I have a passion for animals. I enjoy researching and writing educational articles to help dog and cat owners become better pet parents.
How to Wash a Cat
It's that time again—time to give your cat a bath! After all, we all need a good bath or shower every now and again, right? Though cats are generally very clean animals, they sometimes get into things they are not supposed to (for example, car grease). Many people believe that cats hate water. Although this may be true for some, it's a myth that all felines hate getting wet—some absolutely love it and actually enjoy a nice dip in the tub.
Have All Bathing Equipment Ready
Now, before you turn on the faucet and throw kitty into the sink, you should have all of your bathing necessities ready. Trust me on this one! Once your cat is actually in the sink or tub, you will not want to leave the room, for if you do, I can almost guarantee that Felix will be gone when you return! So what items will you need in order to bathe your cat? Please see the list below:
- Cat-friendly shampoo
- Brush (if you have a long-haired kitty)
- Pitcher or other container for rinsing
- Rubber mat to place in sink or tub so kitty can't slip and fall
Not only should you have the items listed above handy, but you should also, if possible, have a friend or family member available to help you. When it comes to bathing a cat, four hands are better than two! It should also be noted that using a cat-friendly, tearless shampoo is very important as regular shampoos can irritate and sting your cat's eyes. If the vet prescribed a medicated shampoo, be sure to follow the instructions exactly. Ok—now you are ready to bathe your kitty!
Step-by-Step Instructions for Bathing a Cat
Step 1: Catch Your Cat
Time to catch your cat! Obviously, the first thing you need to do is get your cat into the bathroom. Cats that have been bathed before (and don't mind it) will go willingly. Cats that have never been bathed—well, that's a different story (they tend to panic)! Once you get your cat into the designated bathing area, shut the door immediately!
Trust me, your cat will take every opportunity to escape, and the last thing you want is an angry, soaped-up kitty running around your house. It is very important that you remain calm throughout the bathing process. The more stressed out you become, the more stressed out your cat will become.
Step 2: Fill the Sink or Tub
Fill the sink or tub with approximately four inches of warm water. Be sure to check the water temperature before placing kitty into the bath (you don't want the water to be too hot, or he will become angry and uncomfortable—not to mention that you might burn him!). Once you have checked the water temperature, place him gently into the tub. Be sure to use both hands and grip your cat firmly (without hurting him).
Step 3: Wet Your Cat's Fur and Shampoo
Thoroughly wet your cat's fur (if at all possible, avoid his face!). After the fur is wet (down to the skin), gently pour some shampoo on his body. Next, gently rub the shampoo into the fur (working up a nice lather as you go).
Step 4: Rinse Thoroughly
Once you have washed your cat's entire body, it is time to rinse! Using warm water, rinse away all of the soap. It is very important that you do not leave any soap behind. Why? Well, once your cat is completely dry, the left-over soap will begin to irritate your cat's skin, causing him to scratch. He may also lick off some of the left-over soap, which is not good as it may cause stomach upset, depending on how much he actually eats.
Step 5: Wash Your Cat's Face
Now it is time to wash your cat's face. Simply take a washcloth that has been soaking in warm water (no soap) and gently wipe his face clean. You should never spray water directly at your cat's face, nor should you ever under any circumstance dunk your cat's head underwater! Not nice.
Step 6: Take Your Cat Out of the Tub
Once you are done rinsing your feline friend, it is time to take him out of the tub. Wrap your cat in a clean, warm towel (warmth is very important) and put him in a warm, draft-free room in which he can safely dry off. You can blow dry your cat; however, it should be noted that many cats are afraid of the sounds that blow dryers tend to make.
If your cat is already in a stressed-out, panicked state, it's best to skip the blow dryer altogether. However, if your cat is a bath pro and doesn't mind the blow dryer, then, by all means, use it (just don't use a high setting as you can burn him). Remember to test the blow-dryer first. Thermal burns can easily occur if the blow dryer is too close to the animal. They can't tell us if it's too hot! Once your feline friend is completely dry, brush or comb out his fur.
