How To Safely Bathe A Cat: The Complete Guide

How To Safely Bathe A Cat: The Complete Guide

Many cat owners wince when they are faced with the prospect of bathing their cat. Past experience - or lurid second-hand tales from traumatized friends - often conjures up images of wet chaos with the blurred shape of a soaked cat climbing the walls (or, worse, your arms) with claws fully extended.

As a result, most owners avoid bathing their cat altogether.

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In fact, cats can be accustomed to regular bathing - professional cat breeders often bathe their cats as part of the grooming regime.

A continuous repetition of the procedure accustoms the cats to water - just as their larger feline cousins in the jungle learn to swim across rivers, wade in and fish for their dinners, and even play in the shallows of lakes and streams.

Cats that are not used to being bathed will often panic, but consider that most cats will happily go out and hunt in the pouring rain. The operative concept in bathing cats is to approach the event as calmly and relaxed as possible. To help you do that, the following suggestions are offered. They won't work with every cat, but they will work with most.

Why Bathe Your Cat?

Cats spend hours a day washing themselves. Most do very well keeping themselves clean without additional help from us. However, there are times when your cat may need a bath:

  • When she is covered with a substance you don't want her to lick off and ingest, such as machine oil, pesticides, or cleaning powders and fluids.
  • When you need to bathe your cat with medicated shampoo to treat the skin for fleas or other disorders.
  • When you are showing your cats - a thorough bath a few days before the show is usually desirable.

For these reasons, it might be better to get your cat acquainted with the bathing concept when she is still young. Small kittens rarely take violent exception to slightly warm water if you approach the job with confidence and soothing talk. Then when you have that emergency need to bathe your cat, the procedure will be familiar.

How Often Should A Cat Be Bathed?

Even if your cat is comfortable with baths, make sure you don't overdo a good thing. Washing the cat too often removes natural skin oils and may dry out the coat.

Tools and Equipment

Moving ahead with this? You will need several basic items to help you with the task.

  • Shampoo - Choose a safe cat shampoo, especially if you use one that is medicated. If you must bathe the cat in a hurry, and you don't have a cat shampoo, the only alternative is tearless baby shampoo. Regular shampoos for people are usually too harsh for feline skin and may cause irritation. If you need to use medicated shampoos, such as anti-flea solutions, make sure that they are cat-specific. Dog shampoos can be toxic and even deadly to cats!

  • Towel - It should be dry and fluffy. You can warm it slightly before bath time, but make sure it's not too hot!
  • A soft washcloth - You will need it for cleaning the cat's face.
  • A couple of cotton balls - These will go into the cat's ears.

The Preparations

Unless you are very experienced and the cat is particularly calm, you should probably get a helper. Choose a patient, cat-oriented person and let him or her know what bathing a cat is all about. Make sure it is someone your cat knows and likes.

Make all the preparations you need before you bring the cat into the bathroom. Get all the bathing equipment ready and get all breakable items in the bathroom well out of the way. Cats don't like the slippery feel of the bathtub, so place a rubber mat on the bottom of the tub. Your cat will need it to grip onto.

Now for the guest of honor. A couple of hours before the bath, have a grooming session and brush the cat's coat. This is especially important for longhaired cats, since any mats and tangles are likely to shrink during the wash and become difficult to handle. Don't forget to trim your cat's claws some time before the bath, to avoid injury.

After you have the room and props ready, gently pick up the cat and prepare her for the bath. Place half a cotton ball in each ear to prevent water from getting into them.

The Bath

And now to the bathing process (don't forget to make use of your assistant).

Get the cat into the bathroom and then close the door - you don't want a wet soapy cat running around your home. Gently but firmly place the cat on the rubber mat. Use a low stream of warm water from a hand-held nozzle or a pitcher.

Make sure that the water is neither too cold nor too hot. It should be at about the cat's body temperature which is between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit or around 38.5 degrees Celsius.

Thoroughly wet the cat's coat, avoiding the face area, and then lather some shampoo on the wet coat and gently rub it all over the cat's body. Finally, rinse off the shampoo, taking care not to leave any on the coat. As you wash, keep the nozzle close to the cat's body to muffle the sound of the water.

