Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

How To Bathe A Cat

It's well known that cats generally hate water and are constantly cleaning themselves – but there are times that they will require an actual bath. Our Laguna Woods vets are here to explain.

Do Cats Even Need Baths?

Cats are very good at cleaning themselves, so luckily for us, our feline friends won't need baths very often.

A cat’s tongue is rough because it is covered with tiny curved barbs that spread saliva across their fur. Think of this as a miniature spa, as each lick spreads healthy natural oils across their coat and skin. Those little spines work as natural detanglers, too, which is why you’ll often see your kitty licking and biting at fur clumps until they smooths everything out.

That being said, routine bathing either at home, or with our experienced groomers can help prevent hairballs.

How Often Should A Cat Be Bathed?

Certain circumstances require you to bathe a cat or kitten, such as them getting into something dangerous to ingest (e.g. motor oil, antifreeze, gasoline, or paint). Basically, anything that gets on their fur that could be harmful needs to be washed off immediately.

Some cats can develop skin conditions that are soothed with bathing, like seborrhea. This is a disorder that causes flakey, red, and itchy skin. Your veterinarian might also recommend medicated baths for treating other health conditions, such as severe flea allergies or ringworm.

Cats who are old or obese often can't groom themselves effectively and could benefit from receiving baths. Cats with long hair should be bathed every few months to minimize fur matting. Hairless breeds, like the Sphynx, need more frequent bathing – probably need about once a week bathing as they have an oily residue that gets on fabrics.

How To Bathe A Cat

Just like bathing a baby (with claws), bathing a cat requires everything that you need to be within arm’s reach. You should have:

  • A shower or bathtub, ideally with a handheld showerhead. 
  • Several towels to clean off your cat and help them get dry and warm.
  • Special cat shampoo and conditioner.

You should never use human shampoo or conditioner as it has a different PH level to the sort suitable for cats and could damage your pet’s hair or skin.

Pre-Bath Prep

Before you start you should brush your cat to remove any knots or tangles, particularly if she is a long-furred breed.

Set the water temperature to warm and have it running through the showerhead at a medium-level spray.

The Bath

Talk to your cat and offer lots of reassurance and praise as you gently place them into the shower tray or bath. Using a showerhead from above is significantly less stressful for your pet as they are far more likely to be used to being rained on (avoid spraying the face, however) than they are being lowered into 4 inches of tepid water!

Hold your cat in your arms while supporting their back legs so they don't panic (or use a harness if you think they are going to be tricky to control. Begin washing them gently using soft confident strokes. Cats are very intuitive at picking up stress, so if you seem stressed they will be on edge too, and far more likely to lash out or try to run for it!

Apply small amounts of shampoo – she’s probably not as dirty as you think she is! Make sure you rinse clean and then repeat with the conditioner. Take care to avoid her eyes and nose.

Drying Off

Once she is clean you should towel-dry your cat as much as possible. Many cats are petrified of the loud noise and sudden wind produced by hair dryers. If your feline friend isn’t frightened, then you could consider trying to dry them using low heat and speed. You may need to confine them to a carrier in order to do this. Alternatively, you could leave your cat in the warm bathroom until their coat is totally dry. The important thing is to ensure that they are thoroughly dried before going into other parts of the house. Damp cats can easily become chilled which can make them unwell, or in the case of kittens especially, low body temperatures can be life-threatening.

Avoiding Getting Scratched While Bathing A Cat

It's no secret that cats aren't fond of water. Some cats will tolerate baths, but others simply won't. When a bath is inevitable, staying calm will help you both, here are a few tips that can help ease stress so your cat is less likely to try to scratch and claw their way to freedom:

  • Choose a time after they've eaten or played, as they'll be more mellow
  • If possible, trim their nails before the bath, filing the ends as well after they're clipped to dull them
  • Plan for a short grooming session to make handling their fur much easier
  • Recruit a friend to help so one of you can hold the cat while the other bathes them
  • Minimize running water, the sound causes many cats to panic, and the last thing you want is to grab a slippery, sharp cat
  • Fill a sink with a few inches of warm water and wash only the parts you need to, then rinse thoroughly
  • Use a washcloth around the face and ears (try to avoid getting the face and ears too wet)

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Bathing your cat is sometimes necessary, despite our greatest wishes! For tips and tricks to help make the process go more smoothly, or to have their bathing needs professionally taken care of, contact our team at Laguna Woods.

New Patients Welcome

Laguna Hills Animal Hospital is welcoming new patients! Our vets are friendly, experienced, and passionate about caring for the health of the cats and dogs in Laguna Woods. Contact us today to schedule your pet's first appointment.

Contact (949) 837-7333