✅ How to Bathe a Cat Correctly and Why It Is So Important
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How to Bathe a Cat Correctly and Why It Is So Important

Professional veterinary specialist with 10 years of experience. - Alisa Mendoza

publication time: 22:51

Unlike dogs, cats are not great swimmers. Moreover, most of them are not enthusiastic about bathing. Most of the time, they groom themselves rather effectively. Still, sometimes, both long-haired and short-haired cats need bathing. The reasons for this can be different: the need for the treatment with a special shampoo or getting too dirty. If you want to find out how to bathe a cat with minimum hassle, read our step-by-step instruction.

Table of Contents:

Prepare Your Cat for Bathing
Prepare the Bathroom
Bathe Your Cat
Drying the Cat
What Are the Alternative Methods of Cat Bathing?

Prepare Your Cat for Bathing

Before placing your kitty in the water, make sure it is properly prepared for it. There several things you should check to mitigate the negative outcome. Just follow the tips below.

a cat bathing

Cut the Cat’s Nails

Always keep in mind that cats have very sharp nails. When they are frightened, they can’t control themselves. If you don’t want to be scratched severely, take precaution measures in advance. Trim and polish your kitty’s claws, giving them a rounded shape. By doing so, you reduce the risk of injury. We recommend cutting the nails at least a couple of hours before bathing, especially if it makes your cat nervous. The pet must have some time to calm down.

Brush and Comb Your Cat

Brushing is of special importance if your feline has long hair. However, even short-haired cats can have some tangles or mats that are easier to get rid of when the hair is dry. Another benefit of brushing is that this procedure often helps cats to get relaxed. If your kitty loves it, why not take advantage of this. After all, even a mere massaging with a soft brush can have a positive effect on a pet’s state.

Prepare a Special Shampoo

Choosing a cat shampoo is a responsible step, especially for the owners of delicate and long-haired cats with special needs. Try to find a shampoo, which is made specially for particular breeds. Consult a vet or a specialist at a pet store if needed. Never use human shampoo to bathe a cat! It can be too aggressive and even toxic for pets. In addition to shampoo, you may want to use a massaging glove or a sponge to rub the cat’s coat. Keep in mind that it must be soft enough not to hurt your kitty.

Encourage Your Cat to Bathe

Ideally, your cat must get relaxed and a bit tired before bathing. Try to pick the proper time for this, for example, after the meal in the evening. If the pet is excited or in a playful mood, try to calm it down a little, For example, you may play with it actively for 15-20 minutes to let it mellow out. If the cat is in the right mood, prepare it for bathing.

  • Take the cat’s favorite toys and put them in an empty water tub. Let the cat play right in the tub for some time to show it that it is not dangerous. After that, add a little water of comfortable temperature to the tub and continue playing. Let the kitty touch and sniff the water – this will help to reduce stress.
  • Alternatively, you may purchase a special “bathing” toy, which will associate with bathing in the future. Place it in the tub and let your feline play with it. After that, again, start adding water. Be slow and encourage your cat to touch the water.

Prepare Your Cat for Bathing

Before placing your kitty in the water, make sure it is properly prepared for it. There several things you should check to mitigate the negative outcome. Just follow the tips below.

Cut the Cat’s Nails

Always keep in mind that cats have very sharp nails. When they are frightened, they can’t control themselves. If you don’t want to be scratched severely, take precaution measures in advance. Trim and polish your kitty’s claws, giving them a rounded shape. By doing so, you reduce the risk of injury. We recommend cutting the nails at least a couple of hours before bathing, especially if it makes your cat nervous. The pet must have some time to calm down.

Brush and Comb Your Cat

Brushing is of special importance if your feline has long hair. However, even short-haired cats can have some tangles or mats that are easier to get rid of when the hair is dry. Another benefit of brushing is that this procedure often helps cats to get relaxed. If your kitty loves it, why not take advantage of this. After all, even a mere massaging with a soft brush can have a positive effect on a pet’s state.

Prepare a Special Shampoo

Choosing a cat shampoo is a responsible step, especially for the owners of delicate and long-haired cats with special needs. Try to find a shampoo, which is made specially for particular breeds. Consult a vet or a specialist at a pet store if needed. Never use human shampoo to bathe a cat! It can be too aggressive and even toxic for pets. In addition to shampoo, you may want to use a massaging glove or a sponge to rub the cat’s coat. Keep in mind that it must be soft enough not to hurt your kitty.

Encourage Your Cat to Bathe

Ideally, your cat must get relaxed and a bit tired before bathing. Try to pick the proper time for this, for example, after the meal in the evening. If the pet is excited or in a playful mood, try to calm it down a little, For example, you may play with it actively for 15-20 minutes to let it mellow out. If the cat is in the right mood, prepare it for bathing.

  • Take the cat’s favorite toys and put them in an empty water tub. Let the cat play right in the tub for some time to show it that it is not dangerous. After that, add a little water of comfortable temperature to the tub and continue playing. Let the kitty touch and sniff the water – this will help to reduce stress.
  • Alternatively, you may purchase a special “bathing” toy, which will associate with bathing in the future. Place it in the tub and let your feline play with it. After that, again, start adding water. Be slow and encourage your cat to touch the water.

