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How to on bathe a cat

The essentials

  • Most cats don’t like water, so baths may stress them out – You can start introducing kittens to the idea of baths to help with this. Start adult cats with a few minutes in the water to help show it’s not dangerous, and only spot wash to cut down on bath time.
  • There are wonderful alternatives to bathing a cat – Some great options include dry baths, pet wipes, and a good brushing to help out with the cat’s normal self-cleaning.
  • There are a lot of products for bathing pets, but not all are safe for cats – If you’re not sure what products to use, you can always ask your veterinarian about what they recommend for your specific cat. Different cats may need different products.
How to bathe a cat

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Generally speaking, healthy cats don’t need baths because they spend a lot of time grooming themselves and are really good at it. This is good news for most cat parents. In some cases though, they need extra care. Cats might need a bath due to health/physical issues, certain breeds and coat lengths, and if they got into anything too dirty or dangerous for them.

How to bathe a cat, step-by-step

Now that you’ve gotten everything set up and ready, it’s officially bath time! Just remember to keep calm and follow the steps below for a bath time with minimal stress for both you and your kitty.

1. Start at the ears and wet towards the tail

Starting right behind your cat’s ears, wet down the fur moving towards the tail with warm water. Using either a pitcher, cup, or faucet sprayer, gently wet the cat’s belly area and underarms. You may need to gently lift the cat under their front legs to get the underside wet.

Make sure to not get their face or ears wet. Everyone hates water in their ears and a cat is no different. Plus, that extra wetness in there could very easily cause an infection. If you can get your cat to agree to it, try putting half a cotton ball in each ear canal to help keep water out.

2. Lather shampoo on your cat’s coat

Starting at the top of the neck, lather your cat up. Pay close attention to certain areas like the “armpits” and genitals. Make sure while lathering the neck not to get any shampoo on the face or in the ears or eyes.

It’s very important to make sure that you’ve read all the instructions on the label carefully before using the product. There are some cat shampoos that require being diluted before using them.

3. Rinse shampoo out of their coat

Take extra time to make sure you get all of the shampoo out of your cat’s fur. Depending on how sensitive their skin is, leftover shampoo residue can cause mild to severe irritation. It’s a good rule of thumb that even after you think you’ve gotten it all out, check again and then rinse one more time.

For long-haired breeds, or those with dry skin, you can opt to use a cat-safe conditioner after you rinse out the shampoo. One important thing to remember is, if you’re using one that needs to be rinsed out, make sure to take the same precautions and thoroughly rinse your cat again.

4. Clean their face and ears

Using either a damp, soft washcloth or a grooming wipe, clean your cat’s face and around their eyes. If using a washcloth, make sure it’s soft so as not to cause irritation to the sensitive skin around the eyes, the nose, and in front of the ears.

Next comes cleaning the ears. Make sure to follow the ear cleaner instructions on the label and use a cotton ball to wipe out the ears.

Avoid using Q-tip or cotton-tipped applicators in the ear canals as the cotton ball wiping is safer to avoid injury or trauma to sensitive ear canals.

Dr. Bruce Amstrong

5. Make sure your cat is thoroughly dry

Whether you are using a thick, fluffy, clean towel or a pet grooming dryer, this is one of the most important parts of the bathing routine. Make sure that your cat is completely dry. You may need to use more than one towel to get them dry.

If you want to try some kind of dryer, keep the sound in mind. It may be something your cat doesn’t like and might be scared of. When using a dryer, use the lowest setting and keep it on cool.

6. Reward your cat with treat time

Now that the scary bath time is over, it’s time to show your little feline friend some love. This can look like playtime, treats, snuggles, or whatever they may want. Don’t take it too personally though if they decide that they want to be alone for a minute as they recover.

Giving them some kind of treat is an important way to help them see that the bath is finished and ending on a good note. Treats are a positive reinforcement that it’s over and they did good. The hope is that this will help them to start associating bath time with some of their favorite things, treats, snuggles, and play.

@animalhumanemn Does your kitten need a bath? Here are some tips to make bath time a little less stressful for you and your kitten. #kittens #rescuekitten #AnimalHumaneMN #twincities #ragdollmix ♬ Shipyard Sample – Official Sound Studio

When and why you may have to bathe a cat

Cat’s are notorious for being self-cleaning machines. The only thing easier to catch them doing is napping in the sun somewhere. That’s because cat’s spend about 50% of their time awake grooming. Even though they are experts, it’s still really important to keep an eye on their coat and skin and ensure your cat’s health.

