How to Wash a Cat

Cats do a good job of keeping themselves cleaned and groomed, but you will at some point need to bathe your feline. If your kitty still has his claws, this can seem quite intimidating – but It doesn’t have to be so challenging for either of you.

Pre-Bath Advice

  • The key to successful cat-bathing is preparation. You must make certain you have all necessary items at your fingertips.
  • THIS IS A TWO PERSON JOB. You will need to keep at least one hand on your cat AT ALL TIMES, so it will be difficult to complete the process without a helper.
  • Ideally, this process should be done in a double sink, or a single sink that has a spray attachment. If you do not have either a double sink or a single sink with a spray attachment, then consider using two large Tupperware containers, each one being about the size of your sink.
  • Line the floor around you with old towels; this will be a messy process and you don’t want to make things more difficult by slipping on a wet floor.
  • If your cat has claws, it is recommended that you wear long sleeves. Also, if your cat is prone to biting, consider wearing a pair of sturdy gloves.
  • It is NOT recommended that you wash your cat in the tub. Generally, cats are afraid of water and to them, the tub looks like an ocean of certain death.

Washing the Cat

What You Will Need:

  • Lots of old towels
  • Double sink or single sink with spray attachment
  • Plug for the sink
  • Rubber mat for the sink
  • Two cups
  • Soft washcloth
  • Cat shampoo
  • Cotton balls
  • 1 or more dirty cats
  • Bandages and antiseptic (for you, afterwards)

Washing that Kitty:

  1. Prepare your work area; arrange towels on the floor and place all your gear within easy arms reach.
  2. Place the rubber mat in the sink and fill with about three inches of body-temperature water (just enough to come up to your cat’s belly. DO NOT overfill! Cats are very sensitive to water temperature, so it is important that you check the temperature, using the same method you would for a baby bottle: pour a bit on the underside of your wrist—it should feel neither hot nor cold.
  3. Put some shampoo in one of the cups and fill with the water from the sink (this will prevent the cat from being shocked by a sudden dose of cold shampoo).
  4. If you are using a double sink, fill the other side with body-temperature water, relatively the same temperature as the first side.
  5. Pick up your cat, stroking him and talking to him soothingly so that he doesn’t become too suspicious over what is about to happen.
  6. Making sure you have a firm hold on your cat (this may require gripping the scruff of his neck) lower him gently but quickly into the side of the sink with the 3-inches of water.
  7. In all likelihood, YOUR CAT WILL IMMEDIATELY TRY TO GET OUT. All kidding aside, if he has claws, this can be a very dangerous situation. A panicked cat can do some serious damage. Keep a firm hold on your cat at all times. This is why it is important for another person to assist you.
  8. If your cat is not too stressed, place a small cotton ball in each ear. Cats can get ear infections if their ears get wet. If you are unable to get the cotton balls in, or if your cat repeatedly shakes them out, make sure you’re extra careful not to get the ears wet.
  9. With the empty cup, gently pour the sink water onto your cat.
  10. Pour the diluted shampoo solution on him and massage into his fur. NEVER put shampoo by the face, eyes or ears.
  11. Wet the washcloth in the clean sink water and gently run it over his snout and face. Again, do not use shampoo on your cat’s face.
  12. If you are using the double sink, using cupfuls of clean water, rinse the shampoo thoroughly from your cat, draining the water if it becomes too deep. If you are using a spray attachment, check the water temperature, and make sure the pressure is not too great. Place the nozzle close to your cat’s fur so he doesn’t get the “spray” sensation. It is very important that you rinse ALL the shampoo from your cat—their skin can be very sensitive and shampoo residue will make them susceptible to skin infections and irritations.
  13. Once your cat has been completely rinsed, lift him out of the sink using a soft towel. Try to keep him wrapped in the towel, blotting excess water (DO NOT RUB with the towel as this can be very irritating to an already edgy cat). Repeat several times with dry towels.
  14. Once you have blotted away the excess water, keep your kitty in a quiet, warm, draft-free place until he is completely dry and relaxed once more.
  15. If you’ve gotten any scratches in the process, clean them thoroughly with soap and water, treat them with antiseptic and bandage them. Check any scratches or bites frequently for signs of infection.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Cats keep themselves clean and do not need to be bathed frequently.
  • NEVER attempt to bathe your cat by yourself. Even if your cat is used to the process, cats can be unpredictable and accidents do happen. Always have another person assist you.
  • If you have a long-haired cat, you may want to use feline conditioner to restore the luster to his fur. Apply after the shampoo and rinse thoroughly.
  • If you have significant reluctance or fear over the prospect of bathing your cat, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian for assistance and advice.
  • For cats that have rolled in motor oil or engine grease, Dawn can be used to break through the oil in the fur. It will take time, so be prepared to keep the cat warm during and after the cleaning process.

Comments

  1. Meme says:

    Dry and damp cat wipes, as well as spray on no rinse cat cleaners, can be bought at pet supply stores for cats that are only mildly dirty or are very fearful of water immersion.

    Don’t wash above the neck to prevent getting soapy water in eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc.; you can use a damp washcloth to gently wipe down the head later.

