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Cat Behavior 101,  Cats,  Mondays With Merlin

Mondays With Merlin: Cat Bathing 101*

If you love cats, sharing makes us purrrr :-)

Mondays With Merlin: Cat Bathing 101* or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bathing Cats but Were Afraid To Ask.

cat bathing-pet naturals shampoo


Meowy Monday dear friends. Last week ended with a cliffhanger about me having a bath. Imagine a 20-year-old cat who has never had a bath, wanted a bath or needed a bath. Most cats are fastidious masters of self-grooming with barbed tongues and some say, anal attention to detail. Siamese cats like moi have fine, short coats easily cleaned and I’ve always smelled divine. My mom, Layla would snorgle me and inhale my divine essence claiming she should bottle it! Sadly, those days are over and she proclaimed me, ew, stinky.

When a cat stops grooming it’s not a good sign. It means they are either ill or can’t groom properly from obesity, mobility issues like arthritis or other geriatric issues including cognitive. With me, it’s a combo. I’m old, have kidney disease and dental issues. Yeah, my breath is bad. I’m a messy eater and bits of food get stuck in my furs.

It was time for a bath but you can’t bathe a cat like a human. It requires preparation.

Here’s how to go beyond simply surviving a bath to a purrfectly fun, safe spa experience.

bathing cat-stinky no more

1) Time. Arrange a time when you will not be disturbed for at least 30 minutes. Turn your phone off. Choose a quiet time when kitty isn’t hungry or restless. Frisky cats may need some energetic interactive playtime to burn off excess energy.

2) Location. It can be the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower or bath tub. We chose our big clawfoot tub because it has a handheld shower. Good light is important so you can see what you’re doing. We have three windows in that bathroom and prefer natural light.

3) Prep. Remove any items that might be knocked over accidentally by runaway cats. Inspect the bathing surface. Is it clean and rinsed? Would it be slippery when wet? A wet cat sliding on slippery surface is stressful for all concerned. Gather everything you need in advance. If you haven’t trimmed Kitty’s claws lately, it might be good to do that first. Relaxed cats can have a trim and bath on one day like a spa day but don’t push it. If your cat doesn’t like having their claws trimming, bathe on a separate day.

A wet cat will feel cold. Adjust the temperature higher of lower. If the heat or AC is not on, close any window against cold drafts. It’s getting chilly here so we cranked up the heat.

  • A non skid rubber mat to place on the bathing surface.
  • 2 soft absorbent towels. 100% Turkish cotton towels are super absorbent. For extra pampering heat them in the dryer.
  • Rubber gloves if you think kitty will scratch but it’s more cumbersome and doesn’t feel as natural. Bare fingers work well. A small sponge (flat round or sea sponge) or wash cloth or mitt work fine.
  • Safe shampoo and optional conditioner. The cheapest safe shampoo is a baby ” no tears” shampoo. Regular shampoo will sting the eyes creating an instant “cat from hell!” We prefer a gentle, natural pet shampoo with no artificial fragrance or additives. We have used the lovely shampoo/conditioner from Gerrard Larriett on Odin when he gets super muddy feet. For me, we happened to have a sample of Soothe Oatmeal shampoo from Pet Naturals. Note: natural pet shampoos have little to no lather or bubbles.
  • Hair dryer *optional.
  • If not using a handheld shower for rinsing, you can use an unbreakable measuring cup, a pitcher with a spout or small watering can or even a Neti pot.
  • Paper towels and optional safety swabs ( Q-Tips or other brand designed for babies) Some like to place a little cotton ball inside the ears to avoid getting wet. We prefer not to.
  • Optional bathrobe or fleece sweater sprayed with Feliway (calming spray)
  • Optional calming music like Through a Cat’s Ear (bioacoustically designed to calm cats). or maybe Handel’s Water Music ?
  • Optional calming drops for nervous nellies (human or feline). Flower Essences like Rescue Remedy or treats like Calming from Pet Natural or your cats favorite treat as a reward.
  • Run the water for the sink of bath. Check that it’s warm but not super hot. If not using a handheld shower, fill the bath no more than 3 to 4 inches of water.

cat Bathing 101

It’s bath time! Give a light brushing to check for mats and loose hairs or debris. While sweeping the fur gently and in a calm voice tell your cat what you’ll be doing especially if it’s the first time. You’re smelly and you’ll look and feel better after a bath. You’re safe and you’ll be dry fast. Then you’ll be the most handsome or beautiful cat in the world!

A little petting with favorite skritches and cooing helps to calm. Most important: Calm Human = Calm Cat. If you are worried or nervous, cats know and will react. Think calm, positive thoughts and the successful end result: a happy, clean cat. Gently lower the cat into the bath.

Wet the cat all over with the shower hose or container, avoiding the eyes, nose and inside of ears. We only used the shower and placed no water in the tub. I instantly looked like a drowned rat but loved the warm water. Layla’s purring compliments helped too.

Shampoo: Place about a tsp. to a tbs. (depending on the size of cat) on a wet sponge, cloth or palm of hand. Gently lather the body avoiding the eyes, nose and mouth with one hand while holding the cat with the other. If you think you can’t do it yourself, get someone to help. Make your way down from the head to the tail, under the belly (careful some cats don’t like being touched there) and down the legs and the feet. It shouldn’t take more than a minute to complete the shampoo unless your cat is super filthy or a show cat who requires more attention.

