HEALTH & CARE

How to Bathe a Cat: Useful Tips for an Injury-Free Bath

Close-up image of a cat taking a bath
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Think of something you detest having to do. Maybe having the doctor give you a jab? Very unnerving and downright uncomfortable! And while it may not be as painful as that jab, most cats equally detest taking baths. So naturally they will put up a fight, and things can get really ugly. Cat owners, therefore, need to outsmart their felines. Learning how to bathe a cat properly will lead to an easier and injury-free bathing session.

We are pretty sure you do not want to ruin your kitty’s trust and affection towards you just because you had to give them a bath. Neither do you want your cat to get provoked and pounce on you—tearing you into ribbons in the process. Is there a safe way of going about this daunting task? Yes, there is!

An orange cat waiting for his owner to give her a warm bath

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in this task. There are cat owners who have skillfully mastered the art of bathing their cats. Note that we didn’t say professional groomers but ordinary cat owners. As a matter of fact, their kitties jump with glee at the prospect of a bath.

We are going to divulge a few tactics you can employ to coax even the most “water averse” kitty to enjoy bath time. In here you will find invaluable tips on the best way to give a cat a bath. Some of these best practices will help turn “nightmare time” into bonding time between you and your beloved cat.

How Often Should I Bathe My Cat?

Before exploring the best practices in bathing a cat, we can preempt the burning question on your mind: Just how often do I need to bathe my cat? We are glad you asked.

Excessive bathing in cats will strip their coats of their natural oils which could damage the skin. You, therefore, need not be overly zealous in grooming your cat. The rule of thumb is that indoor cats will be fine with one or two baths in a year.

Orange cat looking not happy for taking a bath

What a relief! But not so fast, cat owners will tell you that they often exceed this frequency. Long haired felines need more baths than short haired ones. You may also find yourself offering more baths under the below circumstances:

  • Stubborn Dirt. It is inevitable that Kitty will often pick up various forms of dirt in one of his curious ventures. This may be paint, greasy oil, or toxic substances that may harm more than just his coat.

  • To Ward off Parasites. Some external parasites like fleas will require you to give kitty a bath. Your veterinarian may recommend a medicated shampoo for this.

  • Show Cats. If you are the proud owner of a show cat, you will need your cat to always be at his best. Cats that participate in championships are expected to be near flawless and require frequent baths.

  • Skin Conditions. Some skin problems like dandruff are easily alleviated by giving kitty a bath.

  • Obese Cats. If Kitty is overweight, chances are he has a few grooming challenges. Most obese felines are not able to groom all their body parts. Like the base of his tail and his lower back. Such cats need more baths to ensure they maintain healthy and clean coats.

Find yourself in any of the above circumstances, and you may end up having to bathe your cat every month. Proper preparation is key to an easy and injury-free monthly ritual.

Prior Preparations

The best way to maneuver unchartered waters is to be fully prepared. When it comes to bathing a cat, you can never be over-prepared. You will have to handle some personal preparations, make sure your cat is ready for the upcoming process, and then keep all the necessary bathing supplies at hand.

Preparing Yourself

You need to be fully armed; the task ahead is no easy feat. Remember your cat has claws that can injure and teeth that can bite.

Unhappy Cat-taking-a-bath

Here are a few ways to ensure you come out unscathed, just in case kitty gets rough:

Personal Preparation #1: Get an Extra Pair of Hands

This is one of those tasks where two are better than one. Get someone to hold down your cat firmly but gently as you offer the bath.

Personal Preparation #2: Wear Protective Clothing

Both you and your helper should be dressed in long-sleeved clothes that are hard to tear. A pair of rubber gloves will come in handy as well. You can opt for old clothes that you do not mind losing since they may never be the same after the bath. Remember you will most likely get sufficiently wet too.

Personal Preparation #3: Put Your Best Foot Forward

Perhaps you have never bathed a cat before, but you still need to be confident. If your cat senses that you are as unsure of the exercise as he is, he will have none of it. It’s important for kitty to sense that you are in charge and there is no cause for alarm. Be calm and go about it like a pro.

Preparing Your Cat

While it is understandable that you’d want to put off this notoriously daunting task as much as possible, it is best to introduce bathing to cats early. At the age of 8 weeks, kittens can be safely bathed.

Unhappy Cat-taking-a-bath

Cats that grew up being bathed will get used to the process and may even embrace it. Here’s how you should introduce your cat to his first bath so he won’t get a bad first impression of it.

