How to Give a Cat a Bath (and Live to Tell About It)

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Instead of asking how to give a cat a bath, it’s wise to first ask if a bath is really necessary. Bathing your cat should be a rare occurrence. Felines are grooming professionals and do not need baths as often as dogs do. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, cats spend between 30 and 50 percent of their day grooming themselves. They’ve got it covered. However, if you’re here, you’ve got your reasons and we won’t leave you hanging. Here’s how to give a cat a bath‚—and maintain a loving relationship with her afterward.

Step 0: Determine whether a bath is really necessary

There are several reasons you may need to step in to help your cat stay clean. If your sweet kitty has ringworm or a major flea problem, your vet might recommend a bath with medicated shampoo. Any cat who has rolled in something sticky or been sprayed by a skunk should be bathed for sure. Hairless cats actually require weekly baths because the oils and sweat from their skin have no fur to cling to, therefore they’re unable to groom themselves effectively. Finally, overweight cats and those with arthritis may need help keeping themselves well-groomed, especially in hard-to-reach places.

If you’ve determined that a bath is really necessary, you may move on to our official first step.

Step 1: Choose a calm moment

When you give your cat a bath is almost as important as how. Avoid peak activity times or when your cat is very hungry. Ideally, she’ll be relaxed and even keeled. Also, your mantra for cat bath time should be: Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t attempt this if you yourself are in a rush or have limited time. Cats pick up on that tension, and it’ll be more difficult to make this a positive—or painless—experience.

Step 2: Trim those nails

Unless you want scratches up and down your arms post bath, it’s wise to trim your cat’s nails before bath time. Nail trimming should be a regular activity, so this shouldn’t unnerve her too much.

Step 3: Brush that fur

Give your kitty a nice brushing pre bath. Be sure to detangle any knots and work through any matted fur, especially for long-haired cats. Matted fur can trap soap and result in skin infections later on. Like nail trimming, brushing should be part of your routine.

Step 4: Place a non-slip mat in the sink

Sinks (or large plastic tubs) work better than human bathtubs for cats. (Less space for her to move around means easier maneuvering for you.) It’s crucial to have a non-slip mat on whatever surface you use. Cats like traction and if the floor beneath them is too slippery, it’ll lead to greater chaos and distress.

Step 5: Fill the sink with a few inches of warm water

The sound of running or rushing water can stress a feline out! Michelson Found Animals recommends filling your sink or a large plastic tub with a few inches of warm water before placing your cat in there. If you’ve got a sink with a spray nozzle that can operate on a very low setting (aka, not too loud or harsh), you may not need the standing water.

Step 6: Clean ears and face with a washcloth

Using a slightly damp washcloth, gently clean your cat’s ears and face. Avoid using soap on or directly rinsing these areas with water for the rest of the bath.

Step 7: Wet your cat from back to front

Slowly wet your cat’s body with a small cup or the sink nozzle. Start near the base of her tail and work your way up to her neck. The water temperature should be slightly warm, not hot; about the temperature, you’d use to bathe a baby.

Step 8: Massage unscented shampoo into fur

Jackson Galaxy, an expert cat behaviorist, cannot stress enough how important it is to use unscented shampoo. Felines are very particular about their scent. You do not want to mess with their carefully calibrated essence! Gently massage an unscented shampoo into her fur, again working towards her neck from her hind legs.

Step 9: Rinse thoroughly

Rinse and rinse again, offering soothing praise the whole time. Lingering soap can cause skin irritation, so it’s important to make sure she’s totally suds-free.

Step 10: Dry calmly

Using as many dry, clean towels as necessary, gently and calmly blot your cat’s fur dry. By this point, she may be extra feisty and trying her hardest to sneak away from you. Hang in there and hold her tight as you get her as dry as possible. After you do your best, it’s okay to let her air dry the rest of the way in a warm room.

Step 11: Treat time

You’ve got to deliver some extra tasty treats after a bath. It might be a good idea to reserve special treats for grooming events like baths, nail trimming, and brushing, so your cat associates those activities with positive and distinct rewards.

There you have it! Honestly, the slower and steadier you can move, the better the bath experience will be. Plus, the items below will help make feline bath time even less stressful.

Everything You Need to Give Your Cat a Bath

how to give a cat a bath collapisble bathing tub

1. Collapsible Bathing Tub

If you prefer not to bathe your cat in the sink, investing in a multi-purpose tub like this works wonders.

how to give a cat a bath pet gear bathing tub

2. Pet Gear Bathing Tub

This tub comes fully equipped with a non-slip base - both inside the tub and out. So, even if your cat is squirming, she’ll stay in place and so will the tub.

how to give a cat a bath dakpets furblaster deshedding tool

3. Dakpets Furblaster Deshedding Tool

A durable brush that can work its way through tough tangles and mats is key to prepping your kitty for a bath. It also has a non-slip grip which gives you a little more control as you brush.

how to give a cat a bath frisco nail clippers

4. Frisco Nail Clippers

There’s no need to get super fancy with cat nail clippers. As long as you can securely grip them and they are designed specifically for cat nails (with curved, semi-circle shaped blades), you’re good to go.

how to give a cat a bath microfiber towel

5. Frisco Microfiber Towel

Stocking up on towels designated for your pets is always a good idea. These microfiber towels are incredibly absorbent, which will decrease drying time and increase cat satisfaction.

how to give a cat a bath shampoo

6. Unscented Hypoallergenic Shampoo With Aloe

A shampoo-conditioner combination formula is ideal, but this shampoo with aloe is a great alternative. The most important aspects of cat shampoos and conditioners are their scents (fragrance-free always) and their hypoallergenic status (yes, please).

how to give a cat a bath grooming wipes

7. Hypoallergenic And Fragrance-free Pet Grooming Wipes

When a bath is out of the question, but your cat needs a gentle wipe down, make sure to use pet wipes that are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic.

how to give a cat a bath tuna treats

8. Tiki Cat Stix Tuna Treats

For a super special treat post bath, go wild. These Tiki Stix are full of protein and amino acids, both of which support healthy muscles. Think of it as a pudding cup for your cat. Yum!

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...