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Why Doesn’t My Cat Like Baths?

Angry, wet cat after a bath, cat baths make cats uncomfortable.

There are many theories as to why most cats don’t like baths, and all of them are probably at least partly true. There are, however, some cats who do like getting a bath or being partially submerged in water. They aren’t common, except in a few particular breeds such as the Turkish Van, a stocky cat native to Turkey that likes to swim or lounge in any available water. Domesticated cats in other areas of the world, including the United States, are much more likely to spit, scratch and bite when they are put into water. Why?

Evolution and Cat Baths

It’s important to remember that there is a vast difference between today’s domesticated cats and the tigers you sometimes see swimming in rivers in animal documentaries. Tigers are wild animals who can easily defend themselves. Domesticated cats, on the other hand, have become smaller and more dependent on living in the homes of humans or on the streets of towns where humans gather. They didn’t need to go into the water and didn’t need to know how to swim, so they have evolved without the natural ability to swim that some wild cats have.

Fastidiousness

Cats are famous for being self-cleaning, fussy creatures. It’s in their nature to groom themselves regularly, so they seldom actually need to be bathed in water. If you try to bathe a cat for the first time, he will rebel because he doesn’t like the feeling of being water-logged and will not like the strange, chemical smell of most tap water. It is something they aren’t used to and aren’t likely to learn to enjoy. Ditto for a dripping wet, clammy coat.

Experience

Finally, if your cat has had a bad experience with water, he will be very resistant to being bathed. Most likely, the first experience a cat will have with being soaked will be when he is caught in the rain. After a soggy, uncomfortable and cold evening in a rainstorm, water won’t look appealing to him. If you discipline him by squirting him with a spray bottle of water, you’re inadvertently reinforcing his aversion to water.

Making Cat Baths Less of an Ordeal

If your cat has gotten muddy or needs a flea bath, you may have to give your cat a bath at some point. By keeping a few things in mind, you can minimize the unpleasantness for both of you:

  • If you can, give your cat a sponge bath instead of submerging him in water. You can use soap on a wet cloth to lather him up, then rinse out the cloth and soak with water to rinse him off.
  • If you have to get your cat into a tub of water, submerge him slowly while talking softly to him to reassure him.
  • Put a towel in the bottom of the tub so that his feet won’t slip and slide.
  • Make sure the water is warm (not hot) and turn off the water before you put your cat into the bath. The sound of running water and the foaming of the water could frighten your pet.
  • Rub your cat down thoroughly with a towel after his bath so that he doesn’t have to walk around with an uncomfortable, wet coat for any length of time.
  • Don’t pour water over your cat’s head or face. Simply wipe these areas with a warm, wet cloth to avoid water in the eyes or ears.
  • Give him a treat when the bath is over, then let him stalk off to sulk if that’s what he wants to do.
  • Consider taking your cat to an experienced groomer who has the tools and know-how to give your cat a bath with minimal drama.

Have you ever had to bathe your cat? If you have, how did you do it and how did your cat react? If you have tips for making a cat bath easier, please share it in the comments section.


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