It is not always bad to wash cats in a bath. The question presupposes that it is but this is incorrect. It’s just that normally it is bad to bathe a domestic cat because there is no need to. If you bathe a healthy cat in good condition, you will be doing your cat a disservice. The end result will be a cat that is in less good condition because you will remove natural oils essential to the coat. Further, regular brushing and combing will keep a cat’s coat sleek and glowing which eliminates the need to bathe a cat. And they’ll enjoy it compared to bathing which most cats will hate. Clearly simply cleaning a local area of cat’s coat is perfectly acceptable if it needs it.
Reasons to bathe
However, the question as to whether you should bathe or not bathe your cat depends upon your cat’s fastidiousness in grooming themselves and whether there is a particular reason why it is necessary. And these reasons do pop up from time to time. Cats get into little problems sometimes such as falling into paint or some other unpleasant material and the only way to remove it from the coat is to bathe them.
If your cat’s coat is badly stained or emits a strong odour or appears oily despite thorough brushing the best solution initially is to give your cat a bath. Another reason for bathing your cat would be a particularly bad infestation of fleas or other parasite when you can use a medicated shampoo (with care however).
Show cats are bathed regularly before cat shows to maximise their appearance. This is done, if we are honest, in the interests of the cat’s owner who wants to win the cat show or get an award. The cat does not want to be bathed because the cat doesn’t think they need to be bathed because they look beautiful without it. An obvious point and a silly one but I think it needs to be made. If you show your kitten they can be safely behaved after they are three months old.
Hairless cats are a different kettle of fish because they need regular bathing or wet wiping in order to remove the oils from the sebaceous glands which are deposited on their skin and which collect dirt.
Bathing your cat
This is problematic because cats normally don’t like to be bathed, for obvious reasons. It’s unnatural which is another reason why you shouldn’t do it unless you really have to. They can be a challenge. Particularly if your cat was not bathed as a kitten. Most cats dislike to be submerged in water. Although you will see some amusing videos on YouTube with cats loving the whole process. But normally there will be resistance. It might need two people: one to hold and soothe the cat while the other applies the water and shampoo et cetera. You might try a professional cat groomer but beware because they don’t require a licence and you don’t really know what you’re getting your cat into unless you know the establishment well.
You begin by combing the coat to remove knots and mats. This is because mats become harder to remove when the coat is wet. It is recommended that you plug the cat’s ears with cotton balls to keep the water out. You can apply artificial tears ointment to the eyes to prevent soap burn.
You can use commercial companion animal shampoo. Please check as it must be for cats. Many dog shampoos contain chemicals that can be toxic to cats.
If you bathe your cat in the sink it’s advisable to put a non-slippery surface in the sink so that your cat has something to grip onto. You might fill the sink with warm water to a depth of 4 inches. You hold your cat firmly but gently by the back of the neck and lower her into the sink with her back toward you (to avoid being clawed!). You scoop some water over your cat’s back using a plastic cup and lather the coat was shampoo. You keep it out of their eyes and ears. Rinse well with warm water or a spray but don’t spray the water in your cat’s face.
Remove all traces of shampoo because soap left behind will dull their coat and irritate the skin. If the coat was particularly bad you may have to repeat.
Veterinarians recommend that you should not use vinegar, lemon juice or bleach rinses as a special rinse. Special rinses are sometimes recommended to bring out the best qualities of a cat’s coat for a cat show. The rinses mentioned are too acidic or too basic and might damage the cat’s coat and skin. Don’t use hair colourings or dies as they can damage fur.
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Dry the coat gently with towels but don’t rub a longhaired cat as it will mat the fur. You can wrap your cat in a towel and hold her for a few minutes which will do quite a lot of drying by itself. The coat will take about an hour or two to dry. The cat should be left indoors in a warm room until completely dry.
If she has a sibling, he or she will no longer recognise the bathed cat. There might be hissing and strange behaviour. Expect this for a while until the cat’s smell returns and becomes recognisable. The bathed cat will groom themselves which will help restore their usual body odour so essential to identification.
It might be appropriate to use an air comb with the agreement of your cat. Don’t use a hairdryer made for humans unless it has a cool air setting because warm or hot air will damage your cat’s coat. Also, the noise from these devices will frighten your cat (normally-not frightened by the sorts of noises). There have been some horrendous warm air-drying accidents in cat groomer which were fatal for the cat.
Dry-cleaning is an option for cats predisposed to having an oily coat. There are a number of products which have been used successfully as dry shampoos. They must to be labelled as ‘cat safe’. Please check. Fullers Earth, cornstarch, baby powder, talcum powder and calcium carbonate are all effective. They can be used frequently without the danger of removing your cat’s essential oils or damaging the skill coat. Work the powder into the coat and leave it for 20 minutes to absorb the oils. You then carefully brush and blow the powder out. Don’t let your cat groomer herself. If your cat is being shown at a cat show all traces of powder must be removed before you enter the judging ring.
I can remember attending an Oklahoma cat show in which a LaPerm was competing. The gentleman brought his cat to Helmi Flick to be photographed. When he put his cat down on the table all the talcum powder fell out leaving a pool. I thought that looked horrible but Helmi was used to it.
Sources: myself and Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.