How to easily give a senior cat a bath

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From time to time, you might need to give a senior cat a bath. Younger cats typically have no problems keeping their fur clean. Cats care about the cleanliness of their fur and will spend lots of time grooming themselves. As your cat gets older, you might notice they’re grooming themselves less. This can for numerous reasons: arthritis, illness, and obesity are a few common causes.

Failure to maintain your cat’s fur can lead to matting, odor and skin irritation. If you notice your cat isn’t grooming as well, you’ll need to step in and help.

Easy ways to maintain your cat’s coat on a daily basis include fur wipes and brushing. You can find cat-specific wipes that will help remove dirt and eliminate odor online or in pet stores. In addition, daily brushing will keep your cat’s fur shiny and mat-free. The type of brush you use will depend on your cat’s coat. Long-haired cats might also need an undercoat-specific brush to remove excess loose fur before they can swallow it.

In more extreme cases, full-body baths may be required for cleaning a dirty elderly cat. If your cat needs a bath, don’t fret, you can do it at home by yourself.

Keeping your senior cat clean, keeping their fur detangled and getting them odor-free will help keep them happy and healthy into their older years.

 

Why did my senior cat stop grooming?

There are numerous medical reasons why your cat won’t groom as well as they used to as they get older. Here are a few of the most common reasons.

Arthritis

Elderly cats stop grooming themselves for several reasons. The most common reason is arthritis. Arthritis is a common ailment among older cats, and you might not even realize they’re experiencing any discomfort. Cats in pain tend to hide their symptoms. This is because, in the wild, a cat that’s in pain is a target for predators. So it’s a natural thing for cats not to show you they’re in pain or sick unless it’s extreme.

Arthritic cats are often sore and uncomfortable, and all the bending and twisting that grooming requires is too much for their joints. That’s why they stop grooming themselves. If their owner or another cat in the household doesn’t help, they’ll get dirty and develop mats.

Obesity

Obesity is another common reason cats might stop grooming as well. Extra weight can make it more difficult for cats to bend and reach in order to groom. It’s easy for cats to put on weight as they get older. Older cats have less energy and are less active, and if you keep feeding them lots of food and treats, they’ll put on weight much more easily than they would in their youth. You might notice your older cat’s rear end smells more than it used to – that’s because they can no longer clean up back there.

General illness

Illness can prevent your cat from grooming. I’m sure there have been times you’ve been sick and taking a shower or brushing your teeth sounds exhausting. Cats deal with the same thing. Feeling sick makes them not want to do anything, including grooming themselves. Common illnesses elderly cats might suffer from that would prevent them from grooming are diabetes and hyperthyroidism. If your cat does have one of these ailments and gets them treated, you’ll probably find they’ll start grooming again once they’re feeling better.

Mouth pain

Dental issues are another reason cats stop grooming regularly. Since cats use their mouths to groom, if they’re having tooth or gum pain they’ll groom less frequently. You can check your cat’s mouth yourself (if they’ll let you). See if you notice any inflamed gums, broken teeth or bleeding around the gum line. If so, you’ll want to get your cat into a vet.

Lack of flexibility

Just like people, a cat’s joints become stiffer and less flexible as they age. Cleaning their sides or behind might not be easy for them anymore. It’s common to notice your cat’s rear-end gets smellier or might even have feces stuck to it more often.

Non-health related reasons

If you notice your cat IS grooming but is still not looking their best, there are reasons for this as well. Cats naturally produce more oil as they age. This can lead to greasy, matted fur even in short-haired cats.

If you keep up on your cat's grooming, it might mean you don't have to give a senior cat a bath.

How to groom your senior cat

If your cat is just a little dirty, you probably don’t need to give a senior cat a bath just yet. Basic grooming and cleaning will suffice.

Brushing their fur

Regular brushing is a good idea to prevent mats and get limit hairballs. Any pet brush will do, just spend a few minutes a couple of times a week brushing their fur. Long-haired cats might need brushing every day, but short-haired cats only need it a few times a week.

For a long-haired cat you might also want to invest in an undercoat comb. This will help remove loose hair from the undercoat, which leads to mats and hairballs. Most cats love being brushed, so for most of you, this won’t be too difficult to get done.

Pet wipes

If your cat is a bit dirty and needs some extra cleaning, you can buy some pet wipes and wipe down your cat’s fur. Pet wipes look like baby wipes, but they’re completely safe for your cat. It’s fine if your cat licks their fur afterward and ingests some of the liquid.

Cut out mats

If your cat does develop a mat, use a small pair of scissors to cut it out. Once you cut the mat out, brush the area to remove additional tangles. That’s an area you should focus on when you brush your cat because mats will normally spring up in the same areas.

Trim their nails

You’ll also want to trim your cat’s nails regularly. Younger cats will scratch on scratching posts, carpet, furniture, etc. in order to keep their nails from getting too long. Older cats will often stop doing that though.

If you notice your cat’s nails are getting long, you can use a nail clipper to keep them short. Short claws will keep you, your cat and other pets safe, as cats can accidentally scratch others or themselves if they aren’t taken care of.

Clean their ears

Some cats get waxy ears and will need their ears cleaned as well. You can get ear drops, either from a pet store or from your vet, and drop the solution into their ears. Rub their ears for 10 seconds to spread the solution around and break up the wax. Your cat will them shake their head to get the extra liquid out of their ears. Then you can take a cotton ball and wipe any extra fluid and wax from the outside of their ear canal.

