Yes, you can clean your pet successfully without scratching or hissing.

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If you're a cat owner, you probably know that your kitty is quite self-sufficient. In fact, most cat breeds actually never need a bath. (Sorry, dog owners.) Felines are pros at cleaning themselves as self-grooming is a natural instinct. However, sometimes you will need to help your kitty out. Some cats need help if they're a longer-haired breed, if they get super dirty or smelly, or as they age and cannot clean themselves. Before you commit to a soap and water situation, begin by brushing your cat's fur. You can also spot clean with a cat shampoo, such as Paws and Pals Shampoo ($15, Chewy). (Your cat will definitely appreciate this first.) But if your four-legged friend needs a deep clean, you'll need to know a few things to be successful. (Remember, the majority of cats do not like getting wet.)

cat wrapped in bath towel
Credit: Alena Vikhareva/Getty Images

How to Safely Bathe Your Cat

Just follow these easy steps, and you'll have a clean feline in no time.

Step 1: Clip the Claws

Trim your cat's claws pre-bath. If there is any time your cat may try to scratch you, it's bath time. Wear rubber or waterproof gloves, like the Full Circle Splash Patrol Cleaning Gloves ($11, Walmart), to protect your hands if you think your cat might get ornery.

Step 2: Choose Your Container

Bathe cats in a sink or a shallow basin or bucket. A full-sized bathtub can be overwhelming, not only for the cat but also for you if your cat is uncooperative. If your kitchen or bathroom sink is large enough, it can be turned into a makeshift cat tub. The same goes for a shallow basin/bucket, which you can fill with lukewarm water. Otherwise, a bathtub will do, as long as it isn't filled too high (about 5 inches or so of water should be plenty).

Editor's Tip: Be sure the sink, basin, or tub has a skid-proof bottom. Chances are your cat will try to escape, so you'll want to avoid slipping.

Step 3: Be Aware of the Water

Control water streams and splashing. You can use a cup or pitcher to pour water over her back and tail but avoid pouring water over her head. Splashing water, especially near the head, will make your cat upset. Your shower nozzle can work, too, if you have the extendable kind. Use a washcloth for the head for more precision and less pushback from your cat. Use moistened cotton balls to clean the inside of your cat's ears. It is safer for the eye area, too. Don't stick objects such as cotton swabs into your cat's ears.

Step 4: Use the Right Products

Always use a shampoo made specifically for cats and lather well. Be sure to get her belly, paws, backside, and tail. If there are knots, gently brush them out while the fur is wet. Be sure to rinse completely.

Step 5: Have a Towel (or Two) Ready

Cats' fur holds onto water, and they lose body heat when wet. Ensure a towel, such as the Bone Dry Bath Towel ($8, Chewy), close by during bath time. Your cat will want to get dry right away, so swaddle her up and give her a good rub. If your cat will tolerate it, and especially if you have a long-haired breed, you may need to blow dry their hair.

Most likely, the experience will be anything but a relaxing soak in the tub for your cat. So once the bathing is finished, or even throughout the process, reward your cat with a few treats, such as the Temptations Classics Soft Treats ($16, Petco). The positive association will give your cat some reassurance that the experience isn't all terrible and may even distract her for a few seconds as you rub and scrub. Make sure you pay close attention to your cat for signs of distress. If your cat seems panicked, stop and try at another time.

You might find that you cannot bathe your cat on your own. If you've asked someone to assist holding and you're still struggling, consider a professional groomer or ask your vet if they can bathe your cat. Because bathing is something you won't need to do often (unless advised by your vet), the expense and process shouldn't be too overwhelming. You may even be able to find someone to make a house call, including a mobile grooming service.


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