Rinse: Again, warm not hot water and careful rinse thoroughly avoiding the eyes, ears and mouth. Take a rinsed cloth or sponge and gently wipe the face and chin. If the ears need cleaning, take a damp, baby ear bud or Q-Tip and gently clean the ears. If you were to use a conditioner, apply it now, avoiding the face, rub in the direction of hair growth downward from head to tail and rinse, rinse, rinse. Unplug sink or tub.

cat bathing 101

Dry: Gently wrap a soft towel around the cat’s body to towel dry. For extra pampering it could be heated in the dryer. Place the cat wherever you decided in advance to do the drying. It could be on a towel on the bathroom floor, a counter or bed. Paper towels are good for absorbing water from the face and head. For cats with longer or heavier coats. Use a second towel or third towel.

Blow Dry: If your cat will tolerate it, a blow dryer set on slow and warm (never hot) will speed up the drying. Keep one hand on the cat and the other on the dryer being careful not to blow near the face. Professional groomers have a dryer set up for hands-free ease in order to use the appropriate combs and brushes while drying. This is where an extra pair of hands comes in handy. As an easy going Siamese who hates the cold, I loved the warm air at first but after two minutes, I’d had enough. As always, respect your cat’s limits. Cooing and soft flattery worked for me. Oh, your fur is getting so soft and beautiful!

Treat time! We deserve it.

Finishing Touch:

If still wet, use a fresh ,dry towel once more. I was still damp and ready to crawl back under the duvet. A great place to stay warm until completely dry. If you have a pet bathrobe (yes, they exist) it will absorb any remaining dampness while keeping your cat warm. We’d just received a package from Pet Safe and there were two Fido Wear fleece sweaters for doggies. Don’t tell anyone but the size 10 fit purrfectly and were so soft and warm I didn’t mind wearing it. I have a cashmere sweater but Layla thought any dampness would make me smell like a wet dog!

The End Result: My fur was so silky soft and smelled divine. I felt and looked ten years years younger. Happy cat = Happy human. I give my Cat Wisdom 101 4-Paws stamp of approval for my spa bath. It was a positive experience but hey, I don’t want to make it a weekly habit.

bathing cats-fido fleece petsafe

Tell me, do you have any questions or tips of your own?




  • Skeeter and Izzy

    Merlin you look soooooooooooooooo handsome!!! We don’t bathe yet but Mom has bathed kitties before. You gave some great tips. Keeping kitty warm during and afterwards is crucial since their body temperature is higher than ours and they can chill easily especially old, young or sick kitties.
    Concats on your first bath Merlin!

    Skeeter and Izzy and the Feral Gang + Twig & Peanut & Romeo >^..^<
    PS the notification came in my email and had the right formatting etc.

  • Flynn

    It sounds like you had an enjoyable spa day Merlin.
    Eric used to get in the bath with mum or dad. Not actually in the water though, he used to lie on them with his paws in the water and his tail floating and he would go to sleep like that.

  • da tabbies o trout towne

    dood…..well, ya DUE look good, sorree…frum wear we sit we canna smell if ya smell good ore knot tho…



  • Tamago

    Great tips for bathing kitties! I hope we don’t have to bathe our boys but definitely read this instruction again if we do in the future. I have to check out the calming music. Must be good to play in stressful situation.

  • Nerissa's Life

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m still gettin’ that error message when I attempt to comment from Google+ BUT I’m havin’ no difficulty commenting from e-mail notifications. Weird, huh? The wonders of the Internet. MO– — — USES!


  • Nerissa's Life

    Super happy to hear you made it through the bath, alive and well. My brother, Anderson had to have a bath at the doctor’s when he went for his very first visit. Actually, he had to have two of ’em! One right after another. He was pretty nervous and had a bit of an accident, you see.


  • Beverly

    How nice! A drama-less spa session. I’ve heard of some that required the human to wear chain-mail.

    But you’re such a good cat!

  • Austin Towers

    Very good tips! I have, so far, only had to be baptised once! I was so embarrassed as it was kind of an emergency and everything is a bit of a blur anyway! Since then I have been very fastidious and made sure I didn’t get into stinky places again!

    I’m glad you managed to get the 404 error message thing sorted!


  • Sammy

    What wonderful bath tips! So far I’m still able to keep myself nice and squeaky clean without a bath but Mom remembers when she first brought me home to live here from the shelter I was VERY stinky and she gave me a bath in a tiny sink in a nice, warm bathroom….it wasn’t too bad but it DID encourage me to keep myself scrubbed up on my own! One day I won’t be able to do a good job – like Merlin – and I’ll try to let Mom follow your directions so I’ll be my handsome and CLEAN ginger self again! Merlin looks gorgeous – – – but to me, he ALWAYS has…..he’s my hero.

    Love and Hugs, Sammy

  • Summer

    Great tips, and I’m sure Merlin felt awesome! I am used to getting bathed, although it is not one of my favorite activities, but I confess, it makes me feel special. My human even had a sprayer installed in the sink in the enclosed patio to make it easier for us!

  • Kathryn

    Oh, Merlin is so bootiful and so clean.

    We haven’t bathed Cheddar and Mao for awhile, but the kids loved to do it when they were younger, and smaller – the cats, not the kids, although the kids were also smaller. They used raincoats. We had rugs on the bathroom floor. Cheddar whined and Mao just took it silently. They both loved the clean feel afterwards and after a few times, they didn’t mind that bath part as much.

    I think this Christmas when both kids will be here will be a good time. It does take three people to bathe two cats at the same time.

    Thanks for all the tips!

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