Fear Of The Bath

by Emma Hjälmås
Cybercats Persians

Spanish Translation / Traducción Español

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Many, if not most Persians and Exotics, are accustomed to getting a bath from the time they are little kittens. They grow up thinking that having a bath is just a normal part of a cat's life – and handle it with a demeanor ranging from placid acceptance to actual enjoyment.

However, sometimes you may encounter a full-grown adult cat that acts in a way most people think all cats do regarding a bath – the cat becomes hysterical near water and fights tooth and nail to avoid it. Some felines are so afraid that they will wet or even poo themselves when forced to bathe (yes, I have experienced this myself). 

There are many reasons why this might happen, but the main ones are:

  • The cat is simply unused to having a bath. This could be because the cat is a breed that requires infrequent baths so the breeder or owner have never bathed it or it may just have been a long time since the cat has had a bath.
  • The cat may have been traumatized in a bathing situation; too rough handling, unexpected pain, an accident such as water up the nose or in the ear, scalding, a scare or even a near-drowning incident.

Regardless of the reason, what you have on your hands is a cat that is hydrophobic – it has a fear of water ... and when it is an adult cat, it means you have a STRONG hydrophobic cat with lots of teeth and claws.

Over-Coming Hydrophobia

Do you have to give up the thought of ever bathing this type of cat? Does it mean you have to keep the cat clipped for the rest of its days? Not necessarily ...

You can help the cat overcome its fear by behavior modification – changing its attitude about having a bath. With a bit of patience and following a few easy steps, you can teach any cat that bath-time is no horror. Instead, you are going to teach your reluctant feline that bathing means special alone-time with mom, with treats at the end, and a warm foaming full-body massage in the middle. Hey, I wish someone would do that to ME now and again :-).

So, how do you go about it? The answer is teach your cat to associate getting wet only with good things and an overall enjoyable experience.

The Bath Tub

While most exhibitors bathe their show cats in a sink, for the purpose of getting a frightened cat accustomed to water, it is best to use a bath tub. A bath tub is large enough for the cat to walk around in, easier to keep a cat in then a sink, and is large enough to allow for the option of a person to join the cat in the water if it needs extra assurance. Once the cat is no longer afraid of the water, future baths can take place wherever one prefers.

Be Prepared

First and foremost, make sure you have clipped the cat's claws. You don't need to do that once it is used to the bath, but in the beginning let's try to minimize the damage an objecting or frightened cat can cause. A cat scratch can become really infected and we don't want that! Clip the claws the day BEFORE the bath, that way the edges are not so sharp.

Next, try to stay as calm as possible. A cat can feel your angst and it will trigger bad behavior. Think “dog training” and Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer. What you're trying to do is to project ”calm assertive energy”. No, I'm not suggesting training cats the way you train dogs – but calm-assertive energy is something all mammals react well to in my experience.

To this end, also make sure YOU are comfortable. Prepare yourself so you don't have to break off the process in the middle.

  • Wear comfy clothes that are not damaged by water. You'll get wet. If you choose to follow some of the steps below you will in fact get VERY wet.
  • Have something thick and soft next to the tub, like a rolled up bath-mat to kneel on. Let's keep those knees from hurting!
  • Make absolutely sure the door to the bathroom is CLOSED.  
  • Also make sure you have the cat in the bathroom with you before you begin.

Ok, you're ready to start!

PHASE ONE

Fill the bath tub with about an inch of water. The water should be warmer than body temperature but not scorching hot. Remember that cats have a higher body temperature than we do so lukewarm to us is chilly to them. The water should be warm, but not uncomfortably warm.

Fill the tub with just a couple inches of water. Take the cat and place it in the water. Only the paws and a little bit of the legs will be submerged.

Be firm but GENTLE when keeping the cat in the tub until the first bout of fear (if any) passes.

Try not to hold the cat but rather let it walk around in the tub. Keep a gentle but firm hand over its shoulders to stop it from jumping out of the bath. You will feel the cat tensing up when its getting ready to escape and at that time you can prevent the escape before it even happens.

This step will be the one that takes the longest time – anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes, depending on how afraid of water the cat is to begin with.

What we're doing here is overcoming the cat's phobia. Your goal is not to give the cat a bath, but instead to get it used to being in the water and realizing that no harm comes to it.

