How To Bathe Small Kittens The Safe Way

Should You Bathe Kittens?

The short answer is no. Unless you have a very good reason to, do not bathe kittens.

Kittens are fragile little creatures. The younger they are, the more fragile. Their small body size means they have a lot of skin relative to their mass, and that ratio makes them more sensitive to changes in their environment. Also, some of their systems just haven’t yet fully matured. Just like their eyes take three more weeks to develop, so do other parts in their body, including their immune system and the systems that control their body temperature.

What Are the Risks?

There are several risks associated with bathing kittens –

Hypothermia

Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature very well and are susceptible to getting chilled. A cold kitten cannot digest its food well, making it even harder for its tiny body to get the nutrients it needs to keep warm. A chilled kitten can die very fast unless treated properly, making this a medical emergency. If you think you have a chilled kitten on your hands, call your vet immediately.

Water is often used for cooling off the body. Getting a kitten wet always puts it at risk for chilling, making this the number one risk associated with bathing kittens.

Scalding and overheating

A kitten’s sensitive skin can get scalded very easily. Even if the temperature is not hot enough to cause a skin burn, you can still overheat the kitten’s little body.

Dry Skin

Washing the kitten with water, especially water containing even mild soap or shampoo, can dry up the kitten’s skin, sometimes to the point of creating a rash. The risk increases the more frequently you bathe the kitten.

When you simply have to bathe a kitten

There may be situations when bathing a kitten, even a very small one, is the lesser of two evils. Such is the case with a flea infestation, when you can’t use topical anti-flea remedies because they are too toxic for kittens, a scenario rescuers often face when taking young kittens off the street. If a kitten manages to become covered in a substance that needs to be removed, a bath may sometimes be the only solution as well.

Here are some guidelines and tips for bathing your kitten safely –

  1. Warm up the bathroom as well as the room where the kitten will stay after the bath. Make sure both rooms are draft-free.
  2. Use a sink or a very large bowl as a bath for the kitten. Make sure you have enough room to work comfortably. You can place a folded towel in the middle of the sink, allowing the kitten a place to rest those feet and feel more stable.
  3. Prepare dry towels and warm them up a bit in advance. Use them to wrap up the kitten and gently yet thoroughly dry her/him after the bath.
  4. Use a thermometer for the bath water and make sure the temperature is 101-103 degrees. Use a baby bath water thermometer that can float around and let you know if the water is cooling.
  5. Use a gentle cat shampoo. Many rescuers use Dawn soap instead and it seems to do the trick. Never use medicated shampoos, or shampoos intended for humans or dogs!
  6. Make sure to never wash the kittens ears or eyes. To be on the safe side, it’s best to avoid washing a kitten’s head altogether. You can use a damp washcloth later on to wipe off any dirt from that area later on.
  7. Wash one kitten at a time and towel-dry thoroughly before moving on to the next kitten. If the kittens are small enough, prepare confinement boxes where you can keep the kittens safe while they’re waiting for their turn, or waiting for their siblings to be bathed.

Remember to check the kittens after they are washed and dry. If a kitten feels cold to the touch and seems unresponsive, keep it warm and call your vet ASAP.

Must wash your cat? Try these gentle cat shampoos:
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It’s possible to bathe kittens safely, as long as you’re aware of the risks and do all you can to avoid them.

11 comments on “How To Bathe Small Kittens The Safe Way

Anne March 21, 2017
@HappyChick1 the best place to ask this question would be in the Pregnant Cats & Kittens forum. The articles are not a good place for questions as fewer people see them. I see you already have a thread there, so please add your question to the thread. Thanks!
happychick1 March 21, 2017
hi, my litter of four are 2 weeks and 5 days old.  i want to check them for fleas as it is a multi-cat house and only mum hasnt been treated for fleas.  i dont want to handle the little ones too much as i am already weighing them every other day and dont want mum to get too upset. 
catmom marcia August 29, 2016
Boosty35, you can probably do it safely if you follow the guidelines here.  I place a ring of soap around the neck to keep the fleas from migrating up to the head then wet and shampoo the body.  I recently learned that for the fleas to die they need to drown and/or be submerged in soapy water for 5 minutes.  Buggers are hard to kill so take your time with the shampoo bath.  I used a towel to semi dry then a hair dryer on very low to keep babies warm.
boosty35 August 6, 2016
Hi, I have recently been adopted by a tiny 4wk old kitten, she is blind (hopefully not forever but who knows) I am treating her eyes with drops from the vet.  She's actually doing really well, 3 days in and shes playful, eating and going to the loo.  BUT she has fleas (a lot of fleas) I have bathed her once yesterday in mild dish soap (fairy) which got quite a few of them off but there are more.   How many times can I safely bathe her to try to get rid of the fleas? 
StefanZ April 27, 2015
That 101-103 degrees is of course Fahrenheit.  Its about 39 C, as cats are a little warmer than human body.  The bathing temp will thus be a tiny slightly higher than their normal body temp. Also, if they dont have a mom warming them,  its wise they have a heat pad afterwards, put on low.   People after a bath tends to feel chilly even if they had dried themselves, no?   And we dont want to take risks, as the article is very clear with.
nansiludie April 19, 2015
@GravyBaby No, I use baby shampoo and also rinse twice, then blow dry the kitten on low, warm with the kitty on my hand, if my hand gets warm, I gently move the dryer farther away. I've even jump-started chilled newborns with a blow dryer.
silmarien November 20, 2014
My kitten has chronic diarrhea from antibiotics and I constantly am cleaning his rear end. I use a blow dryer on low and have read in books that it's fine, as long as you don't burn the skin on the poor little kitty.
gravy baby July 16, 2014
I have a 4 week old tabby I found in a shopping plaza. I took him to the vet and found out he has fleas and worms. They gave him medicine for both and to me to bathe him. That was last week. I notice he had food clumped in his fur I bathe him again today and dried him with my blow dryer on low. Was that too much?
ashley davidson June 27, 2014
I had no idea a kitten can fall ill so easily :( I used to bathe my kitten before not even thinking about that. Good thing I always dried it with a towel afterwards and kept it warm  in there like a baby until it calms down. This is a really good advice. Thank you.
praisebast June 16, 2014
I am SOOO glad this is on this site. THANKS
therese May 14, 2014
This is very good advice.  I fostered four 3.5 week old kittens until they were a few months old and had to bathe them right away because they had fleas and had been living outside in the heat.    I got dawn dishwashing liquid, which apparently is what they used to wash the oil-spill birds and wildlife.  I diluted mine, however, a drop or two of Dawn in almost a cup of warm water.  It killed the fleas and yet was pretty easy to rinse off, given that it was diluted.  And because we had tile in our house, and of course, kept them indoors, they never got fleas after that.  Keeping these kittens super super warm, I learned, is critical to saving their lives.  I learned as I went along, and with good advice from several people, the vet and a rescue group, we saved all four of them. Thanks for a good article. 

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