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Cats generally groom themselves but there may be times when you will need to give your cat a bath, such as when your mischievous kitten gets himself into a sticky or smelly situation or to treat a skin condition or flea problem.
Some breeds such as the Sphynx or Selkirk Rex are also naturally prone to an oily skin so may require regular bathing to ensure their skin remains supple and healthy.
Whatever the reason for bathing your cat, here are some tips to help make bath time as stress free as possible for both of you.
Get everything ready first
Decide which room you’ll use to bath your cat – it needs to be warm and with a door to prevent escape, so the bathroom or laundry is usually ideal. The first step is to ensure that you have everything set up in the room ready – you’ll need a rubber mat for the tub so your cat doesn’t slip, lots of towels, pet shampoo, a plastic cup and a shower hose connected to the tap.
Trim your cat’s claws with clippers first, to minimise your risk of getting scratched. You may also like to wear a long sleeved shirt or jumper to put a layer of protection between your arms and your cat’s claws.
Choosing the right shampoo
Make sure that you select a pet shampoo designed for cats. Human or dog shampoo can dry out your cat’s skin or contain ingredients that are toxic to cats.
Medicated shampoos may be recommended by your vet if you are treating a skin condition (such as ringworm) or flea problem, and these often need to be left on for 5-10 minutes. Don’t leave your cat unattended during this time – your cat is likely to lick himself and these products can cause gastrointestinal problems and other health issues if they are ingested. We’d also recommend that you wear gloves.
Scheduling the bath
Timing is everything. Schedule the bath when your cat is calm and happy. If your cat is agitated or energetic, playing with a toy beforehand can use up some of that energy and help settle him down. If you cat enjoys being brushed, you can brush his coat first to help him relax; the added bonus is that you’ll remove any loose hairs and knots in his fur.
Putting your cat in the tub
Your tub should already be set up with a non-slip mat and the shower hose connected to the tap. Ensure that the water temperature is lukewarm (test it first to make sure it’s not too hot and not too cold) and use the shower hose to gently wash your cat down, avoiding his eyes and ears. If you don’t have a shower hose you can use a plastic cup.
Lather the shampoo in your hands working from head to tail in the direction that the fur grows, making sure you wash under the belly and neck too. Use a damp cloth to gently wash your cat’s face.
Make sure you rinse your cat thoroughly. This is where the shower hose comes in handy – it is quicker than using a plastic cup and much easier to reach under the belly and other places. Ensure that you have rinsed off all the soap residue otherwise it can irritate your cat’s skin.
When you remove your cat from the tub wrap him in a large towel and rub him down to remove as much water as you can. Your cat will also want to shake off the excess water. After your cat is towel dried you can leave him in a warm room to dry naturally or if your cat will tolerate the hum of the hair-dryer you can blow dry his fur on the lowest possible heat setting.
It often helps to talk to your cat during bath time, as the sound of your voice can have a reassuring effect. When bath time is over and you have both survived, make sure you give your cat lots of praise. You can also give him an appropriate food treat as a reward.
Have you bathed your cat and lived to tell the tale? Please share your stories below.
My husband and I have been bathing Ella, our 6 1/2 year old tabby, since she was a kitten. What helps is that if you start to bathe them as a kitten, they’ll be used to it.
Luna C. Lupus says
Ha, we had a cat years ago and I wish we would have had this article at the time to help us with the bathing. It was a nightmare! It took a lot of patience and taking it slow, but we kept her bathing at a minimum.
Val Silver says
I had two cats. One tolerated baths. The other LOVED baths and water. He’d jump up on the shower window whenever he’d hear me turn on the shower.
The Daily Pip says
Oh goodness, Rosie would not be pleased. I did have to bath my cat Tommy in his senior years. He had some trouble cleaning his back end in his final year and occasionally needed a butt bath. In his younger years, I imagine he would have put up a fight, but he was pretty mellow at the end.
Rebecca at MattieDog says
We’ve never had a kitty as a family member, so it is always so interesting to me to learn more about cats. I fostered a little kitty back in my college days and he was so sweet, just followed me all over, including the shower – and she never seemed to mind it!
My cats get baths. They hate them, and give me looks of disgust, but they’re very well-behaved for them (I think it helps that I bribe them with their favorite treats).
Thankfully, we have not had to bathe the Rooster yet. Great suggestion to ensure his nails are trimmed first!
Ruth Epstein says
Interesting post and I never knew you should bathe cats till a couple of years ago as I would have bathed my three cats that I had at the time
Tonya Wilhelm says
Great post. When I rescued my cat, he went in my fireplace, no worry, no fire. So, he immediately had to have a bath. I was pleasantly surprised how well he did. I guess I had a keeper. 🙂
Joely Smith says
Great advice! I agree about a CAT shampoo and not using human shampoo! We have one cat that is obsessed with the shower and bathtub but we have to be even more careful with her because we do not want her to lose her adventures creeping into the shower after we walk out. It is a fun thing to watch, she enjoys it and we would hate to cause a fear of something she enjoys. I admit, we rarely bathe our cats, but when we do, we are very soothing, and careful with them. Loved your article!
We have shared this a LOT. There are time when you need to bathe a cat (jokey posts aside) and it is critical to get it right.
Thanks for this.
I have known that I should give my senior cat a bath for a while, but I’ve been hesitating. Thanks for these tips, I plan to give him his first bath soon!
Yes, I used to regularly bathe Seren-Kitty and just assumed I’d get just as wet. I like the “dunk” method, too, with a bucket of warm water. Dunk the cat, set her out on a towel to suds, and when finished, dunk again to rinse (several buckets or bowls may be needed).
I never thought about the challenges associated with bathing a cat before! I’ve only bathed dogs and, while they don’t necessarily enjoy it, I never have to worry about scratches. Power to you! 🙂
So glad to have dog. He hates hates water but still. I also believe people bathe their pets too often so maybe pets are like “enough already!” 🙂
This sounds very much like getting Miss Edie ready for a bath. I just can’t imagine bathing my cats, maybe if I started them when they were kittens. Great tips, especially the nail trimming before hand!