Giving a Cat a Bath: A How-To Guide

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Cats, especially curious kittens, can get into all sorts of messy and smelly situations as they explore their environment. They also have a well-known aversion to water. While it's certainly true that cats are excellent groomers, in certain stinky and sticky cases, bathing your cat can become necessary. It can also be a great way to give them a healthy coat and healthy skin.

Whether you're looking to pamper or clean your cat after their latest adventure, be sure to gather these supplies first, and learn how to give your cat a bath that’s a positive experience for the both of you.

1. Cat Handler

Although you may not think of another person as part of your must-have list, don't underestimate the power of an assistant. VCA Animal Hospitals points out that "sometimes two hands isn't enough when dealing with four paws," so it's recommended that you enlist a trusted friend or family member to help out. For obvious reasons, a fellow cat lover who understands how to properly handle a cat is best.

2. Gloves and Protective Clothing

Washing your cat can be a contact sport, so you should prepare yourself with the right equipment. Thick, vinyl dishwashing gloves (you know, the yellow ones) will protect your hands and forearms. Long sleeves are a good idea, too. Basically, expose as little skin as possible just in case kitty reaches out to scratch. Pet parents also have been known to wear goggles due to excessive splashing.

3. Towels

You'll need one washcloth for your cat's face and head, a second for the body and one big bath towel to wrap them up in afterwards. Have extra towels on hand for the unexpected.

Gray and white kitten being washed in a kitten sink.

4. Shampoo

You'll find a wide range of cat shampoos at your local retailer or online. Read ingredient labels carefully, and, as VetStreet advises, do not buy shampoo meant for dogs or humans as it may irritate your kitty's coat and skin. Some cat shampoos don't require water but ask your veterinarian first to be sure this type of cleanser is appropriate for your cat, and that they don't have any allergies to any of the included ingredients.

5. Treats

Unless a rare exception, your cat will not be very happy with you after bath time. It may be a good idea to have some of their favourite kibble on hand to reward them for getting through the experience.

Let the Bath Begin

Once you have the right equipment within reach, you're ready to start the bathing process. A bathtub or large sink with a gentle spray nozzle is best. If you don't have a sprayer, you can place your cat in about 2 to 5 inches of water. Always use lukewarm water and carefully follow the shampoo directions. Gently wet and shampoo your kitty, starting with their face, avoiding the eyes, ears, and nose. For cleaning their body, you can use your fingers to lather them up, or a clean, separate washcloth.

Once soaped up, gently but thoroughly rinse off with lukewarm water (use a third clean washcloth for rinsing if no sprayer is available). Rinse out all the shampoo (again, steering clear of eyes, ears, and nose) to avoid irritation. Your cat will groom themselves for a long time afterwards, and you don't want them to lick any shampoo residue.

After the bath, wrap up your cat in a fluffy towel and dry them off, especially the paws (you don't want wet cat prints all over the house), as much as they let you. Both of you deserve a reward after a cat bath, so have a few pieces of your cat’s favourite kibble ready to thank them for cooperating and give some space– they probably won't want to cuddle up in your lap right away. Let them come to you when ready.

PetMD points out that, with patience, trust, and persistence, you can incorporate a bath into your cat's care routine without too much fuss. Bathing your cat successfully isn't just a myth, and now you're armed with the supplies and tips for giving your feline friend a good soak to keep them clean and shiny! But remember, bathing a cat doesn't need to be a regular activity like it might be with dogs. Cats are such excellent groomers, meticulously cleaning themselves, you will only need to give your cat a bath in unfortunate (and stinky) situations like if they get sprayed by a skunk.

Image source: Flickr

Contributor Bio


Christine O'Brien


Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien


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