How to Bath a Cat

How to Bath a Cat

Two cats in a bath

It is not so easy to get cats into a bath when there is water in the bath. Picture by Penny Swift


Cats are fastidious creatures that generally keep themselves perfectly clean. But there may be times when you need to bath a cat, for example when it is infested with fleas or ticks or when the animal has gotten itself into trouble and is really filthy. Washing cats can also help to reduce shedding, which is especially useful for long-haired varieties.

While many people never bother to wash their cats, many others do, as the wide selection of special cat shampoos bears credence to.

So how do you go about washing a cat? This is a tricky one to answer. But there’s one single comment that most of us who have done it will say, usually with great conviction. With difficulty!

The problem is that cats don’t like to be immersed in water. I think they might like the idea of water, but they do not particularly like to sit in it. I have a gorgeous black and white tomcat who has moments (sometimes months apart) when he insists on being with me when I bath. What he does is to sit on the side and then pat the water wherever he can see a toe, a knee or a finger. He doesn’t care if his paws get wet, and just loves to make human contact. He will also creep up to the top of the bath and give me a lick on my forehead, or pat my hair with his paw.

This same cat, and another who is not quite as bold at bath-time, both love to laze in the bath after I have drained it. Both will sleep in the bath as well. I don’t think for a minute that this is a common kitty-cat trait, but it is a very interesting one nonetheless. And since the two cats in question are so different to one another, I’m beginning to think it might be worth a more intensive study!

I haven’t ever considered trying to bath either of these two favorite contemporary cats. While madam cat is as clean as a cat should be, mister tom is as grubby as a cat could ever be. While he sometimes sleeps in the bath, he spends much more time outside grubbing in the dirt. Both would be sure to claw me to death if I turned the water on them. I just know it, even if I used the best-smelling, catnip flavored cat shampoos to wash them.

Cats hate water

Cats hate water. Pic by GaborfromHungary courtesy MorgueFiles


Once upon a time I did bath a cat. In fact I have bathed a couple. That was in the days when I was young, naïve and overly-enthusiastic, and I figured having a clean cat was really important. It was also in those days that I spent most of my monthly pocket money on topside mince and hake to feed to my precious cats. But then I realized that cats are the most instinctively clean animals there are. They wash themselves all the time – more frequently than us humans would even consider.

For a while I converted to dry cat shampoos that you apply and then brush out. Nowadays I just do a bit of brushing, but regularly use a good quality treatment (the sort you dribble on the back of the neck) to ensure they don’t fall prey to ticks and fleas. It works.

But if I found a flea-ridden stray, or if one of my cats fell in a drain or came in covered in some other muck, I have to admit that I’d hot-foot it down to the nearest supplier of cat shampoos and I’d be bathing the cat whether she liked it or not.

However, I wouldn’t try and do it by myself. I’d get someone to help me, and I’d also wear long sleeves to minimize the effect of angry claws. It really doesn’t matter if you get a little bit wet in the process.

The Cat Bathing Process

If you refer to a good cat-care book or some other sort of resource that has information about bathing cats, you’ll probably get all the information you need to know about how to do it properly. Mind you I have a couple of cat-care books and they don’t mention the danger of claws! And they seem to think you can do it single handed. Not a chance …

Be warned that washing a cat is not at all the same as washing a dog. And washing a dog isn’t always that easy either!

First of all don’t ever forget that most cats don’t like water! Secondly, be sure you have someone competent, who likes cats, to help you. Keep the bathroom windows and door closed so that if the cat wriggles out of your hands, it can’t escape. Apart from scratching – which is instinctive – cats also bite when they get angry. So it’s a good idea for your helper to hold your cats jaw firmly closed.

Before you start the bathing process, make sure you have everything you need, including a bottle of good quality cat shampoo and several clean towels. A facecloth is ideal for cleaning the head and face.

It’s a good idea to give the cat a good brush before you start, especially if it is a long-haired cat. Don’t try and bath a cat that has burrs in its fur or if the fur it knotted or tangled. Also remove any obvious ticks by hand.

Decide whether you are going to use the bath or hand basin and fill up with lukewarm water (the temperature you would bath a baby in) to a level that when you dunk the cat into the water, it will reach its tummy. In addition, fill a bucket with lukewarm water as well, so you don’t have to run the tap once you have started the bathing process. If you have a shower attachment, you can use this as well.

Now, many people will put the cat into the bath or basin to wet it. I prefer the idea of standing the cat on dry ground (on a towel) and wetting (or really just moistening) the fur gradually. Either way, you will then need to rub the shampoo into the fur. Then you can put the cat into the water and either pour clean water over or use the shower attachment. The secret is to be firm but gentle. Don’t try and pour an entire bucket of water over the cat, rather use a plastic mug and do it little by little. Make sure you get all the soap out of the coat and then wrap the cat in a clean towel.

It’s best to tackle a cat’s head and face when it is wrapped in a towel. It’s also best to wash the body first because if there are fleas on the cat, they will usually try to escape to dry fur. Hold firmly and use the dampened facecloth to clean around his eyes and inside his ears. Don’t let any soap or water get into the eyes or ears.

Then dry your cat with a clean, dry towel. Once the cat is towel-dry, you can also use a hairdryer on a low-heat setting, but hold the cat firmly while you do so.

Another approach to bathing a cat is to climb into the bath or shower with the animal. Wear a bathing suit and hold the cat firmly while your helper does the bathing. This approach is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and you’ll need to have a good relationship with your cat to be able to do it!

Janek Szymanowski is a talented professional photographer and designer who has had more than 30 printed books published, and has contributed to many more. Born in the United Kingdom, he has lived in South Africa for most of his life, and has a wealth of experience that spans a wide range of different media types and styles. Janek illustrates books and designs client media, but also builds websites, including several of his own. He is passionate about inspiring people to be creative and to assist them in learning new crafts.