How To Bathe A Cat: Our Guide

Published by Christine O'Brien
min read

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One of the great things about having a cat as a pet is how clean they are. Cats are famous for being fastidious groomers and spend a fair proportion of their waking day tending to their coats. They’re also famous for their hatred of being wet, and many cat owners will have seen the look of disgust on their cat’s face after an unexpected downpour or a mistimed jump across a puddle.

With all this in mind, many people wonder if cats ever need a bath, and even if it’s cruel to bathe a cat. Despite their best efforts to stay clean, there are rare occasions that you might need to bathe your cat. It may be that your cat develops a skin condition and needs a specific, medicated shampoo from your vet. Your cat may rub up against something sticky that they can’t get out of their fur on their own. You may also see your cat has come into contact with something toxic like lily pollen, and you need to wash it off to keep them safe. So, although it’s rare that you’ll need to bathe a cat, it’s always to know how in order to be prepared!


1. Get help from a cat-friendly assistant

Don't underestimate the power of an assistant! Enlisting a trusted friend or family member to help out can be a good idea, especially since managing four paws with two hands can be a challenge. For obvious reasons, a fellow cat lover who understands how to properly handle a cat is best.

2. Brush Ahead of Time

Brushing your cat on a regular basis can help maintain their coat, but it can also be helpful before bath time to remove excess dirt, tangles and matts. Never try to cut matted hair out with scissors because you risk cutting your feline friend.

3. Have Towels on Hand

You will need one big bath towel to wrap up your cat after their bath, but it never hurts to have extra towels on hand for the unexpected. You’ll also need one or two washcloths.

Gray and white kitten being washed in a kitten sink.

4. Choose the right Shampoo

You'll find a wide range of cat shampoos at your local retailer or online. Read ingredient labels carefully, and do not buy shampoo meant for dogs as it may irritate your cat’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. In general, avoid human shampoos unless they are formulated and safe for a baby.

5. Offer some treats

Everything we do to, or with, our pets should be as positive an experience as possible. In particular, we should always reward good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour. With that in mind, it may be a good idea to have some of their favourite kibble or an extra special treat on hand to reward your cat for cooperating with the bathtime experience. Giving a treat before, during (only if your cat is relaxed) and afterwards may help them begin to associate a bath with good things.

Let the Bathing 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 removable shower head, you can use an unbreakable cup. Always use lukewarm water and carefully follow the shampoo directions. Gently wet and shampoo your cat, starting with the top of their neck behind their ears. Don’t try to wash your cat’s face because it’s very difficult to avoid their eyes, ears and nose. If you think their face needs attention, it’s best to either try and just wipe it with a damp cloth or flannel or seek veterinary advice.

For cleaning their body, you can use a washcloth or your fingers to lather them up. When they’re soaped up, gently but thoroughly rinse them off with lukewarm water (use a clean washcloth or a plastic beaker for rinsing if no removable shower head is available). Rinse out all the shampoo (again, steering clear of eyes, ears and nose) to avoid irritation. Your cat will groom themself for a long time afterward, and you don't want them to lick any shampoo residue.

After the bath, wrap up your cat in a fluffy towel and gently dry them off. Give your cat space as they may not want to cuddle up in your lap right away. Let them come to you when they’re ready.

In summary…

The need to bathe a cat is pretty rare because they are the real experts at staying out of sticky situations and keeping themselves in tip-top shape. However, if the unexpected does happen, at least now you will be prepared to leap into action and make the process as enjoyable as possible for both you and, most importantly, your cat.

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


Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS