Can two city kitties learn to enjoy the occasional bath?
By Jason A. Heidemann
The term sleeping alone wasn’t invented to describe married couples in the middle of a fight; it was invented to describe a man who’s just pissed off his cats. I learned this the hard way after spending an afternoon washing my two feline companions at a local groomer.
As is the case with any person living in a household with pets, your life becomes so intertwined with theirs that any differences between pet and human become virtually indistinguishable. When I vacuum up cat hair, for example, I have taken to assuming that it is my own. Nor are friends surprised anymore to hear me utter a faint meow when the waiter at a restaurant tells me he’s out of the chocolate soufflé. Worst of all, my ability to smell has gotten out of balance. My olfactory senses have become so adjusted to my cats that I could stick my nose up their rear ends and report back nothing but lemony goodness.
The trouble is, visitors to my home think otherwise. As hard as I may try to keep my apartment tidy, there’s no escaping the fact that, as my mother succinctly puts it, “The place smells like cat.” I hate to admit it, but when you live in a household where felines outnumber humans two to one, then your house begins to smell like, well, two parts cat and one part human. It was with this in mind that I finally decided it might not be a bad idea to have them freshened up a bit.
I was very nervous about taking my cats to a strange place, lathering them up, soaking them in water, and throwing them in the dryer, so a co-worker of mine recommended I give them each a few drops of Rescue Remedy beforehand. Rescue Remedy is an herbal relaxant that can be administered to both humans and animals during times of stress. I decided to give it a shot. I figured this was going to be as stressful for me as it was for them so I reserved the first few drops for myself. Then I pried open the mouth of my stubbornly lock-jawed cat Parker and forced a few down. Then I proceeded to give myself a little more before coaxing Parker’s sister, Valentine, into swallowing a few. I topped it off by taking yet a little more (yes, this borders on addiction, but you haven’t met my cats).
At Soggy Paws (1148 W Leland Ave, SoggyPaws.com), the grooming staff assisting me said that cat clients are quite common. The trick, said one, was to get them acclimated during kittenhood. She told me that she started washing her cat when she was only 7 weeks old and that her cat now enjoys climbing into the tub with her. They also informed me that no matter how big a fuss the cats make, they would both have to go under the hose, otherwise they would smell differently from one another and that would cause trouble.
I picked Valentine first because she’s the less resistant of the two. When I clip her nails, for example, I can usually count on her waving the surrender flag by the fourth toe—not that she didn’t put up a good fight this time around. We harnessed her in, wetted her face, and doused her with milk and honey shampoo that smelled terrific. But when the water started flowing and I watched her body size shrink by half (it’s amazing how little cat is under all that fur), her claws flared and she proceeded to sculpt my right arm until I pulled back a bloody stump. But we got her through it and quickly put her into the drying machine (where she peed herself).
I was expecting a lot more trouble out of Parker. She’s a bit of a wild woman. When I took her to get microchipped, she struggled so much that the vet tech handed me the chip and told me to do it myself. She turned out to be a lot more compliant than I thought. Oh, sure, she struggled. She nearly wiggled her way out of the harness and managed to pull herself halfway over the tub, where she hovered as if she were about to abandon the Titanic. But amazingly, she didn’t put up a bigger fight than her sister (and managed to control her bladder).
I have to admit, the whole thing was worth it. My cats smell fresh and wonderful and their fur is softer than it has ever been. Sure people look at my arm and assume I’ve recently attempted suicide, and yes, I slept alone that night. But now when my mother winces at the stench of my apartment, it’s not because of the cat smell, it’s because of the human one.
“The urban legend of ‘don’t shave a dog or cat because it acts as a cooling insulation’ should come with an amendment that says, ‘that is, if you are willing to brush your pet every day to remove the dead hair,’” says Patty Kolk, a 20-year grooming industry veteran who recently developed the Bitebuster protective mitt. “Unfortunately, most pet [guardians] do not have that kind of time.”
According to Kolk, if your pet looks uncomfortable, is panting, or has a skin problem or wound that can’t heal because of fur, then it’s fine to shave. Kolk shaves her own pooch to curb shedding. But, she says to keep in mind that shaving double-coated breeds such as Pomeranians or Shelties can cause their coats to grow back very course and not as pretty.
She recommends taking double-coated dogs to a professional grooming salon and asking for the “panda” cut (essentially a modified puppy cut), which is a half-length cut instead of a shave. “This cut, along with a nice bath that involves force drying or fluff drying of the coat, gets the dead hair out and makes the coat smooth.”
Gwendolyn Carry of Chez Bow Wow grooming salon in Philadelphia does not recommend shaving double-coated dogs at all, with the exception of medical needs. “Shaving puts all the hair at the same length, so when it grows out it all sheds at the same time—your house will look like it has new wall to wall carpeting,” she says.
For cats, especially longhaired ones like Persians and Himalayans, Carry says it’s a different story. “Pure breed cats are bred to have more and more fur for show. As a result it is too much hair for the cat to maintain,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many [people] tell me they went away for the weekend and came back to a totally matted cat.” Although Carry says shaving is okay for cats, she insists that guardians should never attempt to do it on their own.
Both Carry and Kolk suggest that getting a shorter cut, such as the panda or the lion (for cats), and maintaining it with regular brushing is the way to go, for both cats and dogs, when it comes to fur management. –Lauren Lewis