed with that positive experience, I was ready and confident the next time I had to bathe a cat, which was probably about 10 years later.

Sinéad and Siouxsie, 2004. Good thing they were maybe a quarter of this size when I had to bathe them!

About a month after I’d brought home my barely weaned kittens, Sinéad and Siouxsie, I noticed they were doing an awful lot of scratching. I checked their fur, and sure enough, they had fleas. Lots of them. I don’t know how the little buggers got into my third-floor apartment, but I suspect one or two may have hitched a ride on my pant leg from the home of an acquaintance whose cat had fleas.

However it happened, I had two tiny little kittens who were far too young for any flea medications. Even the flea shampoos that were sold at pet stores were not for use in kittens younger than three months. I went to my local health food store and found an organic flea shampoo made by a local herb farm, and then it was time to bathe the poor little things.

Again, I took the “set the cat in the sink and let the water fill up around them” route. Sinéad and Siouxsie were significantly less happy about their aquatic experience, but they were so small that it was easy to keep them under control and prevent them from hurting themselves … or hurting me.

If I'd been able to take photos of Sinéad and Siouxsie after their baths, they'd have looked a lot like this. Soggy black kitten after a bath by Shutterstock

After three weekly shampoos per cat, plus a rigorous program of vacuuming, laundering, and plucking fleas off the kittens when I saw them, the flea infestation was over. And there was much rejoicing.

I hope I never have to bathe another cat, but if I do I’ll go in with the expectation that it will turn out well and that the kitty and I will both emerge from the experience unharmed.

What about you? What’s your cat-bathing experience been like? Share your tales of triumph (and your tales of woe and horror) in the comments.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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