How To Bathe Cats
Bathe cats, are you INSANE?! Well…not really. Besides, I found that picture and just had to share. But just because the cat says, “No way!” doesn’t mean it’s not possible. And you don’t need a special kitten bath tub to properly groom cats. Here’s how to give a cat a bath.
Karma-Kat is a weenie when it comes to getting wet. He’s gotten into the bad habit of standing on top of his “puddles” while digging to cover them in the litter box. As a result, one rear paw gets nasty-wet with litter stuck halfway up his leg, and just dunking that foot sends Karma into near-hysterics.
I’m sharing this information from my GROOMING entry from Cat Facts, The Series 7 (G): The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia which includes these topics:
Geriatric Cat, Giardia, Gingivitis, Glaucoma, Grass (Eating), Grief, and Grooming.
I’ve broken the massive CAT FACTS book into catnip-size alpha-chapter sections. Folks can choose which ones they most need. Each chapter will release every week or so, but ONLY for subscribers on my Amy’s Newsletter Of course, you can still get the entire CAT FACTS book either in Kindle or 540+ pages of print.
When, Why, and How to Bathe Cats
Why risk life and limb bathing your cat? Does it really matter that she’s gray instead of snowy white? Well, if the kitty gets into something, you may need to suds her up. A bath stimulates the skin and removes excess oil, dander, and shed hair. But bathing too often can dry the skin. As a good rule of “paw” bathe shorthaired cats no oftener than every six weeks; two to three times a year during shedding season should suffice unless Kitty gets really grubby, or is a show cat. Longhaired cats benefit from more frequent baths, and felines appearing in shows learn as kittens to accept baths.
Karma is a fastidious boy and usually keeps himself spiffy, but this new bad habit means he tracks “stuff” around. And, I’m not a fan of him having to lick off/ingest the soiled litter, either.
Kittens should not be bathed until they are at least four weeks old–learn more about kitten care in my book. Elderly cats or extremely ill cats may be stressed by bathing so follow your veterinarian’s recommendation in these instances. These days Seren plays the “age” card to keep her fur dry.
How To Bathe Cats—Plan Ahead
Should you decide to take the plunge—pun intended—your cat should be thoroughly brushed and/or combed ahead of time. Remove fur mats before bathing, because water will just cement mats in place.
- The bath area should be warm and draft free. The bathtub will do, but your knees will thank you for using a waist-high sink. Move all breakables out of reach, and push drapes or shower curtains out of the way or they may spook your cat and end up shredded.
- For routine cleaning, you only need a simple grooming shampoo labeled specifically for cats. Human baby shampoo or dog products can be too harsh and dry the skin or in some cases prove toxic.
- Assemble your shampoo, several towels, and washcloth near the sink or tub, and run warm water (about 102 degrees, or cat body temperature) before you bring in the cat.
- Wear old clothes. Expect to get wet. Seren clutches my shirt, pressing her face to me as I wet and soap the rest of her.
- Also, close the door to the bathing area, or you risk having a soapy cat escape and leave suds and a wet cat print trail throughout your spanking-clean house.
- Cats hate the insecure footing of the slippery surfaces, so place a towel or rubber mat in the bottom of your tub or sink. That does wonders for cat confidence and often reduces yowls and struggles by half.
How to Bathe Cats With The Bucket Method as a Kitten Bath Tub
For small kitties the bucket method of bathing often works best. Use the double sink in the kitchen, two or more large roasting pans, or a couple of buckets or wastebaskets set in the bathtub. Fill each with warm water.
- Gently lower your cat into the first container to get her wet. Let your kitty stand on her hind legs and clutch the edge of the container as you thoroughly wet the fur.
- Then lift her out onto one of your towels, and apply the shampoo to her body.
- After lathering, dip the cat back into the first container to rinse. Get as much soap off as possible before removing and sluice off excess water before rinsing in subsequent containers of clean water or use a low-level spray closed to the body with the sink attachment.
- If the cat acts scared of being dunked or the spray attachment, use a cup or ladle to dip water. Use the washcloth to wet, soap and rinse the face area. Keep one hand on the cat at all times to prevent escapes.
- Rinse beginning at the neck and down Sheba’s back; don’t neglect beneath the tail or tummy. When the water finally runs clear and you know she’s clean, rinse once more just to be sure.
- Wrap the squeaky-clean cat in a dry towel. Shorthaired cats dry quickly, but longhaired felines may need two or more towels to blot away most of the water. Seren prefers to dry her
self. If your cat tolerates or enjoys the blow dryer, use only the lowest setting to avoid burning the cat. Combing long fur as you blow dry will give “oomph” to the longhaired coat.
For Karma, I’ve found it works best to use the nozzle sprayer. He hates being “dunked” and the water coming from the faucet intimidates him. Go figure…he’s a sink cat and loves sitting in the empty basin, but that’s HIS choice, LOL!
Have you ever bathed your cat? What would cause you to dare the impossible? I used to bathe Seren at least once a year just to prove to us both it could be done. She’s now only
5 pounds so I figure that I’m the biggest “cat” in the house…but I think this year she may win the contest.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
Great tips (and I loved the photo accompanying them)! I haven’t tried to bathe a cat in years, but when I was a kid it was always an event in our house. It didn’t happen often, but it was very dramatic when it did, as Buttercup was not a fan.
Dramatic–that’s a good word for it, LOL!
Amy a friend of mine uses a baby wipe to keep her cats fresh – is that safe?
Hi Patricia–great question! I know that some folks use the “unscented” baby wipes but it really depends on the ingredients. They now make “kitty wipes” products available from places like PetsMart so that would be my recommendation.
