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By Valerie Trumps
Folklore scoffs at bathing cats, saying it can’t be done nor is it needed. But you, Commander of the Kitty, can do all things to your feline as long as they’re done in the right way. The traditional belief that cats and water don’t mix is a myth that can be disproved by using principles of psychology, gaining your kitten’s trust, and not giving up. Follow these steps to accustom your cat to baths early in her life and make bathing a non-issue.
As with most cat behavior modification, getting your kitten used to sudsing up goes beyond merely achieving the goal of cleanliness. Fluffy can do an adequate job bathing herself with the almost constant grooming that are a normal part of a cat’s life. In fact, if you’ve adopted siblings from the same litter, they will groom each other for life, doubling the clean factor. However, invariably situations arise in a cat’s life where her owner must touch, prod, and poke despite kitty’s protests or discomfort. If your cat is accustomed to you as the master of her physical wellbeing, she will be safer and you will be relieved in knowing that what needs to be done can be done.
Psychologists and other mental health care professionals use a process called systematic desensitization to help their patients overcome phobias. Simply stated, baby steps completed successfully lead to achieving the ultimate goal. The patient builds on each small victory by adding new achievements to the foundation of past successes already in place until the desired behavior is formed.
So how does this work for your kitten? Well, systematic desensitization works extremely well with animals when treats and praise are part of the teaching process. Here’s how to put it into practice.
Invade her space. While petting your cat and murmuring words of love, run your fingers over her teeth and gently massage the inside of her mouth. Gently stroke the insides of her ears. Splay her toes and rub between them. Pat her butt when she backs up to you with her tail up. Pet her tummy and hold her with your arm between her legs. Get her used to you having full access to her body, even parts that are ticklish. Praise lavishly and give treats for her compliance.
Gather bathing equipment and set the stage. You will need two bath towels (one to dry with, one to cuddle with), a washcloth, cat shampoo (baby shampoo works if you're in a pinch), and her favorite cat treats. The ideal bathing location is in the bathroom with the door closed and a heater on to prevent her from catching a cold. Fill the sink or bathtub with an inch or two of warm water while she is in the bathroom with you to get her used to the sound of running water.
1. Get her feet wet. Her first step in the process is merely getting her feet wet. That’s it. Just stand her in the water so all four paws are submerged. Pet and praise her. Give her treats after she’s stood there for a few minutes without struggling. Wrap her in a bath towel and cuddle her with plenty of kisses. If she struggles, don’t give her treats and try again tomorrow. Do not move on to the next step until she successfully completes this one.