Wet the washcloth with some warm water (but no soap) and gently wipe the cat's face. Never spray water directly at the cat's face and definitely never dunk the cat's head in water!

Get the cat out of the tub and wrap it in the towel. Keep the cat in a warm and draft-free room until she is completely dry. Some owners use blow dryers to dry the cat, but if the cat shows signs of alarm just leave her to dry naturally. If you do use a blow dryer, use the lowest setting and do not get it too close to the cat. Never blow air directly at the cat's face.

Above all, if you want to try to bathe your cat, remember that the key word here is patience. Be very gentle and talk to the cat throughout the whole procedure in a soft and soothing voice. Never shout or lose your temper. Your cat is probably frightened enough as it is, so you don't want to upset it even more. If your cat is calm and you have a lot of patience, bathing the cat may not be such a nightmare after all.

Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

24 comments on “How To Safely Bathe A Cat: The Complete Guide

Spookyandsammy October 28, 2020
After spooky gets a bath i wrap her in towels and put her in her carrier so she can get warm and she gets catnip as a treat and mom is scratched up just a little i was gonna try baby socks see if that might work
mikpointe September 15, 2018
Our kitty will do anything for tiny bits of fish. :) He doesn't mind at all. My last cat couldn't tolerate anything.
Katt13 September 11, 2018
I am a licensed vet tech and the thing we always recommended to cat owners is to put a window screen in the end of the tub for the cat to hold on to...It WORKS!!!! if they are holding on to a screen they can't/won't be able to scratch your eyes out.....
kommunity kats January 1, 2018
bianco maple said:
Yup, Good instructions- We bathe our white fellow every 10 days! He loves the bath and we use really good cat shampoo-first shampoo to remive the dirt and grime and 2nd shampoo to make him smell sweet , the 2nd time the lather is so good-We used to use a special oatmeal conditioner but now we use it every alternate bath As you will see from the video Bianco enjoys bath time- It's true that bathing often may take away the essential oils but so far alls well- BTW , are there any products that one can spray or use as dry shampoo? Please let me know -thanks
Diatomaceous earth --food grade-- has been used as dry shampoo. I've even used it on myself..
    Dan & Rosi December 16, 2020
    Diatomaceous earth will cut lesions in the lungs. It is very dangerous. Since it is like shredded glass, it is used to clean pool filters. Never use near a living being. I know you meant well. Just wanted to warn to avoid any injury to your precious ones. Love, Dan & Rose and Kitty Leah
queen sparkle April 3, 2016
This article was so useful my kitten ow loves his baths he used to be a nightmare!
amin91 October 10, 2015
I think also using treats and praises system is good. Especially for kittens. I read online about a technique to get them to like bathing. Start with putting their paws in water then give treat, next day, little water on coat, again treat, and finally full bath and a good treat. Of course treats should be given if cat doesn't resist in a very aggressive way, otherwise repeat specific step at which cat was aggressive.
posiepurrs March 16, 2015
A couple of comments... If first time bathing a long hair it will be difficult to wet the hair due to the oils in the coat. Mix a little shampoo with water and apply to dry coat. It makes it easier to get the coat wet. I always dilute my shampoos to make it easier to rinse them out. If you use a human dryer be very careful as it will burn the cat if held to close even on low setting.
mimibky March 16, 2015
My cat has medium-long hair and I adopted her when she was around 3 months old and have been bathing her since, she still doesnt like it but she does not make it a nuisance anymore when i shower her, she kinds of takes it easy now
juleskk5 March 1, 2015
Thanks Anne i will post on there then
Anne March 1, 2015
That's an interesting idea. Why not ask about it in the Cat Care forum?
juleskk5 March 1, 2015
Great information ! i am dreading bathing my cats though!! they both dont really like you to touch them to much as it is, anyway i have an idea was thinking to put socks on them to stop claws getting at me.What do you think?
wanja September 10, 2014
I have a long hair kitten and started bathing her from day 1 because of a medical condition and from day 1 there was blood and hair everywhere. Usually she is very calm and cuddly and is not an ''aggresive" player. But the moment i put her in the water she starts biting and scratching and yes turn into 1 of that horror stories. Thankfully 5min after she is out of the bathroom she forgets and is her old self again. I will try using the nozzel hope it works.
bshoemaker May 10, 2014
