Why You Shouldn't Wash Cats


It was 2 AM and kind of slow. Then a “twofer” comes up to the registration desk. Mother and son both need to be seen.

Emergency medicine lore has it that when more than one patient from the same household registers to be seen at the same time in the emergency department, the likelihood of there being a true emergency is inversely proportional to the number of people registering.

Didn’t quite hold true in this case.

Earlier that morning, a teenage son and his mother decided that their cat was dirty and therefore decided to clean the cat and trim its nails. The problem was that the cat did not want to be cleaned. Its claws protect it and it cleans itself just fine with its tongue, thank you. So the cat began hissing and scratching at both of them once it saw the bath of soapy water into which the evil humans were planning to submerge it.

Mother and son were undeterred. Showing the cat how they were the boss, son and mother were somehow able to hog tie the cat, duct taping the cat’s front and rear paws together. That will teach the cat.

As mother and son then proceeded with their plan to torture, er, um, wash the cat, they soon realized that they forgot to duct tape one other important area on the cat — its mouth. While the son was carrying the cat toward the bathtub, the cat bit the son several times on the hand to get the son to let him go. It worked. The son dropped the cat on the bathroom floor and then began swinging his hand around and hollering in pain.

The mother gasped in horror. She went to console her son. Then she looked down and saw the cat flopping all over the floor like a fish out of water. After all, it couldn’t run away since its paws were taped together. The mother then reached down to pick up the cat instead of checking on her son’s hand. The cat, apparently thinking that the mother was coming in for the kill, then bit the mother on the hand, too. This time, the cat reportedly wouldn’t let go, so the son had to bop the cat on the head with a pair of claw trimmers to make it let go.

Then mother and son used their uninjured extremities and a push broom to scoop the evil cat up in a laundry basket and take it to the vet for cleaning … and for duct tape removal.

After the vet appointment, they actually let the cat back into the house with them prior to scheduling an exorcism.  The thing just sat on the couch the rest of the day hissing at them to “go get me some milk and tuna, yo.”

As day progressed into night, both mother and son were having progressively worsening pain in their hands. By 1:30 AM, neither mother nor son were able to sleep due to the pain in their hands.
So both mother and son presented to the emergency department with ballooney hands (see this Gizmodo post for a good story and pictures of a cat bite injury).
Both were started on IV antibiotics and needed to be admitted for surgical evaluation of their tenosynovitis and joint injuries.

And the cat’s probably at home smoking catnip and watching Animal Planet reruns.


This and all posts about patients may be fictional, may be my experiences, may be submitted by readers for publication here, or may be any combination of the above. Factual statements may or may not be accurate. If you would like to have a patient story published on WhiteCoat’s Call Room, please e-mail me.


  1. They made a point of telling us students in vet school that very few dog bites become infected, but over 80% of cat bites will become infected (Pasteurella is the biggie in cat bites, though by no means the only nasty bug in a cat’s mouth). The canines are needle sharp, and pretty much inject contaminants in the wound, which may not bleed much because it’s more of a puncture than a cut or tear. I think about a dozen of my fellow students ended up on Augmentin during senior rotation due to cat bites, and at least two ended up on IV antibiotic therapy even with prompt medical attention. Mom and son should just consider a professional groomer next time, or at least a little acepromazine.

    • @Essay – Commonly quoted statistic, but I think they are highly skewed by the fact that dog bites cause a great deal more trauma, and as a result, are much more likely to present to the ED right after they happen; well before any infection can occur. Cat bites, on the other hand, ONLY present once an infection has set it, cause most folks aren’t going to go to the ED for a tiny puncture wound.

      I’ve been working in the ED for four years, and although I’ve seen dozens and dozens of dog bites, I don’t think I’ve seen a single cat bite infection, so I’ll still defer to your judgement on this matter as folks in your line of work probably see loads of people who have been bit before.

  2. In 20+ years of cat ownership, it never occurred to me to give any of our cats a bath. I’m afraid to go to sleep at night if I don’t give them treats and catnip before I go to bed because of how they may exact their revenge.

