How to Bathe Your Cat

Chances are you will not need to bathe your cat since felines, for the most part, are self-cleaning pets. However, there may be specials instances when a bath is necessary. Older and overweight cats sometimes have trouble maintaining regular grooming and may need some assistance. Another typical example is if your cat gets fleas and needs a flea bathe.

When Should You Bathe Your Cat

One positive aspect of having a cat instead of a dog is you won’t need to give your cat regular baths like dog owners. Cats take care of their grooming needs as part of a daily ritual. Only in particular instances will you do to bathe your cat.

  • Cat with some type of substance on their fur, such as grease, oil, or any other sticky residue
  • Senior cat having trouble grooming due to arthritis or lack of flexibility
  • Obese cat unable to reach all areas to groom
  • Cat sprayed by a skunk
  • Parasite infestation such as fleas or lice
  • Hairless cats with excessively oily skin

Cat Preparations Before Bathing

  1. Brush your cat to remove loose hair and surface debris in their fur.
  2. Remove matted hair and any tangles in the fur before getting your cat wet.
  3. Trim your cat’s nails to help prevent getting scratched badly during bath time.

Alternatives to Bathing Your Cat

Bathing a cat can be difficult and prove to be tricky, especially if you have a skittish cat or one that hates water. Here are a few ways to clean your cat without a bathe.

Pet Wipes

Pet stores sell wipes specifically formulated for cats. Only use these cat-safe wipes on your cat. Do not use baby or human wipes which can be harmful to pets.

Water-less cat shampoo

There is a leave-in waterless shampoo formulated for cats that you can be at a pet store or online pet retailer.

Dampened towel

If your cat isn’t too dirty, you can try using a dampened towel with warm water to wipe down your cat. Don’t use human soaps or shampoos because they have ingredients not meant for cats and can also irritate your cat’s skin and may make them itchy.

cat shampoo bath

What You Need to Bathe a Cat

Before getting your cat in the sink or tub, gather all the bathing supplies you think you will need. While you are bathing your cat you may want to clean your cat’s ears or wipe gunk from eyes if your cat is doing okay with their bath, so get the required supplies for those tasks too. You can not have too many towels.

  • Cat Shampoo
  • Cat conditioner (optional)
  • Towels
  • Eye wipes (optional)
  • Cotton Rounds or Gauze Squares (optional)
  • Ear cleaner (optional)
  • Treats as rewards

How to Bathe Your Cat

Bathing a cat can be tricky since cats typically do not like water. Be sure to read the directions on the cat shampoo and conditioner products first, as some may require dilution before use.

Follow these steps to bathe your cat:

  1. Prepare the area before getting your cat with all your supplies within reach
  2. If possible, have a someone assist you
  3. Place a towel or mat in the bottom of the tub/sink to prevent your cat from slipping or sliding around
    • If bathing in the tub, close the bathroom door
  4. Adjust the water to a warm temperature before wetting your cat
  5. Wet your cat using a plastic cup/pitcher that will allow you to direct where the water is going or a sprayer on a gentle setting
    • Don’t use glass cups or pitchers
    • If using a sprayer hose, be sure it is not on a pulsating, power, or high-pressure setting that will be too hard against your cat’s body
  6. Apply shampoo and gently lather your cat from their neck down, being careful to avoid their eyes
    • Be sure to read the shampoo directions prior to bath in case it needs to be diluted prior to using on your cat
    • Use your hands to lather & wash or cat-specific products, not people brushes which can be too harsh for your cat’s skin
  7. Be sure to clean all areas, especially in the under front paws (armpit area) and the bum/tail areas
  8. Rinse all shampoo thoroughly, checking the armpits and tails areas to ensure you rinsed everything off.
    • Rinse the entire body a few times to be sure all residue of shampoo is gone because dried shampoo may irritate your cat’s skin if not removed
  9. Optional Step – Apply cat formulated conditioner once all shampoo has been rinsed off
    • Follow instructions on conditioner label
    • Be sure to rinse all conditioner thoroughly as you did with the shampoo rinse for the same reasons stated above
  10. Optional Step – Clean cat’s ears
  11. Optional Step – Clean cat’s eyes
  12. Towel dry your cat
    • You may be able to use a hairdryer on a non-heat setting if your cat isn’t scared by the noise
    • If your hairdryer doesn’t have the option to turn off heat settings, then just use towels
  13. Reward your cat with their favorite treats