Mom has done it several times, usually when someone with a cat allergy is coming to our house. It is not that bad and she says it is almost easier than bathing me as I love water and swimming but despise a bath!
Hey Emma, you have that in common with Magical-Dawg. He loves playing in the water but doesn’t like the suds or getting rinsed after.
I’ve never bathed my cats unless they needed it for some reason and/or for showing. I try to keep them clean through brushing.
One funny incident: in preparation for their first show, I bathed the four kittens, Gooseberry, Mulberry Spot, Strawberry and B.W. Huckleberry. Unfortunately the car ride was quite traumatic. Seemingly every one of the kittens had diarrhea in their carriers!!! I ended up having to bathe them again in cold water in the restroom sinks at the show hall and get them dry again before their first ring! Not a good start for their show careers.
Aw….poor you and poor Kitties!
Poor Kitties! Poor you. How did they react to future shows?
Well, Strawberry retired after that show. B.W. Huckleberry tried a few more shows but he is so big and so strong that I couldn’t keep a good hold of him when he struggled so he finally retired.
Gooseberry and Mulberry Spot still go to the occasional show along with my senior, Jabberwoky Glitter. Glitter pretty much stands still for her baths 🙂
It’s funny that when the water play is the CAT’S idea, they’ll have a ball. But when it’s OUR idea, all bets are off. Makes sense for kitties that want to be in control.
I have a Himmy, and luckily, he keeps himself very clean and I’ve never had to bathe him (he’s 12). He’s always been very healthy, and I brush him frequently. He’s a very mellow cat for grooming, but I wonder how he’d react to a bath if I had to give him one? I have had two other Himmies over the years, and had to bathe both of them, so I know how to do it, but Mocha is the biggest of them. He weighs almost 12 pounds. I hope his mellow nature and how used he is to being groomed would keep him from panicking.
-Ann C. Crispin
Ooooh love those Himmy cats! The key I think to bathing and preventing the KITTY-FREAK-O-RAMMA! is being very gentle and introducing the notion in small steps. Often it’s the rush of water that’s upsetting so if the water’s already prepared…and warm (kitties love warm!) it’s less of a cat concern. Just keeping him groomed/brushed goes a long way, of course. What’s your cat’s name? Oh, and thanks for visiting/commenting on the blog–I share your posts here all the time!
Hi Amy~ This reminded me of the first time I ever bathed a cat. I’d come home from school to find that our Siamese had gotten into a cabinet and knocked the liquid cooking oil out and all over herself. Once I won the greased pig contest, bathing her was a relative breeze. She seemed to understand that I was trying to help. I usually pin or tie a towel around my chest and shoulders to minimize claws. No, it does not help me stay dry. LOL!
LOL Vandi! It’s hard enough to keep a soapy kitty in the sink, can’t imagine the greased pig version. 🙂
I’ve been toying with the idea of bathing Pulitzer. With a mild case of CH and at 14, he’s not great in the grooming department. Plus he’s a big-time shedding machine. However, he’s strong as an ox so it would be a battles of wills.
Might be a good mention to clip claws first.
Clipping claws first is a great idea. *s* I also have a “waterless shampoo” that helps that you might try–several are available.
Yep! I have a bottle of “Miracle Coat” foaming, waterless cat shampoo right here!
I don’t think mine foams. The cat does it enough out of angst, LOL!
I’ve always wondered about those “dry shampoos” myself. I’ve been reluctant to use them for fear of leaving anything on the cat. Are they really safe? Good to know for senior cats that need a little help.
Yes they are designed for cats so are pet safe. Will have to look at the ingredients again…different ones probably have a range of effectiveness.
Amy – please be sure to remind your readers to be extremely careful when bathing kittens. I used an OTC flea shampoo on a little stray kitten that was covered with fleas. Unfortunately it was too strong, and we lost her. I’ve been on a mission ever since to remind people to be careful with OTC flea products.
Vicki that is GREAT advice–and I’m so very sorry this happened to you. I rarely would recommend FLEA shampoos anymore, anyway. Just the soapy water drowns the fleas so there’s no need…and a flea shampoo does nothing to KEEP fleas off anyway. I’m also a huge proponent of being safe. A stray kitten likely isn’t as robust as one that’s had good care and food so may also be more susceptible. Thanks for sharing that sad but informative story.
Sue and I used to bathe our kitties fairly regularly. I would hold them in the sink, while Sue would do the washing. We just toweled them off.. Then they would rub themselves all over the carpeting to dry off more. After that, they would groom themselves, all the while giving us dirty looks…
We had a calico girl that was fine as long as she could see me, but if she got turned to where she couldn’t see me, she would yowl…
Mike, Seren is like that. She wants to hook her claws into my shirt and hug me close–while she’s wet of course–to be sure we both get scrubbed clean, LOL!
Hi, Amy! I love the picture of that cat. When I was in high school, I rescued a kitten from the shopping mall. That’s not true, she walked to me and demanded that I take her home. She was the sweetest cat ever, but she was a mess.
I took a chance and gave her a bath. She had one moment of freakout and then she sat in the water and let me get her clean. Then she let me blow her fur dry with a blow dyer (on the low setting). She loved it.
She was the best cat. Thanks for making me think of that this morning. Good memories!
Hey Diana–they really do choose us, don’t they? Seren has never appreciated the blow dryer but her fur is so short she doesn’t need the help. But I know of cats who ADORE the blow-dryer (warm warm warm HMMMMMM GOOD!). Just have to take care about not burning them, of course.