Cat Preparation #1: Get Kitty Used to the Sink or the Tub

Days before his bath, introduce your cat to the sink or bathtub where you intend to give him a bath. Allow him to stand there for a while and soak in his new environment. That way it will not be a shock on the day you are giving him a bath. If possible, use the kitchen or bathroom sink as opposed to a bathtub. It is easier to handle and restrain a cat on a sink.

Cat Preparation #2: Get Kitty Used to the Hair Dryer

A hair dryer helps dry a cat more quickly than towels. If you intend to use it, allow your cat to get familiar with its sound.

Close-up image of a hairdryer

Tag him along as you dry your hair. It can be quite terrifying for him to have you blow it on him if he is not familiar with it.

Cat Preparation #3: Trim your Cat’s Nails

This should be done before the day of his bath. By trimming his nails, you minimize the chances of having your cat injure you in case he gets violent.

Preparing the Bathing Supplies

It is important to have all your items ready before you embark on this exercise. You do not have the luxury of pausing midway to pick a towel or a shampoo. Your cat will most likely not afford you this opportunity. He will be long gone by the time you return.

Image of a cat in a green towel after taking a bath

Here is a checklist of what you require:

  • A washcloth

  • Mats or towels to keep your cat from slipping

  • Rubber gloves

  • Two or more towels

  • Hair dryer

  • Cotton balls for kitty’s ears

  • Cat-friendly shampoo

  • Cat toy

  • Soft brush

  • Wide-toothed comb

  • A pitcher or another container for rinsing

  • Warm water for rinsing

Never use a human shampoo for kitty’s bath, no matter how mild. Only use veterinarian-approved cat shampoos. Human shampoos will damage your feline’s skin.

Image showing wildwash shampoo bottles

Getting a special fascinating toy purely for kitty’s bath time can also be a rewarding idea. A little distraction from the drenching experience will go a long way. Keep all of the aforementioned things within arm’s reach in the bathroom, pick up your cat with confidence so you won’t alert him to any danger, and then it’s bath time!

Step by Step Guide to Bathing Your Cat

The actual process of bathing a cat is not complicated. With proper preparation and a dash of courage, anyone can hack it. The process of bathing your cat can be summarized in the following steps:

Step One: Brush Your Cat

Give kitty a gentle brush before the bath. Tenderly stroke your kitty’s hair in the direction of its growth. This will straighten out any tangled hair and brush off any flaky dry skin. This step is important to avoid solidifying the cat’s mat once you introduce water.

Keep your cat healthy and happy by brushing it while it sheds!

Brushing your cat gently also soothes him and gives him some much-needed reassurance before the (unnerving) bath.

Step Two: Prepare Kitty’s Bath

Place a rubber mat or towel at the bottom of the tub or sink to keep your cat from slipping. Next, fill the sink with four to five inches of warm water. Always use warm and never hot or cold water. Put cotton balls into your cat’s ears to shield them from the water. Then gently place your cat in his bath.

Step Three: Wet Your Cat and Lather Him in Shampoo

Using a pitcher or any other container to gently wet your cat’s coat from the neck and move downwards. Then lather the shampoo gently into the entire body. Massage in the shampoo, making sure to work towards the direction of the cat’s hair.

A cat taking a bath with her owner

Make sure to clean all the body parts of your cat. Do not, however, clean the head or ears yet. Talk soothingly to your cat in case he is stiff or agitated. This will reassure him and may help convince him not to take his frustration out on you.

Step Four: Give Kitty a Thorough Rinse

If you are satisfied that you have cleaned all his parts, use the pitcher to rinse off the shampoo. You can use the water in the sink for his first rinse. Then drain it off and rinse your cat using clean, warm water until his coat feels totally fresh and clean. 

Phoneix cat taking a bath

The importance of a thorough rinse cannot be overemphasized. Traces of shampoo left lingering on kitty’s coat can damage his skin. Also, your cat can ingest it while licking his coat and suffer an upset stomach.

Step Five: Wash His Face and Ears

It is now time to tend to your kitty’s head. Using a wet washcloth, wipe his face clean. Do not attempt to use shampoo unless he has stubborn dirt on his face. In this case, be very meticulous and make sure only the dirty parts get into contact with the shampoo.

