How do I Bathe a Cat?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

While most cats do not require assistance with bathing, it does sometimes become necessary to bathe a cat. The experience can be traumatic for all parties if you do not plan ahead. Before embarking upon the endeavor, assess whether or not you really need to wash a cat. A cat may need a bath because it is suffering from an infestation, such as one caused by fleas or ticks. It may also be necessary if a cat has gotten extremely dirty, or it has been exposed to a smelly or potentially toxic substance. Some cats may need medicated baths for skin conditions, and some people bathe their cats to reduce allergy causing dander. The most important thing to remember is that a calm state of mind and a positive attitude while you bathe a cat will make the experience more enjoyable for all.

A cat's nails should be clipped before giving it a bath.
A cat's nails should be clipped before giving it a bath.

Before you wash the cat, assemble the tools you will need. A washing basin, sink, or bathtub will be required, along with a rubber mat to line it. Eye lubricant to protect the cat's eyes is extremely useful, although not required. If you have a hose attachment, this should be attached. Shampoo specifically formulated for pets is also important, as is a stack of clean, warm towels. Before you begin, brush your cat and trim its nails, offering a treat afterwards so that the cat has positive associations with the experience. Next, bring the cat into an enclosed area and run the water, testing it with your wrist to ensure that it is a neutral temperature.

Without proper planning, bathing a cat can be traumatic for the pet and the owner.
Without proper planning, bathing a cat can be traumatic for the pet and the owner.

An assistant is extremely useful at this stage. One of you should lower the cat into the shallow water quickly but gently, while both of you speak with reassuring voices. While the assistant holds the cat, the other person can bathe it, starting by wetting down the cat's coat with warm water. Next, a small amount of pet shampoo should be massaged in, and kept well away from the cat's face, eyes, and ears. Make sure to rinse thoroughly, despite any protests from the cat, using lukewarm water and keeping the flow of water well away from the cat's face. Afterwards, use the warm dry towels to pat the cat down, and make sure that the cat has a heated, dry area to rest in after his or her bath. Before releasing the cat, offer a treat as a reward.

Some owners bathe cats to reduce allergy-causing dander.
Some owners bathe cats to reduce allergy-causing dander.

There are a few tips which can help you bathe a cat more effectively. Many professional groomers use restraint systems to assist them while they work. A harness is the best type of restraint; a collar alone should never be used, as the cat may choke. Make sure that the harness is comfortable, and attach a lead to it to keep the cat stationary while you work. You can also bathe a cat in a mesh bag or pillowcase, keeping the cat's head out of the bag. This can be distressing for the cat, however, so it should be viewed as a last resort.

Bathing a cat can help to reduce allergy causing dander.
Bathing a cat can help to reduce allergy causing dander.

Ultimately, if a cat struggles too much or is obviously traumatized, you should call the proceedings off. You do not want to stress the animal. Try using a damp washcloth to bathe a cat under these circumstances, or seek the assistance of a professional groomer. You can also bathe a cat with specially designed wipes used by groomers for quick touchups.

It is helpful to have extra towels available while bathing a cat.
It is helpful to have extra towels available while bathing a cat.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Bathing a cat or kitten is perfectly fine as long as you do it properly and you're not hurting it. The most common mistakes people make are about washing the head and the type of soap used. Do not put the cat's head underwater. Bathe it by pouring small amounts of water over it or just use a wet cloth.

The type of soap you use needs to be pet friendly and needs to kill fleas/ticks/any other external parasite your cat might have. Make sure it's not toxic in case they ingest it.

If you absolutely cannot bathe the cat or kitten because it won't cooperate, you fear you'll hurt, it's allergic to the soap, whatever, then use advantage or frontline plus flea treatment. Then treat the carpets and lounges as that's where the fleas, eggs and larvae hide.


I am 42. When I was 13, I tried to get my kitten used to a bath because I thought she would enjoy the water. It was was warm and she got sick and died! I still grieve for Dusty.

A bath can be very dangerous because these are desert animals from an arid climate. The water needs to be hot, and you risk burning the cat as the alternative is a risk of shock.

If you do not live in a place that it 114 in the shade (Death Valley) the cat will be painfully cold. Normal body temperature for a cat is 102 degrees F., not 98.6 as is for humans. If you have to do it (say a flea problem, sponge bath is best), then please ask your vet about this.


Why are you bathing kittens. Did you not hear people say only bathe them if you need to.


The temperature of a cat's body is higher than the temperature of a human body. Plus, when a cat gets stressed by the procedure of having to take a bath, she will hyper up and that means, that her temperature will increase even more. (Sorry for my english) - If you plan to give your cat a bath: Use hot water, not lukewarm or cool or cold. The colder the water is, the more torture it means for your cat!

The more force you use to give her this bath, the more she will fight - and next time you will not even get her into the bathroom without stress and fight. Most people make the mistake to force the cat, to make a lot of pressure, instead of just letting her find out that this might be something enjoyable.

A cat should only get a bath when it is absolutely unavoidable. To just simply give your cat a bath twice a month or even once a month, for no other than human reasons is so selfish that there is nothing else to say about!

A cat is not a toy that has to smell as we wish! A cat is a creature with its own rights. Why do we humans always have to put a seal and stamp on everything?

A bath destroys and damages the skin and the protecting system of the cat's body extremly.

It opens all the natural pores of the skin and lets heat, water, dirt, insects in - the damage is really big!

Think about that


If you have a kitten it is best to get them used to water ASAP. I gave my kitten a bath the first week that I had him...he didn't like it but the next week I repeated the process. By the fourth week he didn't fight and just let me bathe him without assistance. Now he is about 5 months old and I bathe him about twice a month. I use special pet shampoo and blow dry him when finished. He sits and lets me do all of this to him because I got him used to it as a kitten. This is my 4th cat and I have "trained" them all to accept bath is a lot of work in the beginning but *well* worth it, especially if you don't de-claw your cat. You don't want to get all slashed up.

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