It’s also important to make sure that your cat is able to groom themselves appropriately and thoroughly without your help. If you happen to notice any changes in their grooming, you may need to step in and help them out. There are a few medical reasons as to why your cat may have trouble grooming or not be able to groom themselves anymore.

Health issues. If your cat has an underlying health condition like arthritis, obesity,  underlying medical conditions, or is simply older, they may need help getting fully clean. These conditions may stop them from reaching everywhere fully, and they need your help to reach those spots for them.

Emergency or safety. It’s absolutely necessary to give your cat a bath if they’ve gotten into anything that is dangerous for them to ingest. Cats clean themselves by licking because the cat’s rough tongue is able to pick up debris and dirt as they groom. Because of this, anything like oils, chemicals, and certain types of pollen can be dangerous. if your cat licks them off their fur.

Poop, vomit, or urine. If your cat is sick or has any kind of incontinence issues, then bathing them is something that you may have to do to help them feel better. Not only will it help in keeping your kitty from getting sicker, but it can also help keep the spread of disease and bacteria down which is healthy for you.

Coat type. If you have a long-haired cat they may need baths along with regular brushing to help keep matting down. However, hairless breeds do need regular bathing as a part of their hygiene routine. This is because hairless cats have special skin conditions like oilier skin than other breeds, and baths help to decrease oil and dirt buildup, which reduces the chance of a skin infection.

Parasites or fungal infections. There are a handful of conditions, like fleas and ringworm that may require a medicated bath for treatment – if this is the only option, make sure to follow your vet’s instructions. You can also check to see if there is a topical treatment that may work. The best way to handle parasites is proactively like with Advantage or Seresto.

Alternatives for how to bathe a cat that hates water

When you have to bathe a cat and water is out of the question, here are some alternatives :

Dry baths. A dry bath uses a small amount of cat-friendly powder as the cleaning product. You start by rubbing the powder into the coat. Then you use a fine-toothed comb and brush the powder out until your cat’s coat is clean. The powder absorbs and clings to dirt and sweat.

Grooming pet wipes. If you need to just clean a little something off your cat, like a small amount of food or maybe some mud off their paws, pet wipes are a great option. One thing to check for with wipes is to make sure they are safe around the eyes.

Pet dry shampoo. Start by brushing out all of the dead hair from your kitty’s coat. Make sure that the product you’re using is one for cats. Some of these products come in a spray bottle while others may come as a foam. For a cat, it might be better to opt for the foam since you can put that into your hands and then rub it onto the cat.

Preparing to bathe your cat

One of the most important things to remember when getting ready to bathe your cat is to gather all the essential items you will need beforehand. You don’t want to get your kitty relaxed and into the bath only to have to run out because you forgot something. You will very likely come back to an empty tub or sink and a very upset, very wet cat.

Cute cat in a sink

Pick the right place and time

Not only is it important to make sure that you’re picking the right place for your cat’s bath, but timing is also extremely important. One of the best times for your cat’s bath might be after a long play session. These help the cat to get rid of some extra energy and may make them a little more mellow . When it comes to the place, you want somewhere that is going to be safe for your cat should they get loose and get away. Some of the best places to bathe your cat are inside and include:

Bathtub. Bathtubs are great because they are low to the floor and can help reduce the risk of injury to both you and your cat from a fall. They also allow you to use a handheld shower sprayer, or one designed to attach to a standalone tub for pets, so that you can control the placement of the spray head, and even the kind of spray depending on the handheld you have.

Bathroom sink. One of the benefits of the bathroom sink, much like the bathtub, is that it’s in the bathroom. This room is usually smaller and has a door which means that your cat won’t have as many places to hide if they do get out of the sink.

Kitchen sink. A kitchen sink is a great option because it not only has countertop space to help hold everything, but the sink itself is typically bigger and deeper than a bathroom sink. This gives your kitty a little extra space during bathing.

🚨If you have a garbage disposal though, please make sure to cover the drain to prevent any accidental injuries. 

Cat bathtub. This is a small, normally collapsible or foldable plastic tub with a drain in the bottom that is designed for small pets and cats. What is great about it is that it will fit in any standard-size shower or tub, but they are a smaller area so there is less chance of your cat slipping and getting hurt. These small pet tubs work great for homes that may not have a bathtub but instead a shower stall.

When setting up these areas for bathing, check to make sure that anything on the counters or the edge of the tub has been removed. This is to prevent injury to your cat and keep those items from either being messed up or broken.

Supplies you’ll need

There are a few supplies that you’ll want to make sure you have before you decide to give your cat a bath. When picking out these supplies it’s very important to make sure that what you’re choosing is made for cats or with cats in mind. Also, make sure to follow whatever directions are on the label of the product.