When it comes to bathing your cat, the key is patience! The calmer you are, the calmer your cat will be. It is also important that you talk to your cat throughout the entire process (use a calm, soothing voice). It is very important that you don't lose your temper and yell at your cat. After all, he or she is already in 100% panic mode. It is important that you don't rush the bathing process. Therefore, you should only bathe your cat when you have plenty of time.
It should also be noted that the earlier you introduce bathing to your cat, the better. Cats that were bathed as kittens tend to be easier to bathe than older cats who are new to the process.
Tips for Bathing a Cat
- Have all bathing equipment ready before putting kitty into the tub.
- Only use a cat-friendly, tearless shampoo and follow the instructions on the bottle.
- Check the water temperature before putting kitty into the tub.
- If possible, have a friend help you.
- Be sure to wash away all of the soap on your cat's body.
- Wash your cat's face with a warm washcloth. Do not use soap.
- Never dunk your cat's head underwater.
- Talk to your cat throughout the bathing process. Use a calm, soothing voice.
- Allow your cat to dry off in a warm, draft-free room. Only blow-dry if your cat is not afraid.
- Patience is key to a successful bath!
- The earlier you introduce your cat to the bathing process, the better! Older cats that have never been bathed will not be happy and will present a challenge.
What If He Absolutely Won't Cooperate?
Finally, it should be noted that if your cat absolutely will not cooperate when it comes to bathing, don't risk having your eyes clawed out. Take him to a professional groomer or even to the vet's office. The vet can sedate your cat (safely) and then bathe him, risk free. Good luck! Meow!
Some Cats LOVE Water!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Carol Harrison on February 20, 2020:
I AM WELL IN AS MINE WT ABOUT 20 PLUS.BOTH HAVE ALL CLAWS AND BATHE TIME IS BATTLE. THANK U FOR THE TIPS THEY HANG OUT SLEEPING WHILE I SHOWER OR BATH MORE TO THROW STUFF IN TO THE WATER PLAY AROUND BUT NOT GET WET LOL
deniss on June 14, 2019:
my cat was found deaf after follwoing such adsivce
Goldie Harman on June 01, 2019:
How do you ; drain the water to rinse the cat?
Theresa on May 30, 2019:
I would never recommend sedating a cat simply to bathe him/her! Cats wash themselves very well, unless they are very old like my Kilroy. I clean him with warm flannel on a daily basis, particularly when he has gravy! Regular combing and the odd snip keeps the knots down, and he often falls asleep whilst being groomed. No trauma for either of us!
PS he is 18 and a half!
Feline Slave #333,333,333,333,333.33 on May 24, 2019:
WAIT! You've forgot the step where you order the cat bathing cage on Amazon, bypassing the fabric wraps that swaddle kitty like a newborn baby because kitty ripped through the fabric 0.3 seconds after you finally got her in it!
Luisa on November 19, 2018:
Great tips !
Me on November 03, 2018:
Kristi, the article clearly says “throw kitty into the sink”!
Lyn Hillman on October 23, 2018:
I agree getting cats used to getting a bath as a kitten. I've put about an inch of warm water in the tub, then add a couple of ping pong balls. If they associate playtime with bathtime, things are a little easier. What do you think?
Kristi on October 22, 2018:
Melissa i just reread that part you were talking about and no where does she ever say throw ur kitty in the tub. Maybe u shkuld go back to comprehension class
HAF on January 19, 2018:
If a bath is necessary, I highly recommend clipping the claws BEFORE starting with the bath. Also helpful to have a nail file to round over the edges ... helps to prevent getting scratched [too much].
LennisFergus on July 13, 2017:
During a particularly stressful cat bath, my sweet kitty chomped down on my finger through a rubber glove! After a few hours, my finger became swollen and quite painful. I learned that one must take immediate care, as even healthy cats transmit harmful bacteria via bites.
1) Soak the bitten area for 15 minutes in water as hot as you can stand. Add Epsom Salt, if possible. Repeat hourly.
2) The area will swell and/or ooze if infected. GO TO THE DOCTOR. You need antibiotics.
3) Continue the hot water soaks several times a day, pressing the bitten area to help release infection.
4) Watch the area, and alert your physician immediately if a red line radiates from the wound.
