When we put up Ivy the Wonder Cat at her cat hotel during our recent move, I thought that Miss Ivy might enjoy a little extra attention and pampering during this challenging time. I signed her up for a “spa treatment” in the form of a feline version of a shampoo and blow dry.
When I picked up Ivy, the spa owner advised that Ivy responded well to the bath as she was purring contentedly when it was over. She noted that during the service, a lot of hair came off.
The last comment wasn’t a surprise. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I might brush Miss Ivy, I always seem able to collect enough hair to potentially knit together another kitten.
When I brought Ivy home, I couldn’t get over how fresh she smelled. To be clear, she was never a “smelly cat” like Phoebe Buffay sang about in the TV show “Friends”, but the light fragrance from the shampoo was delightful and stayed with her for more than a week.
What was odd was that after her arrival in our new home, whenever she seemed to be cozy and in a relaxed mood, I would try brushing her, as was always our routine. Maybe it was the stress of the move talking, but she got up and walked away. After five years, I have learned to take signs like that at face value. For some reason she wasn’t interested, so I let it go and tried again another time. However the reaction was the same.
I didn’t worry about it too much as she had been through a huge transition period and some significant changes to the routine and living arrangement.
But about four weeks later, as I woke up one morning, bleary eyed, getting her breakfast bowl ready, I found myself stepping in a puddle in the kitchen. Miss Ivy coughed up a hairball.
I finished getting her breakfast ready and gave her a gentle petting saying, “It’s OK, it’s not your fault”. I then proceeded to clean up the feline barf from the hardwood floor.
When I brush Ivy regularly and I am able to assist in her grooming routine in getting rid of excess hair, you could count on one hand the number of times she might cough up a hairball over one year.
But when I found myself cleaning up three hairballs over four days, I realized that her avoidance of the brush in recent weeks was not doing either of us any favours. It was time for an intervention.
Coincidentally, not long before that, there were some funny videos that popped up on my Instagram feed of a lady bathing her cat in the shower. The cat didn’t seem too pleased by it, but the cat went along with it.
I wondered to myself if I could possibly give Ivy a bath or shower? I knew that she wasn’t a fan of water, but if I approached it calmly but expeditiously, maybe this could work to help rid her of the excess hair that has been making her ill.
I already had a bottle of cat shampoo that Ivy had won in a gift basket at the pet store a few years ago. Once I made up my mind that we would give this a try, as an added precaution, I made a trip to the hardware store to get a drain guard, one of those little plastic things that look like colanders, to trap hair before it goes down the drain and causes a clog.
One Sunday morning, after posting that week’s blog, I gathered her shampoo, a towel and the drain guard. I turned on the water, switched to the handheld shower head and tested the water temperature multiple times to make sure it wouldn’t be a shock to her system, much like you would do when giving a baby a bath.
I gently picked up Ivy and brought her into the bathroom and closed the door. I took a deep breath and centred myself before the next steps, to make sure I was projecting a calm energy, no matter how stressful this might get.
When I gently transferred her to the tub she tried to escape but her wet paws against the sides of the tub made it difficult for her to get sufficient grip to get out. But it was when the water started falling against her back that my heart sank. She began shrieking, complaining about her predicament. I wondered to myself if this happened when the spa owner did it.
At that point, I don’t know who was more unhappy, Ivy as the miserable recipient of the bath or me, as the overly empathetic father, getting increasingly traumatized with every tormented-sounding meow.
But about one minute into it, she settled. She was still meowing unhappily in cycles, but she wasn’t trying to escape the tub anymore. The meowing was pretty similar to her car ride meows, another event she dislikes.
In the moment, I was grateful that a cat bath does not have to take long. I wasn’t going to wash anything above the neck, as I didn’t want to risk getting any shampoo in her eyes or ears, I just wanted to concentrate on her body where the worst of the shedding took place.
Once I got her coat shampooed, it was time for a good rinse. A few minutes later, when the water was running clear with no more suds, I turned off the water and got her out of the tub.
As much as I held some idealistic visual of Ivy bundled up in her towel, purring contentedly, and enjoying her new found freshness, that wasn’t about to happen. By that point, Ivy didn’t want to talk about it anymore, she just wanted out of the bathroom even if she wasn’t fully dry yet.
I followed her around the house, rags in hand, as she proceeded to shake herself dry on our hardwood floors. She glared back at me as if to say “Get lost!”
She returned to her perch by the open window overlooking the backyard, which I figured was probably a good neutral place for her to relax and continue to dry naturally. I left her alone and returned to clean up the hair in the bath tub. That sight alone told me that it was worth the emotionally draining experience.
Surprisingly, an hour later, she came back to find me in my home office. She hopped on her blanket on the sofa, wriggled around and started her happy kneading motion. “She must have forgiven me”, I thought to myself.
I sat next to her and started running my fingers through her coat, only to find more cat hair coming out, but this time it wasn’t the coarse outer layer of hair that came out in the hairballs or that fell in the bathtub, it was the soft downy under layer of her coat. I took out her brush and gave her a few gentle strokes to see if she’d go along with it, and she did.
A few minutes later, the brush actually stopped collecting hair. Did I finally reach that point where she is done shedding? Perhaps. At least for now.
With each passing day after that, I was reassured that her bath was indeed worth the effort as I was not finding any more hairball puddles. Similarly, the amount of hair I was cleaning up with the dry mop was significantly less than before the bath.
As much as cats are known to be good self-groomers, from the expert advice I have heard, pet parents should provide a helping hand when needed.
Some cats may not be fans of baths in the way that we humans experience them, but if a five minute bath can save us both from the disruption of lost meals and the ensuing clean up, then it was definitely worth it.
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