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How Do I Bathe a Cat?

Susana Bradford
January 12, 2024
August 30, 2023
8 minute read
Updated By
Grant Fiddes
October 4, 2023
Expert Reviewed By:
August 30, 2023
August 29, 2023
8 minute read
October 4, 2023
If you’ve wondered how to bathe a cat safely and effectively, we’ve broken down some tips for you!

While most cats do not require assistance bathing, it is sometimes necessary. And if you don't plan, the experience can take a traumatic turn for you and your pet. That said, it is essential to determine if you need to wash your cat.

A cat may need a bath for various reasons. It may be because it is suffering from an infestation, such as one caused by fleas or ticks. A bath may also be necessary if a cat has gotten extremely dirty or is exposed to a smelly or potentially toxic substance. 

Some cats may need medicated baths for skin conditions, and some people bathe their cats to reduce allergy-causing dander. The most important thing to remember is that a calm state of mind and a positive attitude while you bathe a cat will make the experience more enjoyable for all.

How Do I Bathe a Cat?

Ensure a stress-free cat bath by preparing a quiet, warm space with all supplies within reach. Gently introduce your cat to water, using a cat-friendly shampoo. Speak soothingly, maintaining a calm demeanor throughout. Rinse thoroughly, and reward with treats for a positive association. Towel dry and offer post-bath cuddles to reinforce a positive bathing experience.

Tips For Bathing Your Cat

Preparing beforehand can help make the experience as relaxing as possible if a bath is necessary. Here are some tips for a smooth bath:

  • Good timing - Schedule the bath when your cat has eaten or played. They are less likely to be feisty at this time and may be more willing to participate.
  • Trim the cat's nails - Use a trimmer to dull the cat's nails to prevent scratching. Trimming your cat's nails should be part of a regular grooming routine.
  • Have everything you need before you start - A grooming kit for your cat can include shampoo, brushes, and combs. Make sure you have everything within reach, you won’t have to leave your cat wet and unattended. 
  • Get a friend to help - The first time you bathe your cat is chaotic. You can get a friend to hold it while you wash it. 
  • No running water - Cats don't like the sound of running water and can quickly get frightened. Use a gentle sprayer or a small cup to rinse off when you're done lathering with shampoo.
  • Fill the sink with just a few inches of water - The last thing you want to do is submerge your cat in water. Instead, wet the cat from one part to the next, lather with shampoo, rinse with water, and use a cloth around the face.
  • Dry the cat as much as possible - When you're done, use a towel to pat the cat dry and comb its fur.
tips on how to bathe a cat

Step-by-Step How to Bathe Your Cat

The best way to ensure a safe and enjoyable bathing experience is to prepare everything ahead of time. Assembling the bathing tools and getting a friend or family member to help can ensure safety and a quick and smooth bath for your cat.

1. Assemble the Cat's Bathing Tools

Before you bathe your cat, assemble the tools you need. If you choose not to bathe your cat in a sink or bathtub, you will need a washing basin with a rubber mat on the bottom. The mat will keep your cat from slipping on the smooth surface during its bath and causing potential injury. 

2. Protect Your Cat's Eyes

Eye lubricant can be handy, although it is not required. It can protect the cat's eyes if shampoo or water gets in. This should be attached if you have a hose attachment to the faucet. Shampoo specifically formulated for cats is also essential, as is a stack of clean, warm towels. 

3. Brush Your Cat's Fur

Before you begin, brush your cat and trim its nails, offering a treat afterward, so the cat has positive associations with the experience and what is coming. 

4. Check The Water's Temperature

Next, bring the cat into the enclosed area and run the water, testing it with your wrist to ensure a neutral temperature.

5. Get Some Assistance

An extra hand goes a long way at this stage. First, one of you should quickly but gently lower the cat into the shallow water while both speaking in reassuring tones. Then, while the assistant holds the cat, the other person can bathe it, starting by wetting down the cat's coat with warm water. 

6. Gently Massage Shampoo

Next, a small amount of pet shampoo should be massaged and kept away from the cat's face, eyes, and ears. Then, rinse thoroughly using lukewarm water and keep the flow of water away from the cat's face. Afterward, use the warm, dry towels to pat the cat down, and ensure that the cat has a heated, dry area to rest after the bath.

