Try some of these rewarding techniques including praise and treats, as recommended by experts.

By Jillian Kramer
January 30, 2020

While many animals enjoy playing in water, some simply can't stand to take a bath. "Some pets dislike taking baths because they don't know what is going to happen and don't have the option to leave," explains John de Jong, D.V.M, immediate past-president and member of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "That loss of control and fear of the unknown creates stress for pets. If they then have a less-than-positive experience during the bath, that stress can intensify."

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Of course, not all pets need baths—most cats and many dogs can groom and maintain their own coats—and so, some pet owners can avoid the dreaded bath time entirely. But, "if your pet has an unusual coat-type, an unusually strong odor, or any health conditions relating to their skin, check with your veterinarian for special requirements relating to grooming and bathing," de Jong says.

If you find you need to bathe a reluctant pet, here are ways you can make the experience better.

Related: Five Common Questions That Pet Owners Ask Behaviorists, Answered

Brush your pet daily.

While your pet may not love being brushed either, "daily brushing will provide a natural tactile response on the skin," explains Jim Carlson, D.V.M., founder of Riverside Animal Clinic in McHenry, Illinois, "which conditions the hair and skin to a stimulus." With enough time, that pet "may be more likely to accept another new stimulus," Carlson says, such as water during a bath.

Ease in with waterless bathing.

Rather than starting in the bath tub, consider bathing with waterless bathing products, such as grooming wipes first. As Carlson explains, this builds on brushing by adding wetness, "which will help them be less reactive to moisture" and help your pet prepare for an eventual bath.

Set up your bathing area.

Before you take your pet into the bathroom for a bath, de Jong recommends clearing away any clutter, closing off any escape routes, and filling the tub with appropriately warm water. When you bring in your pet into the space, be sure to face them away from the door, de Jong also adds.

Start with water only.

When you bathe your cat or dog, don't slather on shampoo immediately. Instead, "if they have accepted the water, bring the nozzle down and let it drizzle on the pet's coat and gradually increase the pressure of the water," Carlson says. Only then should you move on to shampoo.

Avoid stress triggers.

"Avoid doing anything you know your pet finds stressful," advise de Jong. "Use a bath or tub that's near the ground rather than a high basin; run water in advance and pour with a cup rather than using running water and hose; and use absorbent towels rather than a noisy blow-dryer."

Reinforce bath time with praise and treats.

Positive reinforcement is an old but effective trick for pets, and it works for bath time, too. "Do not reprimand or punish pets for not staying still or trying to escape during a bath," says de Jong. "This would only increase their stress and associate you with a negative experience." Instead, he suggests giving them treats in an empty tub so that they come to associate the bath favorably.

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