    Many cats are agitated by the sound of running water, some cats may be less stressed by a bath if you rinse them by using a large cup to pour water over them rather than a sprayer.

    Buy cat safe shampoo at a pet supply store or grocery store (if available) and do not use dog shampoo as it may contain chemicals toxic to cats. Use shampoo sparingly so you can fully rinse it out.

    Sometimes simply getting a cat a little wet with a spray bottle or wet washcloth will be enough to encourage the cat to bathe itself more thoroughly, possibly eliminating the need for a full bath.

    Flushable wipes for humans (available in the toilet paper aisle of your local grocery store) can be useful for poopy cat butts and are easily disposed of with no mess.

    Trimming a cat’s claws with nail trimmers made for cats a day or two before bathing can really save you from scratches (as well as preventing much scratch related damage) to your furniture and carpets. Also, a hair catch for your drain is a good idea as baths often are left with a lot of shed hair in them that can clog your drains.

  2. Donna says:

    I bathe my cat quarterly. I am allergic to cats and this reduces the dander and it keeps enough space in between so his natural oils are not disturbed. Weekly I wipe him down with unscented baby wipes.

  3. Lizi says:

    A 12-year-old and tap water VS. cat and claws; BAD.

    BUT I have a glass shower so I put MeiMei in after filling it about two inches.

    Worked perfectly! No scratches (except the ones from trying the sink).

    USE A SHAMWOW TO DRY KITTIES! You don’t have to rub cats dry very much.

  4. Kevin says:

    Vets and grooming teams do have an advantage: tranquilizers. They also know how to administer them and how to handle the cats.

    If you still want to undertake this task, here are two possible points to consider:

    1. Good eye protection for yourself is in good order.
    2. Shut the bathroom door. Should the cat get away, at least you won’t have to chase them around the house.

  5. Judith says:

    After the bath, I do their nails and brush their teeth. It took a little time, but they seem to enjoy the together time, and they smell better!

  6. Bob says:

    I had to bathe my cat a while back… I put 3 inches of water in the tub at the correct temp, I picked up my cat, opened the sliding shower door, tossed in my cat, and quickly closed the door. After a few minutes, the cat stopped freaking out and peacefully let me bathe him. After that, every time I would run a bath, for anyone, the cat would be right there wanting to get in it.

  7. June says:

    I’ve recently rescued a pregnant stray cat, and she’s pretty dirty so I’m about to bathe her. These tips, along with others from different websites, seem very helpful. I have no idea how she is going to react, but I do know that when I set up her litter box, she instantly got in and used it without me even putting her in it. I was very surprised. I have a slight suspicion that she was once someone’s pet but the people who have seen her in the wild say otherwise. Anyway, I’m hoping she’ll surprise me again and just let me bathe her. Wish me luck! :)

  8. Rebecca says:

    Why are you people washing your cats?

    I’ve had cats most of my life, and I’ve never washed mine as they do it perfectly well themselves! They hate being washed, and it’s not good for their natural oils, is it?

    Dogs, of course, but cats? Why would you do this ? (Very dirty, pregnant, stray cats aside: if they’re unnaturally dirty I can see the need of course).

  9. Joan says:

    Help? I have an all white cat who loves to roll around outside on the ground. Normally, this doesn’t bother me too much, but today, he’s 1/2 tan. I have used non-scented baby wipes and wet wash cloths in the past to get him a little less dirty, but that’s not going to cut it this time. I don’t have any cat shampoo, nor do I have Dawn. Any other suggestions – I can’t leave him out all night till I get to the store for supplies!

  10. Dave says:

    Not entirely true – that it’s a two person job. I got in the bath with the cat and had nice, warm water up to nearly top of her back – just about up to her head. She was very scared but didn’t scratch my junk off. You have to hide their escape route from their eyes. Luckily, I had a glass side to our bath/shower for half of it. When she started to kick off, I wrapped her lower abdomen in a wet towel. Yeah, she wasn’t going to get out of that any time soon.

  11. Luella says:

    Hello,
    I have a 13-year-old male tuxedo cat. His vet has prescribed Dermazole Medicated Shampoo for his skin irritations.

    I haven’t bathed him yet, but I will be in just a couple of minutes, all by myself!

    I will be putting a cone on his head during the bath, which I got at the pet store in preparation for this bath. I am assured that the cone is comfortable for the cat, but it also may protect me from bites and scratches.

    Thought about that too! I have a pair of elbow-length, soft, plastic garden gloves with the finger slots cut out; they should help me too. Here we go!

    Wish me luck!