7. Be Ready With The Treats!

It is important to offer your cat a safe, warm place and to be reassuring and praising while cleaning up. You can offer a treat reward, so the cat associates baths with high praise and sound association. Give it time if your cat does not wish to have the treat or be near you. Do not force any interaction, especially if the bath does not go smoothly.

Signs That Your Cat May Need a Bath

Most cat owners do not need to bathe their cats, as a cat's general grooming is sufficient to keep itself clean. 

A cat spends up to 30 percent of its time cleaning itself during its lifetime. Cats have rough tongues covered by papillae, which use saliva as a cleaning agent across the fur. The papillae will collect any bacteria and loose hair or dead skin and transfer natural oils across the coat.

Your cat’s fur has tangles

However, bathing your cat occasionally can help control hair loss and reduce hairballs. If cleaning a cat is complicated, grooming kits are available with brushes and combs to help detangle your cat's fur and remove loose hairs and daily dirt, such as kitty litter.

Your cat smells toxic

Despite personal grooming habits, there are signs your cat may need a bath. Whether they get themselves covered in a toxic substance or have a smell that is not natural, there may come instances when a cat needs bathing.

Animal experts recommend regular grooming as it helps to detect problems early. For example, regular grooming can see changes in a cat's fur, which can signal the presence of underlying diseases.

If your cat comes accidentally in contact with substances, it should not; it is best to bathe it. If your cat spends time in a garage, it can come in contact with antifreeze, grease, motor oil, paint, or other potentially toxic compounds. 

Your cat rolled onto a leak

If you have an emotional support cat but may not live in a place that is pet friendly, be sure to check for leaks in bathrooms and kitchens, as well as safety measures that may potentially damage your cat's skin or fur.

Other Reasons For Bathing Your Cat

There can be multiple reasons for a bath to be needed, such as skin problems, health problems, or even their breed. For example, cats with shorter fur may require less frequent grooming than long-haired ones. Long-haired cats should be brushed or combed at least once daily if not every other day.

  • Skin problems - Some cats may develop skin conditions that can be soothed by bathing. For example, seborrhea in cats causes dry, flaky, and itchy skin. Other health concerns, such as allergies or ringworm, can be addressed with medicated baths, and your veterinarian may prescribe washing to control these conditions.
  • Health - A senior ESA cat may have arthritis, inhibiting its agility and ability to clean itself properly. Such cats may require frequent assisted washes to prevent parasites and maintain healthy fur. Although most cats dread water, they dislike staying unkempt much more, and older cats should get used to baths after the first few times.
  • Breed - The Sphynx and other hairless breeds need more frequent bathing than their furry cousins. This is because they have an oily coating on their skin that attracts fabric and other debris, making them quite messy. Cats can also leave residue on your clothing or furniture, so bathing them is a win-win for you and the cat. Bathe them once a week or use baby wipes as part of their grooming routine.

How to Avoid Harm During Bathing

A few tips can help you bathe a cat more effectively. Many professional groomers use restraint systems to assist them while they work. A harness is the best type of restraint; a collar alone should never be used, as the cat may suffer damage to its neck and throat. 

Make sure the harness is comfortable, and attach a leash to keep the cat stationary while you work. You can also bathe a cat in a mesh bag or pillowcase, keeping the cat's head out of the bag. However, this can be distressing for the cat, so it should be viewed as a last resort.

If a cat struggles too much or is traumatized, you should call the proceedings off: You do not want to stress the animal. Try using a damp washcloth to bathe a cat under these circumstances, or seek the assistance of a professional groomer. 

You can also clean a cat with specially designed wipes used by groomers for quick touch-ups. They come in various scents and offer a cleansing experience that may not be as traumatizing for the cat.

Bathing wipes should be the same as a regular bath and should never be used near a cat's eyes, ears, or face.

Final Thoughts

Cats are naturally equipped to handle their hair and skin care needs thanks to their built-in grooming tools (teeth and tongue). However, there are times when bathing your cat is inevitable, and there are ways to make the experience more pleasant for you and your pet. 

Occasionally bathing your cat can also have numerous benefits. For instance, detecting any changes or developing conditions during bathing is possible, and taking the necessary precautions. Baths also help to keep mites and fleas at bay since you can use medicated products. While baths can be unpleasant at first, through trial and error, you and your cat may grow accustomed to the new cleaning method, and your cat may learn to love bath time.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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