Cat Getting a Bath

Ever try to bathe a cat? Then you probably subscribe to the belief championed by one of my favorite colleagues, “Hell hath no fury like a well-motivated feline.”

Never have truer words been spoken than when it comes time to resisting at-home procedures like pilling, applying warm compresses, instilling eye medications and other ministrations cats may perceive as appallingly and unforgivably anti-cat.

Cats can be formidable adversaries in this regard. They’ll often flail furiously at bath time and claw their way through a bloody nail trim (all your blood, of course). They may even pierce you with their fangs when you happen to brush through an especially tangly bit of fur. Indeed, gadgets, thingamajiggies and doodads aplenty have been devised to help owners manage their cats better in these instances.

Common Sense Tips

While there are no 100 percent effective tools and almost no shortcuts when it comes to handling cats, my experience treating them at home and at work has yielded at least a few tips my clients have appreciated over the years. Let’s see if these will help you handle home healthcare without making them hate you (as much). 

1. Start early. In general, younger cats tend to learn to tolerate things easier than older cats. Even for kittens who put up a fuss when it comes to bathing, brushing or medicating, if they learn early, they’re more likely to tolerate this handling when they’re older. Not that you’ve totally missed the boat on this (it’s never too late!), but starting early is super helpful.

2. Get professional instruction. Your friendly neighborhood veterinary technician or veterinary assistant can certainly teach you how best to handle your cat in the most stress-free manner possible. This way you can try a variety of simple techniques and get tips that are specific to your cat.

3. Be patient. It takes more than one try to get things right with most any cat. I find that way too many owners give up after just a couple of tries, assuming their cats are impossibly difficult and will never allow a simple bath, pilling, tooth brushing, etc. This is almost certainly untrue. Most cats will tolerate things with the proper technique, some patience and a whole lot of…

4. Practice makes perfect (well, sometimes). Even cats who don’t normally allow certain kinds of handling usually improve over time. Consider cats who learn to get insulin injections twice a day, receive fluids under their skin on a regular basis, have their ears pricked for blood sugar testing and sit pretty for blood pressure testing (among other indignities). I mean, if your son-in-law or your neighbor can learn to take their cat’s blood pressure, then you can certainly learn how to get pills into your cat.

5. Be creative! Cats are unique, which makes handling them especially tricky. For example, some are better when they’re swaddled for procedures, while others need a really light touch. Some do better after feeding when they’re more relaxed and pliable, while others need the reward of the dinner bowl before they’ll submit.

Cater to Your Cat

Here are some more creative bits of subterfuge I’ve engaged in to help tempt cats into “enjoying” any potentially unwanted ministrations. 

Try different tools. For example, if your cat hates a toothbrush, try a finger brush or start with your finger coated with a cat toothpaste. And for regular brushing, try a bunch of different cat toothpaste flavors and brands to determine the one she likes best.  

Make it quicker. Some cats just want things over with fast. In fact, some will hold no grudge at all as long as you can make the whole thing seem a) lightning quick and b) unavoidable. For example, if she hates being bathed, try using a cat-bathing bag to make the job faster. This tool keeps all four feet inside the bag so it’s easier to keep her in the tub. Easier = faster = less stress for some.

Outsource the stuff you can. Speaking of bathing, this is where plenty of cat owners draw the line. If you find this kind of interaction too stressful, outsource it to a professional. 

Offer the right reward. This is all about trial and error. The good news is that almost all cats will respond positively to a reward. The hard part is figuring out what she loves best.

Fortunately, most cats don’t seem to hold much of a grudge. In fact, contrary to popular belief, cats are usually downright forgiving. After all, even after you’ve been gone all day, they’re still tracing pretzels around your legs at mealtime and snuggling up to your head at night, right? If that’s the case, you’re clearly doing something right. So try not to sweat the home healthcare too much. Just get it done so you can move on to the more rewarding aspects of being a cat person.

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