  12. Chad says:

    I wish I had read this thread. I adopted a very gentle tabby tomcat. He was less than a year old I’m sure. I’m not much of a cat person but he endeared himself to me because he was so gentle and innocent. He would always be very careful not to protrude his claws as not to scratch me, and he loved being cuddled. The thing that I especially loved about him was his tendency to suck and knead a soft throw blanket I own. He was so precious.
    After I had him for a while, I noticed he was getting dirty and smelly so I decide to bath him. I was shocked!! He bit my wrist, clawed me like crazy and afterwards treated me very resentfully for several days. Needless to say I didn’t bathe him for quite a while after that.
    When I finally couldn’t even stand to hold him because of the smell, I decided to bathe him again. The moment he saw the sink full of water as I was carrying him over he set his claws into my sweater and wouldn’t let go.
    So I decided to bathe him in the tub. My tub has Plexiglas doors, so I figured I would just hold him with one arm and use the doors to keep him from escaping the other side. Well as soon as I put him in the water, which was only about three inches deep, he got really violent. I immediately shut the door to keep him from running around my house soaking wet. Apparently, this was a huge mistake. He fought and bit and clawed at everything he could reach furiously. At the time, I didn’t understand that he was fighting for his life. I decided to let him get a little tired out and then continue bathing him once he had calmed down. So I sat on the toilet and waited a minute. He got quiet, so I opened the door…to find him laying sideways swallowing water. I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed him and tried to resuscitate him unsuccessfully. I can honestly say that I never thought in a million years that he would lay down and die.
    I loved that cat and I hope that no one else makes the same mistake I did.

  13. Becca says:

    @Chad
    I’m very sorry for your loss. It’s a horrible lesson you had to learn and so late too. Some cats, like yours, are simply terrified too much by water. The poor baby. Your story made me cry and I immediately picked up my kitty to give him hugs/kisses. I tried once and only once to bathe him. It’s not often, but when he does require additional bathing, I simply take him to the pet salon and he gets treats afterwards when we get home. I hope that anyone who read your story realizes that not every cat can handle a home bath, some need it done professionally by people who know how to handle any emergencies should they arise.

  14. Christy says:

    I have four kittens and they have matted eyes every time they wake up from napping.

  15. Loe says:

    Firstly, declawing a cat is NEVER a good idea. The wounds never completely heal; they have no defense mechanisms if they somehow wind up on their own; and they can develop neurosis.

    @Chad- Thanks for your story; I had no idea. I wonder if your cat had been habitually bathed as a kitten, if he wouldn’t have been so scared. I’ve had people tell me that it’s possible to potty train and domesticate older cats, but I suppose that some fears and habits may be ingrained in adult cats. I never knew that a cat could drown in 3 in. of water, especially after reading the above comment that someone left the cat in the bath (with sliding glass doors) and the cat got used to the water. Your cat sounded like he was otherwise a sweetie, and I’m sorry that he had to die like that, traumatized and scared, and for your sorrow.

    I bathed my cat as a kitten, as her and her siblings would poop/pee everywhere and I didn’t want them to be unhygienic. But I stopped this once they could clean themselves. I didn’t bathe my cat again until 10 years later; it was awful. And I don’t agree with bathing cats, unless they absolutely need it (extreme hygiene situations, flea trouble, etc.). My cat was scratching like mad, and doesn’t take well to flea treatments.

    I bathed my cat in a shower with glass sliding doors. I got the job done, but even I had to admit that I’d be freaked out being 12 inches tall in this elongated pink-tiled shower. When I moved, I tried to bathe her in the bathtub/shower combo, and this was ineffective. It dawned on me that although the tub/shower had lots of space and light, that the tub itself may be intimidating. So I got a small dog tub.

    The small dog tub did the trick, as it was a small space sitting up higher, so the cat didn’t feel by the size of the big tub/shower. The dog tub rests on top of the big tub, as the sides stick out a bit like a shelf. And it comes with a plug. I also use a shower hose; I turn it on and set it to the right temperature before I put the cat in the tub, and then set it aside. This causes her to freak out less, gets the right temperature without the poor kitty being susceptible to temperature fluctuations, and saves time for both and myself during the bathing process. A little bit of water always is in the little dog tub, which is great for drowning the fleas and having the cat get used to water touching her. I try to pick a temperature a little warmer than luke-warm, testing the water on my wrist.

    My poor kitty still hates baths, and I hate giving them to her, but the process is doable now. The last bath, she peed while I picked her up and brought her to the dog tub. Poor thing. To think, she used to sit in the elongated pink shower (with sliding doors) when she was a kitten, but because I didn’t live with her again for another eight years, she got out of the habit. I was amazed; she would just sit in the corner, while the water ran, not really getting wet. She was so peaceful. *sigh* I wish that I had lived with her her whole life, as she’s my little sweetie and is always at my side.

    But the drying process is so long; I turn on a heater and towel dry her as much as I can. She always seems to shiver, even if it’s 80 deg. F weather. My cat hates hair dryers and attacks them…although she didn’t do that as a kitten. But, again, I stopped the habit of bathing her. Maybe I’ll try the ShamWow, or maybe using a cone around her neck, so she can’t see the dryer coming.

  16. Shirley says:

    To Chad, I often just HAVE to bathe my adopted female cat due to the poo poo hanging off her butt that she will attempt to remove by making a drawing on the
    carpet winding through the house. The smell afterward means trouble for us because no matter how hard we try to fix/clean/trim/her, it causes her and me stress that can last for days. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt life (I cried). Because of you, I will be much more careful in the future with my kitty. I had no idea how fragile a cat could be.

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