I recently bathed two of my kitties. They actually had a nice shower! The suggestion of a handheld shower unit is an irreplaceable tool for a successful, less stressful bath. These two kitties were not used to being bathed, so I put them in my step-in shower, closed the door, put them on the seat, and turned the shower on gently, having pre-warmed the water, and set the shower head on a small diameter spray pattern. Both were nervous initially. However, after I discovered putting the nozzle directly on their coat reduced the noise of the water, my boy, Victor, seemed to enjoy being "scratched" all over. The handheld shower made it simple to get all the shampoo from their fur. Now both my kitties coats are glossy, and smell fresh and clean.
catdancing1 March 24, 2014
I have two wobblers and occasionally a bath is required as their are litter box incidents - usually they have fallen into whatever they left in the box - so first cat is totally freaked out and then well, you know the rest.  Have found using a small tub (like a litter box) so that they can have their front feet on the lip keeps everyone a little calmer through the process.  You will also need a least three towels to get the cat even reasonably dry as the fur is like a giant sponge!  Raffles knows he is getting a bath and it's particular hell to catch him however once he is in the water is calms down and he seems to really enjoy the rub down after.  He usually forgives my about 8:30 when the cat treats come out.
joannie01 February 8, 2014
I am afraid too bath the cats !
please January 6, 2014
I'm bathing Belle for the first time because she smells like poo and her white isn't white anymore xP This will be fun. And this article is very informative o:
lianaspoken May 30, 2013
I have only ever bathed one of my cats and it was for her benefit. I have had her since a kitten and so I have the luxury of getting here used to it a young age, however "used" to it she never became. Nevertheless her reaction is still fear but less trying to claw her way up to my chest. Few tricks brought out from past mistakes ... -Never run the water with them in the tub, the sound will terrify them -I now stash the soap permanently under the sink .. a place she often goes so the smell of it no longer freaks her out that shes about to get a bath -No wash Clothes! Ever! -Brush and cuddle afterwards ... my cat gets a little dish of whipped cream and milk after which immediately makes her forget the trama :]
daisy the cat September 30, 2012
ok, nice artical but i have one more thing i could add because i was a professional show dog/show cat groomer once with my own shop. still no matter what, some cats will try to shred and bit and even hurt themselves if you atempt to bathe them. what i did was this: take some wire with the small holes in it, like small squares (not chicken wire because the holes are too large) then turn the sharp edges uder and use a staple gun to tack them down to a wooded frame you made out of narrow nice sanded wood. keep it taught. when the kitty starts to freak out... it will naturally dig it's little claws into the wire to hold on for dear life. this sometimes ommits you as being the one it's claws go into. also it helps aid them in being in one place for a while. still i had to sometimes use a mild tranquilizer that doesn't put them to sleep yet only makes them sort of drunk and not fight. persians and the flatter faced kitties never faught, don't get mad at what i am about to say but they are more on the sedative side naturally so they only just meowed.
catgroomer602 February 29, 2012
This is one of the best articles I've read on bathing your cat. Getting a cat use to regular bathing when young helps when he's older. Older kitties tend to stop grooming themselves as much and need help grooming even more then when they were young. If they have had the advantage of already understanding the bathing process it won't be so upsetting.
Anne January 17, 2012
AngelAlice, thank you for sharing your story and I suggest you try the cat care forum for your question -
angelalice January 16, 2012
We love being bathed!! As persians we are so used to the tub - we've been doing it since we were kittens. It's true though, we don't like the hairdryer blowing staright into our faces. Did someone say dry shampoo?? We'd be willing to try that....
Anne January 6, 2012
I think that's an excellent question for the cat care forum - maybe start a thread there asking about dry shampoos and sprays?
bianco maple November 12, 2011
Yup, Good instructions- We bathe our white fellow every 10 days! He loves the bath and we use really good cat shampoo-first shampoo to remive the dirt and grime and 2nd shampoo to make him smell sweet , the 2nd time the lather is so good-We used to use a special oatmeal conditioner but now we use it every alternate bath As you will see from the video Bianco enjoys bath time- It's true that bathing often may take away the essential oils but so far alls well- BTW , are there any products that one can spray or use as dry shampoo? Please let me know -thanks

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