Do NOT dig your finger into their ear even if you see wax in there. Deep wax must be removed by your vet.

How to give a senior cat a bath

If your cat is very dirty, you might need to give them a full bath. This is not something that should be done frequently if you can avoid it, but in cases where a wipe won’t take care of the situation, a full bath will need to be done.

Now you probably know the stereotype that cats hate water, and in many cases this is true. Cats, especially ones that have never been bathed before, hate getting wet. So you’ll need to prepare yourself beforehand. Get everything you’ll need and keep it close by.

Trim your cat’s nails so they can’t scratch you too badly. Ideally, if you can, have someone else help you out so one of you can safely hold the cat while the other does the bathing.

If you want to give a senior cat a bath it’s very doable, just tricky.

Senior cat bath supplies

You’ll need the following supplies laid out beforehand.

  1. Rubber gloves – these will protect you and also give you a better grip on your cat when it’s wet.
  2. A long-sleeved shirt – for you, of course, not your cat. It’ll protect your arms. Make sure it’s a shirt you’re ok with getting wet because it definitely will.
  3. Pet shampoo – human shampoo contains ingredients that can irritate your cat’s skin, so buy a specialty pet shampoo. Baby shampoo can also suffice.
  4. A large pitcher, bowl or spray bottle. This is what you will use to wet your cat and rinse it.
  5. Two large towels – one for the bottom of the tub and the other to dry them off after the bath.
  6. Cotton balls – I prefer the larger ones.
  7. A washcloth  – to clean their face.

Preparation

Before the bath, you’ll want to brush your cat’s fur out to get rid of any tangles and loose fur. This should also calm your cat down a little. Do NOT feed your cat right before their bath. Some people do this to get the cat into a happy place or think it will calm them down – it’ll just increase the chances of them throwing up in the middle of the bath.

Feeding them after their bath though is a good idea. If you have a helper, you can also try feeding mid-bath, but don’t go overboard.

How to give you cat a bath

Place a towel at the bottom of the bathtub. This will give them more grip, and make them feel a little more secure. Fill the tub up a few inches with warm, not hot, water. A cat’s skin is sensitive, hot water will dry it out. If you don’t have a bathtub, a bigger plastic bin will work, or a sink if you have one big enough where you can move the faucet to the side.

Fill your pitchers up with water before you get started, just to make things easier. That way you won’t have to wrestle your cat while filling up the pitchers. These should be filled with water at the same temperature as the bath.

Gently lower your cat into the water while speaking gently to them. They’re going to be terrified, there’s no way around that. The calmer you stay, the more calm your cat will be. It’s normal for them to hiss, bite, or scratch. That’s why you’re wearing gloves and long sleeves!

Don’t reprimand them for this behavior, it will just make them more anxious. Saying things like, “good girl” or “who’s a good kitty?” or even just “shhh” will reassure them that you’re not trying to hurt them.

If your cat is splashing around a lot, it’s a good idea to put cotton balls into their ears. This is why I prefer the larger ones, they’re safer for this purpose. Water in the ears is very annoying for cats, and if left in there can cause infections, so avoid getting water in your cat’s ears at all costs.

Focus on the body, below the neck, first. Use a washcloth or cup water in your hand to get the body wet – the showerhead is too aggressive and scary. Once you’ve gotten their body nice and wet, put a small amount of pet shampoo in your head and start scrubbing.

If you have someone helping you, one of you can hold the cat while the other uses both hands to scrub the cat. This will make the process faster. Otherwise, you’ll have to hold the cat with your hand or in your arm and then use one hand to scrub.

When you’re satisfied with how well you’ve scrubbed the cat, use the pitcher full of water to rinse the shampoo off your cat. You’ll really want to get all the suds off, as leaving the shampoo on the skin can cause dryness and irritation.

Once the body is clean, you can move onto the face. Use a washcloth to wet the fur on the face and upper neck, and then use a fingertip-sized amount of shampoo. I completely avoid cleaning around the eyes – on the face I just focus on the nose, cheeks, and chin. Then use your wet washcloth to wipe off the shampoo from your cat’s face. I only use a wet cotton ball – no shampoo, to clean around my cat’s eyes.

How to dry your cat

Once you’re sure you’ve cleaned everything that needs to be cleaned and they’ve been sufficiently rinsed off, time to dry! Don’t use a hairdryer, it’s too hot for their sensitive skin. Instead, wrap them in a towel (if you can use a towel that’s just come out of the dryer, that’s extra points for you!) and wrap them firmly.

While they’re wrapped like a burrito, use another towel or a dry washcloth to dry their face and ears. Rub their body in the towel for a couple of minutes, just so they aren’t soaking wet. Let them finish drying in a warm place. If you have a space heater, that’s helpful.

Now that your cat is clean and drying off, now is a good time to feed them and apologize profusely. 😄

Congratulations! You’ve been able to give a senior cat a bath without pain.

What if I can’t give a senior cat a bath?

Did you try to give a senior cat a bath and it was too traumatizing? Are you too scared to attempt it? Don’t worry, there ARE professionals who can do this for you if need be. Call local groomers and see if any of them will bathe cats. Not all do, but many will.

This will typically cost between $30 and $50 depending on where you live and the services provided. Standard grooming treatments include a bath, dry, trim (for long-haired cats), ear cleaning and nail clipping. There are even mobile grooming clinics that will drive to your home and have an entire grooming setup in their van!

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