If the cat escapes, do NOT stop the exercise but put it right back in the water and continue until the cat is calm. Stopping the exercise before the cat is calm results in more harm rather than good as it teaches the that it can escape from the "bad water" if it is afraid ... and it will be more determined than ever to refuse to accept having a bath.

Even if it takes more than 30 minutes, just keep at it until the cat is calm. Depending on the mindset of your cat and your own ability to keep calm and happy, continue with the full exercise as described below or you may chose to cut short this first session, leaving the rest of the steps for the next session. Always end on a positive note.

If the water cools down to lukewarm or below, fill up with some more hot water, or keep the tap running the whole time with hot water on very low. The look and sound of water rushing out of the pipe will probably scare the cat, so a dribble of hot water will be enough to keep the water in the tub comfortably warm but not scare the cat overly much. You have to keep the cat comfortable, that is the WHOLE  POINT of this exercise.

Note: We were not using any shampoo or other products in the behavior modification process.
The point is to make the cat comfortable in the water, not to actually give it a bath.

PHASE TWO

Now, this is a bit unusual, but if you think you can manage it without being torn to bits, try getting in the bath with the cat. This will help the kitty to relax, especially if you have a trusting relationship. Let the cat snuggle close to you and put its paws on your leg, but don't let it use you as a climbing post to get out of the tub.

 

Once the cat has settled down, turn the water on (GENTLY!) to start slowly start filling the tub.

Keep an eye on the cat and turn the water down to a dribble again if you notice any worry turning to fear or panic.

Talk gently to the cat and keep it in the tub until the worry subsides. It WILL subside, cats are smart animals and will more or less quickly figure out that no harm is coming to them.

If the sound of water from the tap seems to be what is frightening the cat, you can also fill the tub by putting the detachable showerhead under the water – that way the water will rise without any noise.

Only use this as a last resort though, since the goal is to get the cat USED to the noise.

With or without pauses, let the water run until it reaches flank height on the kitty.

The whole body should be submerged but the cat should not have to strain to keep its head out of the water.

Now, let the cat walk around in the water again, until you can tell the process is no longer frightening.

Again, this part of the process may take anywhere between 1 to 30 minutes, depending on your cat's reactions.

Use your hands to scoop water up over the cat.

Once the cat is beginning to relax, praise it, snuggle it, scratch it between the ears and just generally keep the calm assertive energy with you and communicate that you are very pleased with its behavior.

Continue this for about 5 minutes after the cat has relaxed. The hardest part is over!

PHASE THREE

Place a fluffy towel in your clothes dryer for a few minutes to warm it up.

Now take the cat out of the tub and rub it down (if short haired) or gently squeeze out the water (if long haired) with the WARM fluffy towel straight out of the dryer.

Finish off by giving the kitty a heap of the cat's favorite treat.

So, we'll have to repeat this, because one session does not a comfortable bath-cat make. Since you are not using any products you are not drying out the cats natural coat and skin oils, so repeating often at the beginning is not harmful to the cat.

PHASE FOUR: Encore

Repeat the process from beginning to end two or three days later. This time, the cat will become calm much more quickly, I promise!

If the cat is showing it is beginning to feel safe in the water, you can try running the shower-head over its body. Otherwise wait until the third session.

Three Times The Charm

A few days later, again, repeat the process and run the shower head over kitty once the cat has relaxed.

Once the cat is relaxed with running the shower head over her body, gently rub with your hand – in a petting motion over the back and flanks, under the chin and, if the cat is comfortable with this, under the belly.

Repeat using the spray nozzle. Your cat has now accepted all the things it needs to know about to be properly bathed!

In Conclusion

You may need to repeat this without products once or twice more, depending on the cats reactions. Each time, it should be easier.

The cat is not afraid of the shampoo, its afraid of the water. Once the cat is comfortable with the water and the procedures of a bath, you will be able to give it a good shampoo without any further complaints.

Never be frustrated with a cat that objects to taking a bath. The cat is not angry or refusing to bathe, it's AFRAID of the water. So that's what you work on – showing and teaching the cat that there is nothing to be afraid of – it's a warm comfy time with mom and it ends with delicious treats.

Make sure you don't let too much time go between the training sessions – your cat needs to relearn a behavior it has had for all its life, so it is important to repeat frequently in the beginning.

Good Luck and happy bathing!

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