Last Updated on March 9, 2020
Giving a cat a bath is actually rather simple but there has to be mutual trust. The easiest way to bathe a cat is to start when it is a kitten. This is not to say an adult cat cannot be bathed for the first time, it will just take more effort. If this is your first attempt to bathe your cat, this helpful guide will assist you along the way.
Step 1: Prepare Your Cat
First, you want to brush your cat’s fur and trim its nails. Doing so will reduce the hair shed in the water and cutting the nails will reduce injury to you. You don’t need to worry about tangles if the fur is longer just yet. It is easier to brush them out after it has been cleaned.
Step 2: Prepare the Water
Prepare the water without your cat present. It is easiest to use a standard bathtub instead of a kitchen or basement sink but what is easiest for you is best. For kittens, you want to use a plastic bin and only a few inches of warm water.
You can use standard cat shampoo but I prefer to use Johnson & Johnson’s Bedtime Bath in lavender on my cats. It is very mild baby formula, tear-free, and the lavender naturally relaxes the cat. It also helps keeps fleas away. I do not use flea treatment on any of my cats. Simply bathing them 4 times a year using this soap keeps the fleas away.
Step 3: Test the Water
When you have the water ready, test it on your elbow. If it feels hot on your elbow, add in cold water till it is just warm. Cats have very sensitive skin to hot and cold temperatures so this is very important as to not unintentionally burn your cat.
Step 4: Entering the Water
When you are placing your cat into the water you want to hold it by the back of the neck (like a mother does with her kittens) so they will not hurt you or themselves.
Once you have their back feet touching the bottom, gently set them all the way in the water, keeping your hand on the back of its neck. If your cat begins to lash out, let its front paws rest on something facing away from you outside of the water.
In the event that your cat severely freaks out, it’s best to let them go so they can hop out the tub and wait a few days before trying again.
Step 5: Washing
Take a cup and begin wetting down your cat’s fur. Never just dunk them in water and ALWAYS avoid getting water in their ears or on their face. Only use a damp washcloth to wipe down the face and ear area. You will want to do this quickly but calmly. Rubbing your cat’s favorite spot will help relax them. Mine enjoys a light neck rub during their baths. Depending on the length of your cat’s fur, use your best judgment for the amount of soap you need. Start on the back and work the soap to the chest and front legs, then the back to the tail and rear legs. Keep the soap on the back and work out from there, do not use extra on the belly as it will take longer to rinse.
Step 6: Rinsing
Take your cup again and begin rinsing your cat. Again, start at the back and work down. Once all the soap has been rinsed off, allow the water to drain from the tub or sink you are using. Once the water is all out, wrap a towel around your cat and pick them out of the tub or sink gently. Make sure the claws on all four paws are covered to avoid scratches.
Step 7: Brushing
Right before drying, you will want to give your cat a once-over with a brush or comb. Make sure all knots and tangles are removed.
I recommend the Catit Grooming Kit for this and general daily use to keep your cat’s coat healthy and tangle-free. You can read our review here: Catit Grooming Kit Review.
For larger knots, it is best to just gently trim them out with hair scissors to avoid pulling on the skin.
Step 8: Drying
Proper drying is very important, especially for kittens and elderly cats. You have a few different options on how to go about this but it fully depends on your cat. The easiest way is by using a towel. You may need several towels for this depending on the size of your cat and the length of the fur. There are towels for cats and dogs designed to absorb a lot of water which is another great option. If you have a cat that is fearful of blow dryers, it is a fantastic investment. If your cat shows no fear of a blow dryer, use one on them but keep the heat on low no matter how wet they feel. Combing through the hair whilst doing this will make it go a lot faster.