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Bathing Cats and Dogs with Marc

Martha Stewart Living Television

Most dogs and cats are easygoing and eager to please. They're generally more than happy to accommodate your wishes. A walk? Sounds great. Something new to scratch on? Marvelous. The minute you suggest a bath, however, everything changes. Marc Morrone, pet expert and host of the cable-television program "Metro Pets," explains that even though baths are relaxing and pleasant for most humans, they can be traumatic for animals, and he offers some suggestions for making the experience more comfortable.

Bathing Cats
Cats, in particular, 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 a cat, or any animal, is starting when they are very young, so they grow up accustomed to the process.

Don't put your cat in the sink or a washtub: He will feel like he has no control and may become restless or panicky. A better method is to use several buckets filled with warm water. Add some shampoo made especially for cats to the water and swish it around to make suds, then lower the cat into the bucket. Allow him to rest his front paws on the edge of the bucket -- this gives him a feeling of having some control. 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 wring 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 him in a big, fluffy towel to dry. This will be sufficient for a short-haired breed; longer-haired cats may require blow-drying.

Bathing Dogs
For dogs that are small enough, the best place for a bath is the kitchen sink (larger dogs may have to go in the bathtub, but the techniques are the same). Since slipping around on a slick, wet surface can be frightening, use a rubber mat in the bottom of the sink. The dog will be able to keep 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 his ears to keep water out, and a drop or two of mineral oil in each eye to avoid stinging from the shampoo. Then have him stand in the basin, and use one hand to hold him firmly in place throughout the bath; it's easier as 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 his neck so that the fleas don't climb up to his head during the bath. Use a small sponge to clean his head and face. Rinse with the shower attachment for several minutes -- it's very important to remove all traces of soap to prevent irritation. When he is thoroughly rinsed, cover the dog loosely with a towel, and blow a puff of air into his face -- this will cause him 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.

Resources
Four Paws dog and cat shampoos are available at pet and pet-supply stores; mineral oil is available at grocery stores and pharmacies.