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How To Bathe A Cat (Best Ways Without Getting Scratched!)

Posted in: Cat Care, Cat Health - Last Updated: November 16, 2021 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Posted in Cat Care, Cat Health 
Last Updated: November 16, 2021  
Author:  Rebekah Carter
how-to-wash-a-cat

Cats are pretty clean creatures. But there's gonna come a time where your kitty is filthy, smelly or yucky and you're going to need to know how to bathe a cat. You'll also need to know how to survive that whole 'bathing a cat' experience without being scratched to bits!

Chances are you see your feline friend washing and grooming themselves several times a day. It’s an activity that comes naturally to your cat, and something that offers them a great deal of comfort. However, just because your kitty is equipped with the tools it needs for some self-grooming, doesn’t mean you won’t need to help out from time to time and, sure as apples is apples, there'll come a time when you're going to need to know how to wash a cat. Your cat!

If you have an outdoor cat that constantly likes to roll in whatever it finds outside, baths may well be on the agenda. You might also find that some felines need extra help keeping themselves clean. For instance, long-haired kitties can struggle to groom themselves completely, particularly when they’re still kittens. Loads of bits of twig and mud get caked in and youyll need to become a bit of a hands on cat bathing master to help them out!

As a dedicated pet parent, it’s up to you to help your cat get clean when they need the support. The only problem? Cats just aren’t fond of baths. In fact, most find the whole cat bathing event very stressful. That means they’re probably going to share their displeasure with you through a set of deadly claws. Along with plenty of hissing and yowling.

Fortunately, we’re here to help. This guide for how to bathe a cat comes straight to you from a pet parent who has braved cat bath time and lived to tell the tale.

How To Bathe A Cat: The Basics

Let’s start simple, most cats won’t need regular baths. Your standard indoor moggy can go her whole life without any bathing required whatsoever. Remember, cats come with a special tongue to help with self-grooming, and it’s rare that you’ll be able to do a better job of cleaning than they do. Plus, they are experts and seem to be either sleeping or cleaning themselves the whole day long...

However, there are instances where bathing a cat becomes a necessity. Outdoor cats are often caught in leaves, piles of dirt, and other situations that can leave them covered in mess. There are also some breeds of cat that demand more grooming. Long-hair cats like Maine Coons and Himalayans may need extra assistance with their grooming to reduce the risk of matting and fur balls. Hairless cats may also need regular baths to help remove shedding skin.

Then, of course, there's the kitty that feels the full force of a neighbourhood skunk's displeasure that is going to need pretty swift action to get that smell off your fur baby and out of your home! And, the basic approach to deskunk a cat is knowing how to was a cat!

Here are some “how to bathe a cat” factors to consider when deciding when, if and how to bathe your cat:

  • Outdoor or indoor? Indoor cats are less likely to be exposed to things that would make bathing necessary. However, that’s not always the case. Kitties that get into your kitchen trash may also need extra baths.
  • Grooming habits: Older cats that struggle to groom themselves, overweight felines, and even new babies can require more bathing than their counterparts. Discuss your options with your vet if you’re concerned your cat isn’t grooming properly.
  • Fur length: Hairless cats need bathing to help them produce the oils required for healthy skin. On the other hand, long-haired cats need clean fur to reduce the risk of tangles and matting.
  • Activity level: Cats that are more active generally require more frequent bathing. If you have a cat that’s constantly running around, then it’s more likely they’ll end up with something on their coat you need to get rid of.
  • Infestations: If your kitty is exposed to fleas, ringworm, or any other unwanted pests, your vet might recommend bathing to help get rid of the infestation. Make sure it’s safe to bathe your cat before you start, however.
  • Skin issues: If your cat has an injury or a skin problem, your vet might recommend special medicated baths or spot-cleaning to assist with healing.

How To Bathe A Cat: Our Top Tips

Bathing your feline friend can certainly be a tricky experience. If you want to avoid the claws of your kitty, and hope to keep biting off the menu too, then you need to be well-prepared. A little work before the cat bathing begins can save you a lot of wounds tou in the long-term. And, of course when you know how to bathe a cat you're going to make it a less stressful experience fo your bloved kitty.

How to Bathe a Cat Tip 1: Clip Those Claws

If possible, it’s generally a good idea to trim your kitty’s claws before the cat bath. Even if you have the most relaxed cat in the world, exposure to water is more likely to convince him to bring out the big guns. You can find special claw trimmers online that are perfectly designed to keep claws short, without causing any damage to your feline friend. If you’re unsure about trimming, get your vet’s advice – and be careful not to cut too far.