Prepare the Bathroom

Cats’ behavior during bathing can be unpredictable. That is why it’s important to think over all the details and consider all the possible outcomes in advance. It requires some preparatory work.

Shut the Door

You don’t want your wet cat to escape from you in the midst of bathing, do you? Make sure it won’t be able to do it. If you have other pets, the closed door will hide you from the peering eyes of other cats or dogs, who may suddenly interfere in the process when you don’t expect it.
Extra tips:

  • Cats that have never been in the bathroom need some time to look around, as an unfamiliar environment can seem frightening to them.
  • Don’t forget to close the toilet seat before bathing. Just imagine your kitty escapes and jumps right into the toilet bowl!
  • If you keep a litterbox in the bathroom, remove it temporarily. When been in a panic, your cat can jump into it, turn it down, and leave litter traces all around the home.

Prepare Towels

Put some towels on the floor, as it inevitably gets wet during bathing. Have a couple of towels within easy reach – you’ll need them to dry the cat after taking it out of the water. Finally, you can place a towel or two in the tub to make it non-slippery and comfortable for the pet. Alternatively, you can use a rubber mat for this purpose.

Additionally, you can put in the tub a sort of rest for your kitty; something it could embrace to feel secure. For example, it can be a clean oven rack. Otherwise, your cat will try to embrace your hands and can occasionally scratch you.

Prepare a Tub

Don’t try to wash a cat under the running water by using a faucet or a shower if you want to know how to bathe a cat correctly. An unregulated stream of water can frighten it even more. Instead, pour some warm water in the tub in advance and prepare a separate ewer or jar with water of the same temperature. You will need it to rinse the pet. Don’t add water during bathing. The process should be as comfortable and fast as possible. You don’t want to distract your attention on anything else, so prepare all the things you may need in advance.

Wear Long-Sleeved Clothes

Try to leave as little bare skin as possible. Some people even wear thin gloves to protect their hands from scratching, but we believe they are excessive, as they reduce your sensitivity. You must be very delicate when rubbing your cat’s belly and head, so you’d better do it with bare hands.

The best solution is wearing an old or throwaway sweater or shirt with long sleeves. It will protect your arms from scratching and biting. Keep in mind that a frightened pet can easily tear your clothes, so don’t wear new or expensive things.

Bathe Your Cat

If possible, ask someone to help you. It’s always easier to wash a cat when somebody holds it while another person washes and rinses. If you are alone, you may try to use an escape-proof harness to hold your feline.

Place the Cat in the Water

Make sure you hold the cat firmly enough and gently place it in the water. Talk to your pet softly to reassure it. For a starter, you can let it stand on two rear feet, and after the pet gets relaxed, gradually place the front feet in the water too. Don’t constrict the kitty’s body too tightly; make sure it can breathe freely. Never hold it by the neck or by the scruff of the neck – it can cause choking.

Don’t Apply Too Much Force

There’s no point in struggling with your cat. After all, your long-term goal is not to wash your kitty right now at any price but make it get used to bathing. If you see that your pet is in panic, don’t fight with it. If there’s no emergency, you may stop at placing its legs in the water this time. On the next day, you can repeat the exercise and take a further step, for example, wet its belly and back.

Wash the Cat’s Body

Apply some cat shampoo on a sponge or right on the cat’s coat (it must be wet) and gently massage its body in the direction from the neck to the tail. Move along with the hair growth to minimize unpleasant sensations. Your goal is to wash the whole body, including the neck, back, belly, legs, and the tail. If your cat likes grooming, soft massaging strokes will remind it about this and make it feel more relaxed.

Prevent Contacting the Cat’s Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Mouth with Shampoo

Just like the human shampoo and soap, the cat’s shampoo must be kept away from sensitive areas, such as eyes and nose, as can cause irritation and pain. Thus, you may protect the pet’s ears by inserting small cotton balls inside them. This will also dampen the surrounding noise and reduce the cat’s stress.

A special tip for those using an anti-flea shampoo: always start with wetting the pet’s neck. Fleas always try to move to a dry area. As soon as you place your cat in the water, they will rush to the head. However, if there is a wet “bridge” around the neck, most of them will stay on the body and be affected by a shampoo.

Rinse the Cat

Rinsing is a very important stage of bathing, as there must be no soap or shampoo left on the pet’s coat. For a coarse rinsing, use the water in the tub. After this, empty the tub and rinse the cat with pure water from the jar or ewer that you’ve prepared in advance. Repeat this at least two more times, trying to wash away all the soap bubbles. You need to be especially thorough if your kitty has long thick hair.

To make the task easier don’t use too much shampoo. Read the instruction and apply the recommended amount, no more. Additionally, some types of cat’s shampoo can be diluted with water before the application. This can reduce the amount of foam.