  • Cat shampoo. It’s really important to get a shampoo specifically designed for cats. Don’t use any shampoos for humans. Most of these will have harsher chemicals and essential oils which are bad for your cat to ingest as well as their delicate skin.
  • Cat conditioner (either in bath or leave-in). This is an optional item for some, but it’s an important item for cats with longer hair. Not only can it help with detangling the coat after drying, but it’s also good for helping to restore some moisture to the skin.
  • Ear cleaner. This is an important part of a kitty’s bath because it’s used to remove any build-up of debris or wax. Ear cleaner is recommended instead of shampoo or soap because it’s a no-rinse cleaning product that won’t leave your cat’s ears wet.
  • Treats. These are for after the bath. It’s a good way to help your cat start to relax and show them that you didn’t give them a bath to be mean.
  • Pet grooming wipes. It’s important to avoid pouring or spraying your cat’s face. Not only can any water or shampoo getting into the eyes, ears, or nose be scary for the cat, but they’re also painful and could cause an infection if not cleaned up properly.

The following items are things you probably already have in your home.

  • Washcloth or sponge. This is what you will use to lather up the shampoo and get it into the coat and undercoat. Just make sure that it’s not too rough otherwise it could irritate the skin.
  • Measuring cup or detachable faucet sprayer. These are used to both wet the cat initially and to rinse the shampoo, and conditioner if used, out of the coat.
  • Towel, bathmat, or non-skid surface. These are important for helping your cat get traction on the slippery, wet surface. This traction helps them to stay a little calmer because they don’t get panicked when they start to slip and slide.
  • Absorbent towel or pet dryer. The item you choose to dry your cat with is important. One of the most important parts of bathing your cat is getting them completely dry.
  • Rubber gloves. These are to help cut down on the number of scratches you may get from bath time. They won’t keep you scratch free, but they can help defend against some of the more shallow scratches.
  • Extra pair of hands. While this may not be necessary for all cats, having a helper who can assist with bathtime is a good idea. This is for your safety as well as your cat’s. It’ll also help get the bath done quicker.
Two cats wrapped in a blue towel

Tips for a successful cat bath

Some important tips to keep in mind to make bath time a success:

Spend time getting your cat tired — Engage in playtime with wand toys and other enjoyable, energy-burning activities first.

Clip their nails first — Locate the pink quick of your cat’s nail and using cat nail clippers, clip below that area. Avoid knicking the quick!

Bush before the bath — Using a pet brush, stroke the back, sides, and stomach of your cat to remove loose hair and also acclimate them to being touched.

Brush their teeth – By making this a part of the routine, it ensures that your cat will have healthy teeth. This is really important because most cats over three years old can have some kind of dental issues and disease. Make sure to always use toothpaste intended for cats.

👉 Brushing a cat’s teeth can also be a bit messier than brushing your own, so it’s best done before bath time so you can wash off any of the leftover toothpaste.

Have everything ready — Walk through the whole bathing process first and make sure your tools, shampoos, and other supplies are in convenient and safe places prior to bathtime.

Frequently asked questions

How often should I bathe my cats?

If your cats aren’t hairless or long-haired, or aren’t senior cats with mobility or health issues, then you may never have to bathe them in a traditional bath because they are excellent self-groomers. Hairless and long-haired cats require special bathing to help with skin issues and matting respectfully. Cats with mobility or health problems require help because they just are not able to reach everywhere.

Is bathing a cat ok?

If your cat has gotten into something that’s dangerous for them, has matted fur, or cannot groom themselves, then it’s necessary that you bathe your cat. Otherwise, your cat really doesn’t need a bath if they’re able to groom themselves.

What is the best way to bathe a cat with a dislike of water?

Unless the cat is filthy or covered in something that is dangerous for it to ingest, there is no need to give your cat a wet bath. There are alternatives like a dry bath or a sponge bath that will work just fine. These alternatives may also be less stressful for your cat.

How to bathe a kitten?

Kittens may need a little more help staying clean, but the overall way you clean them is the same. If a grooming wipe for kittens will get the job done, then stick with those. If it’s a bigger mess than that, just remember to keep the room and water temperature warm enough for the kitten. Make sure to use small amounts of shampoo for a kitten and make sure they’re rinsed thoroughly. Dry them completely immediately following the bath to make sure they don’t get cold.

What shampoo can I use to bathe my cat?

The only shampoo that you should be using on your cat is one that says it’s designed for cats. Please don’t use human shampoo or just assume that other pet or dog shampoo will work. Cats have very sensitive skin and should only use shampoos designed for them.