Fortunately, most cats may never need a bath. But if you must give a cat bath for health or cleanliness reasons, here are some tips on how to do it right.

By Melissa A. Kay

Did you know that most cats never need to be bathed? The news may make dog owners jealous, but cat lovers know their furry friends can be mini self-cleaning machines. Self-grooming comes naturally to cats, so their coats stay clean and odor-free…for the most part. Sometimes bathing is necessary, particularly for longer-haired breeds, if your cat gets extremely dirty or stinky, is getting older and having a harder time grooming herself, or if they are ill or injured, or your vet advises they may need help with grooming.

Before you consider bathing, brush your cat's fur to eliminate knots and debris. When the fur is smooth, your cat will likely lick her fur to further tidy up. If you still see dirty areas, use a damp, soapy washcloth to spot clean. Use a special cat shampoo which you can find at the pet store or purchase from your vet. There is no doubt your cat will prefer this method over a full-on bath.

If a deeper cleaning is needed, keep in mind that most cats can't stand being soaked in water, so bath time can be a challenge. But if you follow these simple steps, your cat will be fine and a whole lot fresher!

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  1. 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. 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). 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.
  2. Clip her claws pre-bath. If there is any time your cat may try to scratch you, it's bath time. Wear rubber or waterproof gloves to protect your hands if you think your cat might get ornery.
  3. 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 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Cats' fur holds onto water and they lose body heat when wet. Make sure there is a towel 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.

The experience will be anything but a relaxing soak in the tub for your cat, most likely. So once the bathing is finished, or even throughout the process, reward your cat with a few treats. 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. Pay close attention to your cat for signs of distress. If your cat seems panicked, stop and try at another time.

You may just find that you cannot bathe your cat on your own. If you've asked someone to assist with holding and you're still struggling, consider a professional groomer or ask your vet if they can bathe your cat. Since 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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