  3. Duct tape? I’m surprised the vet let them take that cat home. It should have been removed from their care. They don’t deserve to be cat owners.

    Funny, I’ve been bitten several times by different cats and never got an infection. I guess I need to go buy a lottery ticket!

  4. I have washed my cats occasionally. I had one who got diarrhea on occasion, and looked miserable. She didn’t like getting dipped in clear water, but seemed to appreciate that she didn’t have the task of cleaning her whole hind end.
    I must have done something right; she never bit under those circumstances, although she complained loudly at the procedure. Once she had been de-pooped and towel-dried, I just let her take care of grooming by herself. She was much more pleasant to be around after cleaning.

  5. thanks for helping me help my son finish his homework (by posting the grisly link). “as soon as your done, i’ll show you what could happen if you get bitten by a cat!”

  6. That is one of the most stupid things I have ever heard a pet owner do!

    What did they think would happen if they bound the cat’s feet and how comfortable was that physically for the cat? How would they feel if someone they trusted suddenly bound them up? Then to think they could put the cat feeling so helpless and threatened in WATER?

    And did removing the duct tape pull his fir off?
    They may’ve had a better chance if they just overpowered once in the water.

    Did you wrap their wounds in duct tape when done cleaning?

    Anyway …a few years ago, my friend’s diabetic neighbor got a cat scratch from her cat. She got cellulitis, ended up with IV antibiotics in the hospital and died 3 days later.

    In the 80s we used to put cat in a flee dip in bath. He always found a way to scratch, but my husband held him down. Then we ran when we were done so he could shake off. Always did it outside.

    I think it is a law of the universe that if you bathe a cat …you will get scratched. And that Samari cat cry just as intended lethal scratch lands means fight on. 😉

    Stressed me out because the flee dip instructions said don’t inhale the dip, don’t let the dip hit your clothing or skin. Really? When bathing a cat? Then I got all paranoid when it landed on my skin. And of course you inhale being so close. I called poison control the first time. The directions SCARED me.

    Btw – if it is that dangerous for humans …what did it do to the pet?

  7. i want to punch people who wash cats. how stupid can u be? it not only terrifies that poor cat, but strips the cat of its natural oils that protect its skin and fur

  8. “I don’t know why people say cats don’t like it when you give them baths. I do it all of the time and my cat loves it. Granted her fur sticks to my tongue but you get use to that.” – Steve Martin (I think from the ‘Let’s get small’ album.)

  9. Washing a cat isn’t dumb in and of itself. A cat needs a bath if it gets into something you don’t want it licking off itself, if it acquires a persistent odor, or if it has trouble grooming due to weight/flexibility issues.

    Taping a cat is never necessary and will result in stealthy murders. A cat actually can steal your breath; it just chooses not to, under ordinary circumstances. It will then eat you, combining revenge, survival, and autopsy obfuscation.

  10. I hate it when people say that cats “clean” themselves, as if their saliva is some sort of wonder-cleanser that could be used for all-purpose household cleaning. Cats DO NOT “clean” themselves. They groom. Grooming and cleaning are two very different things. The number one reason for cat allergies is dander, aka dried saliva that flakes off and flies around the house. Some people are severely allergic and should simply not have a pet cat. Others are mildly allergic (like myself) and find that regular cat baths reduce the allergens. If you want to have a dirty cat, that’s on you. I prefer clean things, so I wash my cats every 2-3 months. With proper research, it was easy to figure out how to administer baths without totally stressing out the cats (and I do have one that is very anxious in general).

  11. These people need to be arrested for animal abuse! Seriously? Duct taping your cat’s legs to give it a bath? Oh, I’m happy the cat bit your hands! The cat should have went for more! Grrr…. I hope you were NEVER allowed to have another animal. You are lucky that cat didn’t have a heart attack! If I were the vet, I would have done just THAT! 🙁

  12. I give my two cats a bath they hate it but they don’t attack me :/ they meow like I’m killing them but they smell nice

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