How To Bathe A Stray Cat (And Survive!)

bathing a stray cat

Not too long ago, I happened to chance upon an article that listed the most frightening activities known to mankind. Some of the activities mentioned were parachuting, rock climbing, roller coasters, going to the dentist, encountering a wild bear, etc.

However, there was something that the article forgot to mention. And that is how to give a stray cat a bath and come out unscathed or at least with your limbs still intact. Suffice to say it wasn’t a very well-researched article.

For those cat owners who have gone through hell and high water to give a cat a bath, you know what I’m talking about.

If you have a stray or foster cat in your care that is in need of a good cleaning, this article is for you.

Why Do Cats Hate Getting A Bath?

If you have kids at home, you know how difficult it can be to get them into the shower. Even if you succeed, not many will stay still and be quiet till the bathing process is done.

Yeah, I know you have seen videos of cats enjoying getting a bath or loving water in general. But that’s probably not your cat or mine.

Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this article.

The majority of cats do not like getting wet which makes water a mortal enemy.

Another reason why cats aren’t fans of being bathed is the process of getting scrubbed.

You don’t just shower a cat by spraying water on it. You really have to get in there and give your cat a good rub down depending on how dirty it is.

You got to wash their face, butts, belly and paws. All areas that a typical cat hates being groped at.

My cat screams like a banshee whenever I wash his paws.

I had to double check quite a few times that I was using lukewarm water and not boiling water on my cat.

Why Is Bathing A Stray Cat A Lot Harder?

harder to shower stray cat

With our own cats, giving them a bath can be a real pain in the butt but at least your cat knows you.

In this case, we are talking about stray adult cats who can unleash a world of hurt with their teeth and claws.

You are still considered a stranger to these cats and they are on their guard.

Don’t assume that you have it easier if you have to shower a stray kitten. Even a stray kitten can be very feisty at such a young age.

Kittens can’t retract their claws until 4-5 weeks of age so you can definitely feel their sharpness on your skin if you are bathing one.

Getting Ready To Shower A Stray Cat

It is rather common these days to have a stray cat follow you and not leave you alone. There are millions of strays roaming the streets as we speak.

Many of my readers are kind enough to take in strays and foster them. Some strays reach out to us for help and if possible, it would be great if you could offer a helping hand.

Don’t just trap the stray cat in your bathroom and start spraying water on it like you are putting out a fire with an extinguisher.

You need to get into the cat’s good books before getting it wet. Take some time to feed the stray some cat food as a peace offering.

If the cat is friendly enough, it would be good to examine the cat to see how dirty it is and if there are any open wounds or skin infections.

I wouldn’t suggest bathing a cat that seems injured as excess movement or pressure on the cat can worsen its injuries.

You can take the cat to the vet or give a no-kill local shelter a call to see if they can help.

Get Ready The Essentials

towels for bathing cat

It is good to get ready all the stuff you need before you get the cat in the bathroom. This is exactly what I do each time before I shower my cat.

  • Towels – You need a couple of these as cats have thick fur and it takes more than one towel to dry them
  • Shampoo – Try to a cat shampoo that you can get from most pet stores. Otherwise, any baby shampoo is gentle enough for cats. If you don’t have both, use dawn dish soap as it’s safe for cats
  • Non-slip mat – It is going to get slippery for the cat if you are going to shower the stray cat inside your bathtub. Place the cat on a non-slip mat to make it feel more secure and sure-footed
  • Handheld shower head – The stray cat will feel more at ease if the water feels like rain coming down on it. A detachable shower head allows you to wash under the cat and hard-to-reach places.
  • Maintain a warm bathroom – If the weather is cold and you have a heater in the bathroom, on it first to keep the bathroom nice and warm. It will make the cat feel more comfortable.

Showering The Stray Cat

Now for the main event.

Staying calm is very important. Don’t make it seem like you are about to enter into a lion’s den unarmed.

The cat can sense your energy and feeling nervous or anxious isn’t going to help both of you.

What I would like to do first is to take a small wet towel and wipe down the cat first. This sort of mentally and physically prepares the cat that I’m trying to get it wet.

If the cat is responding well to the process, gently hold it by the loose skin between the shoulder blades and turn on the shower.

Do not turn on the water at full blast and ensure that it’s lukewarm water. Use slightly warm water if the weather is cold.

The cat might start to struggle and vocalize at this point but just continue to hold the cat and speak gently to it.

Turn off the shower before you start to apply the shampoo. You do not have to use a lot of shampoo, just enough to ensure that every part of the cat’s body and feet are clean.

Once you are done shampooing the cat, rinse off all the shampoo from the cat.

Run your hands along the cat to make sure that there’s no residual shampoo.

Cats lick themselves a ton after a shower and it ingesting residual shampoo can give them a tummy ache.

Towel Dry Your Cat

towel dry cat after shower

It is important to gently wipe down the cat with the towel once you are done. Don’t just let the cat run off soaking wet as it can catch a cold.

This strongly applies to stray kittens as they can’t regulate their body temperatures as well as older cats. The stray kitten can start to fade away if it gets too cold.

Using a blow dryer might not be the best option at this point as the loud noise can easily spook the cat.

Just use the towels to hand dry the entire cat’s body till it’s almost dry.

What Not To Do When Showering The Stray Cat?

There are a couple of things that you should not do when bathing a cat.

Do Not Spray Water On The Face

Most cats do not like having their faces washed or sprayed. Getting soap or water into their noses or eyes can be painful.

Another reason is to not let water enter the cat’s ear which can cause an ear infection.

If you need to clean the cat’s face, use a towel and warm water to wipe it clean. Do not use any cleaning solutions that can irritate the cat’s face.

Do Not Force The Cat

If at any one point the cat is showing too much distress or becomes too much to handle, stop the shower and towel the cat dry.

Forcing a very stressed-out cat to tolerate a shower can cause the cat to lash out at you.

If the cat is still dirty, use a wet cloth or pet wipes to clean the cat as much as possible.

Do Not Shower The Cat Naked

Taking a shower together with a stray cat that hardly knows you isn’t the best way to bind with it.

Keep your clothes on while you are showering the cat.

Use a long sleeve shirt and long pants to protect yourself in case the cat starts to freak out and out its claws on you.

I don’t have to experience it to know that having your cat’s sharp claws on your nether regions is going to hurt like heck.

How to Bathe A Cat With Fleas?

If you notice that the stray cat has fleas, it is best to use an anti-flea shampoo or dawn dish soap to remove as many fleas as possible.

Showering the cat wouldn’t be enough to totally get rid of all the fleas if it is a serious infestation.

You will need a flea comb and anti-flea medication like Revolution to apply to the cat.

Do Stray Cats Clean Themselves?

Cats in general are clean creatures and keep themselves clean as much as possible. It is common for cats to spend up to five hours a day grooming themselves.

The problem for stray cats or stray kittens is that they live out in the open and they tend to get dirty very easily.

Should I Bathe A Stray Cat?

Bathing cats isn’t really for the inexperienced but you can make it as easy as possible if you take it slow.

It is hard to gauge how cooperative or nasty a cat is until you start bathing it. Don’t force the cat if it really hates getting showered.

If you follow the above instructions closely, you will survive to tell the tale…hopefully.

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