If trimming your cat’s claws isn’t an option, consider using a set of nail caps instead. This can be an easy way to keep scratches to a minimum. Here’s a popular set of Kitty Caps for cats.

How to Bathe a Cat Tip  2: Choose the Container!

You might think that you should just place your cat in the shower or bath that you use when bathing a cat. No siree! While this will work for some people, it can be difficult to keep everyone safe and dry when you’re dealing with a large space. Personally, we find it much easier to bathe our cats in shallow basins, sinks, or even baby bath tubs if you have one lying around. 

A smaller space means that you can keep your cat closer to you while you’re shampooing their fur. If you don’t have an available container, your standard bath will do, but it’s best to have a skid-proof bottom if possible, and don’t fill the tub with more than 5 inches of water.

How to Bathe a Cat Tip 3: Brush Your Cat

If you have a long-haired cat, we’d recommend taking your brush into the bath with you. A wide-toothed brush like the Hertzko self-cleaning slicker can help you to distribute shampoo, conditioner or whatever pet safe cleaning product you're using through your pet’s hair more evenly, without it becoming tangled. And, while we're on that, you'll see below that our pick for a shampoo is the hypo-allergenic vet recommended one from Burt's Bees.

However, it’s also a good idea to brush your cat’s fur before you start washing too. This will loosen any dead fur that you want to get rid of during the bathing session. It’s also an opportunity to get rid of any tangles that could make washing more difficult. If your cat likes brushing, then a quick grooming session could be a great way to relax them before the cat bath.

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How to Bathe a Cat Tip 4: Have a Towel or Two Ready

Trust us when we say you can never have too many towels handy when bathing your cat. First, you need a towel laid on the tile floor that you can place your cat on when you get him out of the tub. He or she won’t like the feeling of wet paws against cold tile. 

And, of course, you can use towels that you have at hand but sdome folks are going to want a twowel just for the kitty rather than one shared with the humans in the house.

The Bone Dry embroidered pet towel is an excellent choice for absorbing moisture from your pet as quickly as possible. After you place your kitty on the floor, swaddle her up in the towel and give her a good rub down. Your cat will usually tolerate this for a few seconds, but you may need to convince them with some extra treats.

If you have a cat with very long fur, you can consider using your hairdryer on the lowest and coldest setting. Some cats won’t like the sound of the dryer, however.

How to Bathe a Cat Tip 5: Invest in Extra Treats

There are some cats out there that don’t mind water, but they’re pretty few and far between. Unless you have one of those special breeds that find water fascinating, you’re going to struggle with this bathing process. Even cats that like water generally prefer to avoid being dunked into it against their will, so keep that in mind. 

Ultimately, there’s a good chance that the whole bathing experience will be stressful and upsetting for your kitty. Having some treats on-hand to keep them a little happier can reduce the pain of the experience. You might even be able to keep your kitty distracted with something they can chew while you bathe in some cases.

How to Bathe a Cat Tip 6: Pick Your Shampoo/Conditioner

Last, but not least, you’re going to need a shampoo or conditioner that works for your kitty. Do not use a human shampoo or conditioner, as these include ingredients that may not be suitable for your cat’s skin or fur. Additionally, many human products come with substances that can be dangerous to consume. If your cat accidentally licks some bubbles, this could cause problems.

And, don't use any kind of soap or kitchen detergent. Same thing; you just don't know how these are going to react with the skin of your kitty when bathing your cat.

We have a full review of what we have tested as the best cat shampoo you can read here.

A shampoo for sensitive cats, like the Burts Bees hypoallergenic option, is ideal for kitties with sensitive skin. That's why we rate it as our best overall choice in our full shampoo reviews. This product cleans and softens your cat’s fur, and it also lathers pretty well, so you can cover your entire cat’s body faster. Make sure that you do rinse this product out fully before you’re done bathing your cat though, and keep it away from the eyes. Although this shampoo is non-toxic, your cat should still avoid ingesting it.

How To Bathe A Cat: The Main Event

Once you’re fully prepped for a successful bath, the next step is actually washing your feline friend. The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you’re going to try the dip or spray method. The dip method doesn’t mean you just dunk your kitty in the sink. Instead, you fill a bath or basin up with a few inches of water and use a container to gently pour water over them. 

The biggest issue with the dip method is that it can take a longer time to complete the bath, particularly with larger cats. You might find it easier to use a spray nozzle or shower on a very low force. Try to keep the nozzle close to the fur so that the cat doesn’t see the spray and avoid any loud-sounding showers. 