Helpful Tips When Bathing a Cat

  • Check your cat for tangles or mats before getting your cat wet
  • Don’t bathe a cat with matted fur, it will only make it worse
  • Remove matted fur prior to bathing and do it on a separate day because dematting and bathing on the same day will likely be too much stress for your cat (and you)
  • Once you start, you need to be sure you get all product rinsed off your cat very well before letting them go free
  • If possible, choose a room where you can close the door
  • Bathe your cat when they are tired or restful
  • Don’t give your cat catnip prior to a bath or anything that will make them all crazy and running around
  • Having a second person will be very helpful
  • Read all labels on products prior to getting your cat in the bath
  • Prep all supplies, shampoo, conditioner and have everything set up before starting
  • Use only cat-specific products on your cat
  • Remain calm and don’t raise your voice as your cat may not be the best behaved because most don’t like water; yelling will only make it worse and more stressful for both of you

Do’s & Don’t’s When Giving a Cat a Bath

Below are some tips on what you should and should not do if you are going to bathe your cat at home.

  • Use warm water
  • Have a helper
  • Put a towel or mat on the bottom of the sink or tub for your cat to grip
  • Use cat shampoo and conditioner products
  • Use a gentle sprayer or plastic cup to remove shampoo
  • Read instructions on shampoo/conditioner labels and dilute prior to the bath if required
  • Remain calm and patient
  • Speak in a soothing voice to your cat
  • Don’t use human shampoo or conditioner
  • Don’t get shampoo or conditioner in cat’s eyes
  • Don’t dump large amounts of water on your cat all at once or dunk your cat under water
  • Don’t bathe a cat with tangled or matted fur
  • Don’t yell or scold your cat, your cat probably won’t like being bathed, so try not to make the situation more stressful for them

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you supposed to give cats baths?

Most cats don’t need baths. There are usually only specific situations when a cat needs a bath. Bathing a cat can be stressful for your pet, but if they need one, you may want to try cat wipes which are easier to use than giving a bath.

What is the best way to bathe a cat?

To bathe your cat at home, check out these detailed steps on how to bathe a cat. Another option is using a professional pet groomer or mobile cat groomer.

Does my indoor cat need a bath?

Typically indoor cats do not need baths. Bathing would be necessary if they can’t groom themselves, got into something they can’t clean off or is toxic for them to ingest while grooming, or one of these other reasons to bathe a cat.

Does bathing remove fleas?

Bathing with shampoo will kill fleas on your cat, however, to prevent your cat from getting fleas again, you will need to treat your home.

If you have an outdoor cat, you should talk to your vet about a flea treatment to help prevent your cat from getting fleas. There are also flea shampoos that you can discuss with your veterinarian before using on your cat.

How do you bathe a cat without water?

There are a few options for a no water cat bath.
The first option is using pet wipes specifically made to clean your cat’s fur.
The second option is to use a waterless shampoo formulated for cats.
The third is to dampen a cloth with warm water, which would only work if your cat isn’t too dirty.

Can I use human shampoo on my cat?

No, you should not use human shampoo on your cat. You should only use cat formulated shampoo, which you can find at a pet store or online pet retailer.

What kind of shampoo is safe for cats?

There are specific shampoos made for cats which your can purchase at a local pet store or online pet site.

Can I use baby wipes on my cat?

No, baby wipes are not safe to use on your cat. Baby wipes contain chemicals and additives that are safe for people but not for pets. You should only use wipes made for cats.

Can I bathe my cat with dish soap?

Although there is some conflicting information on the safety of dish soap, it is strongly recommended that you use cat shampoo, which is formulated specifically for felines and is cat safe. A bottle of cat shampoo should last a while and is the safest option if you are going to bathe your cat.

Is Dawn dish soap safe for cats?

Some information indicates the original blue Dawn is safe for cats. However, it is dish liquid not made for cats. The safest option is to use cat shampoo.