Cat with a lot of shampoon on her taking a bath

Wipe your cat’s ears clean using cotton balls. In all you do, make sure to keep water and shampoo out of your cat’s ears and eyes. If water got into those vulnerable parts, it might ruin an otherwise successful bath. It could also be dangerous.

Step Six: Dry Your Cat

You have done a splendid job this far. But before you begin with the celebration, you need to dry your cat down.  Wrap a dry towel around your cat and gently pat him dry. Once the towel gets wet, pick another dry towel and rub him dry until his coat no longer feels wet. If your feline is long-haired, you may need to straighten out his hair with a wide-toothed comb.

A cat in a white towel after taking a bath

If your kitty seems calm and even seems to have enjoyed his bath, you can finish drying him off with a hairdryer. Make sure the heat is set on warm, never hot.  However, if your cat has been aggressive or shown signs of great displeasure, you may not want to aggravate him further. Desist from using the hair drier. Simply towel him dry. This would take longer, but your cat will thank you for being considerate of his feelings. You can try the hair dryer another time when your cat is starting to get used to taking a bath.

Step Seven: Offer Kitty a Reward

Breathing a sigh of relief already? We understand your joy; you probably just conquered one of your greatest fears. But don’t just dismiss kitty. It’s time to reward him for being so well behaved. You can offer him his favorite snack or meal. It will be great if your cat can associate bath time with his favorite treat. This may just be the trick for his subsequent baths.

What Can I do if Bath Time Was a Flop?

While we hope all goes well, and your cat allows you to give him a bath, we are well aware that some felines just won’t budge. If your kitty gets extra aggressive and violent, don’t push it. Your safety precedes your feline’s cleanliness. But all is not lost. Here are a few alternatives you can explore to have a particularly bath-hating kitty cleaned up:

Consider a Dry Bath

Since your cat is majorly opposed to water, consider purchasing a cat-friendly dry shampoo. They come in various forms: powder, foams or sprays. The idea is to apply the dry shampoo on your feline’s coat and leave it for some time.

Image showing a relaxed cat-in-sink

Always read the instructions on the product before using it. Some of these dry shampoos may require you to brush your cat either prior or after application. Also, look out for any ingredients in the shampoo that your cat may be allergic to.  While a dry bath may not clean up kitty as well as a water bath, it can be a great alternative.

Use a Wet Wash Cloth

You can wipe your cat clean using a wet washcloth. Wet the cloth with warm water and massage your cat until you are satisfied that they are clean.

Use Cat Wipes

Grab a packet of cat wipes and gently clean your cat. Cat wipes are useful when you need to wipe some minor dirt off your cat. For cats that cannot take a bath, they can be a great alternative.

Take Kitty to a Professional Groomer

You can take your feline to a professional groomer or veterinarian. They are well equipped with both the skills and tools to safely harness your kitty and offer him a bath.

Image showing a woman grooming a cat

Tired of fighting with your cat over his bath? Let someone else handle him.

Wrap Up

Thankfully, cats do a good job of cleaning themselves up. But once in a while, you will need to step in and offer a bath.  Learning the best way to give a cat a bath is inevitable to all cat owners. Although cats should not be bathed excessively, there are many instances where baths are needed. Like when your cat picks up toxic substances that pose a danger to his skin.

Apart from getting your cat all clean and fresh, bathing a cat rids him of external parasites and relieves some skin conditions. Cats that are used to baths are also less resistant when being handled by a veterinarian. They take it in stride.

An upset cat for taking a bath sitting in a towel

Proper preparation is key if you are to succeed in bathing your kitty. We have discussed ways in which you need to prepare both yourself and your cat. Getting all the necessary items ready before the bath is another critical step that can make or break the experience. When done meticulously, your feline will easily adapt to this new adventure.

We have also explored several tips you can employ to lure your cat into taking a bath. Such include distracting him with an intriguing toy and giving him his favorite meal after a successful bath. Also, aim to give your cat a bath when they are tired. They are most likely to be more yielding then since their energy is already spent.

A cat after bath in a towel

If your cat totally resists a bath, there are alternative ways of ridding him of the dirt. Giving a dry bath, the use of a wet washcloth, the use of cat wipes, and employing the services of a professional groomer are some great alternatives.

Armed with this information, we can bet you are now raring to give kitty a bath. Do let us know how the whole thing went in the comments section. If you are a veteran cat owner that has a few effective tricks up your sleeves on how to bathe a cat, please share your wisdom with the rest of the class.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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