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Bathing Cats and Dogs

Make your pet's bath time fun and easy with these simple tips.
Martha Stewart Living, April 1997

Most dogs and cats are easygoing and eager to please. They're generally more than happy to accommodate your wishes. The minute you suggest a bath, however, everything changes. Even though baths are relaxing and pleasant for most humans, they can be traumatic for animals; here are some suggestions for making the experience more comfortable.

Bathing the Cat
Cats are not fond of being bathed. And many cats, particularly those that stay indoors, can keep themselves clean enough on their own. If the cat goes outdoors and gets dirty, however, or if a human member of the household is allergic to the animal's fur, then bathing becomes a necessity. The key to successfully bathing cats, or any animal, is to start when they are very young, so they grow up accustomed to the process.

Don't put your cat in the sink; use three buckets or metal tubs filled with warm water instead. Add some shampoo made especially for cats to the water in one bucket and swish it around to make suds, then lower the cat in. Allow the cat to rest its front paws on the edge of the bucket -- this will help keep it from panicking. Rub the suds through the cat's fur, and use a small sponge to clean the head and face. Then lift the cat from the water and gently stroke the fur to get out the excess suds and water. Use the clean, warm water in the next two buckets to rinse the fur, and use a clean, wet sponge to rid the face of any soap. Afterward, wrap your cat in a big, fluffy towel to dry. This will be sufficient for a short-haired breed; longer-haired cats may require blow-drying.

Bathing the Dog
Since slipping around on a slick, wet surface can be frightening for dogs, use a rubber mat in the bottom of the sink or tub. The dog will be able to keep a firm footing and retain a feeling of control.

Before the bath, groom the dog, brushing and trimming away any matted fur that will only become a bigger mess when wet. You may want to put cotton balls in the dog's ears to keep water out and a drop or two of mineral oil in each eye to keep the shampoo from stinging them. Stand the dog in the basin, and use one hand to hold the dog firmly in place throughout the bath -- bathing a dog is really a two-person job, so have a friend help, if possible.

Rather than filling the sink or tub with water and lowering the animal into it -- which just invites sloshing and splashing -- use a shower attachment to wet the dog's fur. Use a shampoo that is specially formulated for dogs (there are many varieties, including those for dogs with sensitive skin; with fleas; with long, easily matted fur, etc.), and lather well. If your dog has fleas, lather first around the neck so the fleas don't climb up to the dog's head during the bath. Use a small sponge to clean the head and face.

Rinse the dog using the shower attachment for several minutes -- it's very important to remove all traces of soap to prevent irritation. Once the dog is thoroughly rinsed, cover it loosely with a towel, and blow a puff of air into the dog's face -- this will cause the dog to shake out the excess water. If the dog's fur is long, you may want to use a special cream-rinse at this point to prevent tangling and matting. Finally, wrap the dog in a big, fluffy towel, and finish by blow-drying, if necessary.