Wash the Cat’s Head and Face

Of course, you shouldn’t soak the cat’s head in the water. Instead, use a wet cloth to rub the pet’s face around the nose and mouth. Gently run the cloth along with the hair growth the make your kitty look clean and tidy. Keep in mind that this procedure is not mandatory, and you may skip or delay it if the feline looks too frightened or nervous.

Monitor Your Cat’s Condition

Bathing is always stressful for cats, so you need to watch out for the signs of panic or distress in your kitty. In particular, heavy breathing, hissing, crying, and howling can indicate stress. If your cat is frightened too much, you’d better make a pause or stop. After all, you don’t want to make any real harm to the pet.

It’s for you to decide how often to bathe a cat, but the best approach is to start gradually. On the first day, let your cat look around and touch the water. On the next day, repeat the procedure and add soaking the belly for some time. Once the cat allows to soak its whole body, add washing with a shampoo. By acting in this way, you’ll prevent severe stress and reduce the risk of injury.

Try Alternative Methods of Washing Your Cat’s Coat

Some cats don’t accept bathing in any form, despite all the efforts of their owners. If your kitty hates bathing or it is stressed severely every time you are trying to wash it, maybe, it makes sense to look for an alternative. At pet shops, you can find special washcloths. You can use it even without water to clean a cat’s coat. They effectively collect external dirt from the fur.

Drying the Cat

Your cat can easily catch a cold after bathing, so your primary task is to minimize the risks. Drying a cat with a towel is mandatory. Additionally, you may use a hair drier.

a cat in a towel

Wipe up Your Cat with a Towel

Probably, you will need several towels to complete this task. Once you’ve taken your cat out of the water, wrap it into a towel immediately. Gently blot the excess water by pressing the towel. As soon as it gets wet, replace it with a new one. Again, blot the cat and gently rub its body through the towel to get under the fur. Repeat the procedure until the towels are dry.

Use a Hair Drier (Optionally)

Many cats are scared of hair-driers; however, some of them love the procedure of drying with warm air. If your kitty protests drying, don’t insist. Just let it stay in a warm place, for example, near the heater and protect it from drafts. Most cats will groom themselves after bathing. If your cat is short-haired, it may need no extra grooming. Long-haired felines should be combed, but not until they are absolutely dry. If you think that your kitty can get cold, wrap it in a warm dry towel or a blanket for some time.

Don’t Forget about Rewarding

Use the method of positive reinforcement to encourage your cat to bathe. The best way to reward a pet is by giving tasty food or treats. Give your kitty what it loves most. Regular rewarding after bathing will form a steady positive association with this procedure.

It goes without saying that you should talk to your cat all the time, praise and reassure it. Pets always respond to our speech and voice tone. If you are quiet and relaxed, your pet will relax as well. If you are nervous, your kitty will be nervous and aggressive too.

What Are the Alternative Methods of Cat Bathing?

Traditional bathing in a tub (in a bathroom) is the most common method. However, it is not always convenient. In some situations, you may want to try alternative methods.

Bathing Outdoors in a Bucket

It can be practiced only in summer when the weather is hot and only with cats that are accustomed to outdoor walks. You will need two or three buckets with warm water (three are better than two). Dilute some drops of shampoo in the first bucket and soak your cat’s whole body (up to the neck) in the soapy water. Slightly rub and massage it with a cloth or a sponge. After that, rinse it in the second bucket with clean water. Ideally, rinse it once again in the third water.

Bathing in the Shower

If your cat is not frightened of the noise produced by running water, you may try to use a hand-held shower with a long hose to wash it. Keep in mind that there are some important things to consider.

  • The bottom of the tub where your kitty is staying must be non-slippery. Lay a rubberized mat or a soft towel in the tub to minimize traction. Hold the cat with one hand and the shower in another hand.
  • Make sure your shower room has a door, not a curtain. It’s strongly recommended to close it to prevent escape.
  • The water stream should be very gentle, and the pressure should be minimal. A powerful stream is hard to control; moreover, it can frighten and even hurt your cat.

When using a shower, always protect the cat’s face and ears. Keep in mind that you need to wash only the body. This can be hard to control if your kitty doesn’t sit still.

Bathing in a Sink or in a Small Container

This method works best for small cats, though some larger felines prefer narrow places too. You may try to bathe a cat in a sink or in a smaller tub, which is installed in a sink or in a bath if it feels uncomfortable in a large tub. Fill the sink with warm soapy water and soak your cat. After washing its body, just drain the water and replace it with clean water for rinsing. Repeat if necessary. Avoid sinks with garbage disposals, as they have sharp blades, which can hurt your kitty’s paws.

cat bathing in a sink

Dry Bathing

Last but not least is the method of so-called dry bathing. It can work for cats with a very oily coat. The distinctive feature of this method is using cornstarch instead of soapy water. Apply starch on the cat’s coat and rub it with your hands – it will absorb dirt and skin oil. After that, bush the cat thoroughly to remove the dirty starch. This method is less stressful than traditional bathing but its overall effectiveness is lower. Keep in mind that if your cat got in something very dirty or toxic, you need to bathe it anyway.

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