There are other symptoms and treatments. The above is simply my experience.
Emily on July 08, 2017:
I love ❤️ the idea
Carol Mercer on June 23, 2017:
LMAO! ......so right after "place him gently into the tub"!!! ........
Lisa Umphlett on June 05, 2017:
Should I have a toy waiting for the cat in the tub?
melissa on March 26, 2017:
hi love your article but just want to urge you to please edit out the sentannce "THROW" your kitty in the sink..." in your "what to have ready portion of tips please! As SOME people or children I will clarify take that term LITERALLY! And say "well thats what the website says to do!"PLEASE AND THANKYOU Sincerely melissa
Tori on January 19, 2017:
my cat looks practially identical to the grey tabby in that second photo, doen to eye colour, face stripes and absolute hateful look. its kinda a little uncanny honestly
anon on January 01, 2017:
Omg this is not right!!! Cats need a higher temperature of water for it to be comfortable for them! Please please remember that cats have a higher body temperature than humans, so "warm" water is cold to them!!
Farzan on December 02, 2016:
A female cat born in my house and raised by me from 15 days old, she's 3 months old now and so far 3 times in the bathroom, she never scratch me only tries hard to open the door and run and walks away from the tub as soon as I unhand her.
I then bring her near heater and turn it to the max while wrapped around a towel, then I constantly dry her body and wont let her to use her tongue to dry herself.
Usually bring cow milk after 10 minutes so she can drink.
She has a bad habit of sticking her head in toilet when no one is watching her or goes to garden and rolls over the dirt but only once a week I wash her.
Yes cats living in streets they only lick their body that's why you almost never find a filthy and dirty cat because their saliva takes care of business but we're talking about domestic cats running around the house and in our bedrooms.
Also I try to wet my beautiful cat with drops of water while she is trying to escape which is futile :).
Suji on June 20, 2016:
My vet, who is very experienced said its best not to bathe cats. It's usually stressful for them and they don't need it as they groom themselves.
Drealyn on May 30, 2016:
My cat doesn't like baths at all, but she doesn't bite or scratch me. She just stands up on the side of the tub crying while I wash her. Once I dry her enough with two towels, I'll have less blow drying time. She won't let me brush her tummy, but it's ok. Every cat is different. Just make sure tub is filled, towels and shampoo, brush and even blow dryer are in there before you bring your baby in.
Ann Harper on May 29, 2016:
Totally agree cats need baths, my baby was the runt has got himself into also rats of problems and never was good at hygiene, his sister would help him out but even she has given up! We have found out he has a smooth forked tongue ( no he's not part snake) but he has never been happy any where near water, he stinks he needs a bath desperately! I may not survive!
Katrina on May 28, 2016:
whoever thinks cats never need baths has obviously never owned a geriatric cat or one who is very overweight. these cats cannot groom themselves properly. Elderly cats, especially if they have any dementia, also do things many cats never do - like peeing or pooping outside the box and then lying on their own waste. yes these cats sometimes need to be bathed (who wants a cat who smells like cat pee?)!
DriverProduct on May 28, 2016:
Even after i read this post, im not sure it is a big help for my cat
check this funny video about Cat Say No To Bath https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6j2-J5zQdI
kittys on March 28, 2016:
I just gave my cat a bath without even thinking about how they felt. I have scratches up my arm and a deep cut on my back sorry kitty
peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 07, 2016:
honestly, my cat hates to take bath, so i let her take her own by her nature
robin on December 28, 2015:
My cats are fine with baths. When they were kittens i would put an
Inch or two of luke warm water. Just like people, if the water is too cold or hot, they will not be happy. I would talk to them in a calm voice and paise them. After bath time and a good brushing, they would get a treat for good behavior. It does get easier if you treat them well in the learning process of receiving a bath, so make it a pleasant experience.
Ilfalcon on December 27, 2015:
Our two cats love taking showers
Caroline on December 07, 2015:
How's about ingaging your very young kitten's attention in the tub by buying one or two of the gold fish that are usually sold to feed to other pets and put them in that three or four inches of water. Stay there with dear puss and have a good time to gather. Cats are so curious abo fish in fishbowls, so whynot use this. Touch the water make the fish swim away. Move the fun tothe kitchen sink. Puss may, just may oblige by patting the water to get the fish.