Whichever method you choose, remember that you should never spray your cat directly in the face, or pour water too close to their ears, as this can cause damage. Instead, use a damp cloth to wipe down sensitive areas, and keep one hand on your cat at all times to prevent them from running off. 

Since the sound of a running faucet or shower can be enough to frighten a cat, it might be best to start with the dip method, particularly if you’ve never bathed your feline friend before. Fill the container you’ve chosen with a few inches of warm water and lower him or her gently into it.

how-to-bathe-a-cat-that-hates-water

How to Bathe a Cat: Do it The Right Way

Sadly, no matter what you do, bathing your cat is not going to be an easy experience. You’ll need to offer plenty of reassurance and praise,  and maybe some cat food treats can make for a handy distraction if you have some available. If your cat is very frightened, they may attempt to bite or scratch you. If this keeps happening and it seems as though your cat is just becoming more stressed, you may need to stop. 

Some cats just won’t allow for cat bathing, and the best thing you can do in this situation is consult your vet for advice or consider speaking to a professional groomer. 

If bathing is an option for you, apply a small amount of warm water and shampoo to the area you need to wash. If a full bath is on the cards, try to avoid the head and focus on lathering the shampoo on the rest of the body, including the neck, tail, and underside of your cat. You may find it easier for both of you to take the cat out of the water while you’re lathering the shampoo. 

Keeping your cat’s ears dry is important during a bath, but don’t place anything inside of the ear to accomplish this, as this will cause more stress for your cat. It’s easier to keep the head completely dry if you can, and just use a damp cloth for cleaning this area. 

When you’re ready to rinse off your feline friend, use one hand to pour a jug of warm water over the fur and your other hand to hold the cat and prevent the water from spilling onto their head. Remember, even when using cat shampoo, it’s best to rinse the shampoo and conditioner thoroughly, as this will stop your kitty from ingesting excess suds.

What To Do After Bathing Your Cat

As mentioned above, wrapping your kitty up in a highly absorbent towel after their bath is an excellent way to reduce the risk of any problems. Generally, cats prefer to be towel dried, as hair dryers can be very noisy and upsetting. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to fully dry your cat before he or she runs off. 

Allow your cat some space to shake themselves dry, lick, and groom until they feel comfortable. Remember that grooming is a comforting process for cats (when they do it themselves!). Just be careful not to allow your cat outside until they’re fully dry, as this can increase their chances of becoming unwell. 

One thing to keep in mind is that if you do have a multi-cat household, your other non-bathed feline might respond differently to your cat after its bath. That’s because your wet kitty will smell a little different. Don’t panic, the conflict will settle down after a little while, particularly as your cat continues to dry off. 

If, no matter how hard you try, trying to bathe your cat feels like going into a cage with a hungry tiger, then you might need to consider alternatives. If your feline friend absolutely hates baths, it might be easier to seek a groomer’s help – remember that they have tools they can use to make the bathing process quicker and less stressful.

Another alternative to the full bath is to purchase cat wipes. Special grooming wipes, like these Pogi hypoallergenic pet wipes for dogs and cats are great for cleaning specific spots and getting rid of dirt when a full bath isn’t necessary. Just remember that you should only use wipes when they’re absolutely necessary. Too many wipes could dry out your cat’s coat and cause skin irritation.

Quick Tips for Better Cat Bathing

With a little luck, this how to bathe a cat guide has already given you all the information you need for a successful bathing experience. Here are a few bonus tips to consider too.

  • Make sure bathing your cat is really necessary. Most cats can clean themselves and don’t need regular baths. Spot and wipe-based cleaning might be better in some cases.
  • Set up all your supplies and equipment before you bring your cat into the room for bathing. This reduces the amount of time they spend feeling stressed.
  • Always use cat-friendly shampoos and conditioners and avoid making the water too hot. Rinse products thoroughly to reduce the risk of ingestion.
  • Do not use water or soap on your cat’s head, only use damp towels on this area, and be very careful about exposure to excess moisture.
  • Use treats, petting, and a calm voice to reassure your cat throughout the bathing process and remain calm. Try not to yell, even if your cat scratches you.
  • Start early with baths when your cat’s a kitten if you think they’ll need regular bathing, this can make the experience feel more natural over time.
  • Ensure your cat has a warm and dry place they can go after their bath and avoid exposing them to other pets or children.

Bathing your cat is bound to be a tricky experience, but these tips should help you to get your kitty clean again in no time!

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About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.

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