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How to wash a cat (and still keep all of your fingers)


Warning: Slightly informative post alert!

I thought I’d have a go at offering some real advice on here.

So, cat bathing! Not a task to be undertaken lightly, but in some cases it is a necessary evil. I was horrified when the vet here said that we need to wash our cats regularly. Wash cats!?!?! It seemed like an insane and likely dangerous task. I asked about just using cat wet-wipes to clean them, but was told that this is only ok for cooler countries. If you live in a hot place it is necessary to really wash them…with water and shampoo (and howling and scratching and misery!).

cat bathing
It actually helped when he did this. It made rinsing the belly area a lot easier.

So I looked online for advice and most of what I found were just joke sites. I did find a couple of sites with real information, so I absorbed as much info as possible and prepared for the inevitable battle.

The actual event went a lot smoother than I had imagined. Of course, my kittens were very small when I first washed them, so keeping them in place was not too hard. The next time they had grown a lot but we still managed to get them cleaned with NO damage done to either them or us! “A miracle?” you ask. Possibly, but here is what we did. Maybe this can help or assure other terrified first-time-cat-washers.

I did things slightly differently on each occasion, so I will just list what I found to be the most effective tecniques here:

Preparation is the key.

1. Get everything ready before you start. I prepared several bottles of nice warm water. I used big, plastic fizzy drinks bottles. In one bottle I mixed some of the shampoo with the water. I found this easier than trying to rub actual shampoo onto a writhing cat.

2. Use a space where the cat cannot easily get a foot on something for leverage to jump. I used a deep sink, the type you wash clothes in, but a bath would probably be as good (we don’t have a bath, only showers, hence the use of the deep sink). I noticed that as soon as they think they have something to jump from (i.e. they can get a paw onto the side of the sink) they WILL try to escape. As long as they cannot reach this they seem resigned to let the process happen. Of course you have to keep a good hold on them throughout. I put a folded up towel in bottom of the sink so that they had something soft to stand on (plus, we have no plug so it kept a little water in the bottom – good for washing the paws – just dunk!).

3. Have a partner in crime. It’s like a surgical procedure. You will need someone to pass the implements. Letting go of the cat to reach for the water bottle/shower hose/first aid kit is not an option.

4. Ok, ready? You need to accomplish the next stage as fast as possible while still keeping control. I talk to my cats all the way through the washing process. I think it helps to keep both me and them calm. Use a relaxed, normal voice. No hysterical shrieking. Remember, you have delicate human arm skin…they have claws!


i, Hold onto cat! Our vet said to grab them by the scruff of the neck. For me , this made the soaping and rincing really awkward, so I just get a good grip around the belly (their’s, not mine) and lift slightly so that they can’t get enough of  a spring in their back legs to jump away.

ii, Pour water over cat (try to wet all parts on the first pour if you can) avoiding the ears and eyes (in fact, I avoid the face altogether).

iii, Grab the shampoo-water mix and pour as before.

4. iv, Rub! Rub! Rub! Don’t forget the belly, tail and legs (but avoid the claw area if you treasure your fingers).

v, Now back to the plain warm water – pour all over while still rubbing with one hand and holding cat in a death grip with the other – Yes, you’ll need three hands at this point! I get my husband to pour while I restrain and rub.

vi, Keep pouring until the soapy feel has gone, then pour some more just to be sure. If any shampoo stays on the cat it can cause dry and itchy skin.

vii, Pass cat to your partner to be towel dried and consoled.

5. Laugh with relief that you survived…and at your cat’s new wet-look hair do.

cats after wash

They might not seem very impressed by the whole affair. Expect some dark looks or, like Spock and Zé, some plain bemused looks.

wet cats

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 20/01/2011 4:32 am

    There is NO way I’m gonna let that happen to me!!

  2. 24/01/2011 1:06 am

    Mom says that I am impossible to bath. She thought that being a dog, I would be easier than my kitty siblings but I fight like a cat when I get wet! Mom likes your idea of pre-filled bottles for rinsing a whole lot, right now she uses a shower nozzle and she soaks herself, the floor, the walls and most of the house by accidentally dropping it at least a couple times each bath 😉 All part of my evil plan…

  3. 01/02/2011 11:06 pm

    Very impressive. This is not in any way an easy task.

    Paul has had one bath in his three years of life. I still have mental — and physical — scars.

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