As the kitten grows up, keep the fish in a fishbowl in or out of sight. Use what ever way best keeps kitty hopful of a catch. Reassure, pet, praise. Anything that will keep dear puss in the game, until the game becomes fun. Could it be that in time the cat will use soap and self-agitate? O.k. I don't have a cat yet, but I think I really want to try it as soon as someone will trust me with their young kitten. You can bet I won't be confiding my plans for combining water and their precious kitty when they do.
Chloe Catkins on October 20, 2015:
I once had an Abyssinian, Mr. Pink Ears, who loved to get into the bathtub with me. He loved to play with the bubbles. I'd bring in a plastic bowl filled with ice cubes and he'd bat them around the water. When I took him to the vet for his first visit for a shot, the vet asked me if he'd gone into the water yet because this breed loves the water.
I will add that putting a towel down on the bottom of the tub or sink or whatever, gives the cat a real sense of security. She's got something to grip and won't fear sliding around or going under. This is really important. The earlier in a kitty's life you begin this the better.
Ajay66 on August 04, 2015:
It sounds like they thoroughly enjoy it then! hence having to catch them first, hold them firmly, use several people to hold them down....maybe not use a blow dryer (OMG!!) if they're already panicking and stressed...I've had cats for years and years and never needed to put them though such an unnecessary and traumatic experience. I won't deliberately subject my cats to a situation they find distressing.
Casey on July 12, 2015:
You should actually prefill the tub before bringing kitty into the bathroom. The loud sounds of the tub filling up may stress them out further. Having the water already prepared before bringing my cat in to get bathed made things a little bit smoother since my kitty doesn't particularly care for baths.
becka on May 10, 2015:
Hi! I have had all kinds of experiences with my cats... Sometimes good and painless, to freakouts like im giving them an exorcism. My suggestion is wrap a handtowel around the cat while you and putting in the water. Talk very softly and dont get too excited. If you need a friend to help, make sure its someone your cat is used to, and will not get stressed out. We just moved into a house with a harddoor bathtub and its the best thing ever!
saba on May 06, 2015:
Also, wear a jacket or sweatshirt to protect yourself!
sarabear on May 01, 2015:
Don't forget to remove any litter boxes and replace them with absorbent pads or newspaper. Leaving the litter will clump up in wet paws and it's a pain to remove (for owner and kitty)
Cygstarz (author) from Maryland on April 13, 2012:
Sugah: Thank you for your comments. My cat HATES to be bathed as well. You might have to SLOWLY get him use to water before you actually bathe him. If your cat has open wounds or cuts...I would wait for them to heal before you use shampoo or other products. If your cat absolutely WILL NOT let you bathe him...ask your veterinarian for some advice. Thanks and good luck!
Sugah'Kookiie on April 13, 2012:
The fat one ran away and when he came back, he was beat up. He has cuts all over. Can I still bathe him with flea killer soap and other shampoos?
SugahKookiie on April 13, 2012:
what should i do?? I have 3 cats.! One is fat and heavy, another is skinny but has thick fur. These two have experienced baths from birth, but still don't let me bathe them. They scratch me up and hide. The third cat was found a kitten on the street and was freaked out enough. I never gave him a bath. He is still young, but like the other cats, he is frightened by water period.! When it come to water, they all scratch me up and get away befor they touch the water. The problem is, the steps above worked with the mother of the cats and the kitten, but they won't let me bathe them at all and they REALLY need one.!
Cygstarz (author) from Maryland on September 04, 2010:
Hi Sasha! The water should be warm to the touch...NOT to hot and of course, not too cold. You want your cat to be comfortable! For obvious reasons, check the water BEFORE putting your cat in. Most cats don't like bathing, therefore, make the water as comfortable as possible..this may help your cat to relax. Again...don't make the water too hot...you don't want to burn your pet..that would be awful!!
Sasha on September 01, 2010:
what tempurature shoulkld the water be?