siberian cat having a bath

How to Bathe a Cat: A Step by Step Guide

Cats notoriously hate water, so much so that bathing them can seem like an impossible task.

However, there will be times when your cat needs a bath so we recommend using this guide to make the process easier and avoids you becoming a scratching post.

When it comes to bathing a cat, preparation and praise pays off.

To Bathe a cat you need to:

  1. Ensure your cat’s claws are short
  2. Brush your cat
  3. Put a Towel or Nonslip Mat in the Bath or Sink
  4. Gather the necessary equipment
  5. Wear clothes that will protect your skin
  6. Run the bath
  7. Place your cat in the bath
  8. Be kind to your cat
  9. Wash them from the neck down
  10. Rinse the shampoo away
  11. Dry your cat with a towel
  12. Give your cat a reward

Read on for a detailed explanation of each step…

Do I Need To Bathe My Cat?

Cats can groom themselves very effectively meaning they usually smell very good so they very rarely ever need baths, however there may be times when a bath is necessary.

Every cat is different so you should only bath your cat when it is necessary for your cat’s individual situation.

A key example of when you may want to bathe your cat is if they have fleas; an in-depth guide on dealing with your cat’s fleas is available here.

As you can see, giving your cat a bath using flea shampoo is one of the most effective and affordable techniques for ridding your cat of the parasites.

Similarly, your cat may have a health issue that requires medicated baths to treat the problem or lessen the symptoms.

These are perfectly good reasons to bath your cat so let’s look at how to do this safely.

If you do not feel confident bathing your cat, remember there are experienced groomers who can bath your cat for you.

If you’re bathing your cat as a treatment for fleas be aware that flea treatments can sometimes cause your cat to act wierdly

12 Steps To Giving Your Cat A Bath

This is the most comprehensive guide to bathing your cat you will find and that is because we want to make sure there is minimal stress for both you and your furry feline during the experience.

To make the bath as stress-free as possible it is important to be prepared and patient.

Do not skip steps – each step is important to ensure the whole process goes smoothly.

Making sure your cat has a positive bathing experience will not only make today’s bath easier but will also help to make future bathing experiences easier and more enjoyable too.

1. Ensure your cat’s claws are short.

Trimming your cat’s claws (preferably a few days prior to the bath) is essential.

bald cat clawing at a plate of cheese

Keeping their nails trimmed will help to decrease the amount of damage they can do when it comes to bath time.

When you trim your cat’s claws, take care and be sure to reward your cat afterwards with treats.

2. Brush your cat.

Before you bathe your cat, use a cat brush to remove any knots and tangles in their fur.

It is important to do this before the bath as once your cat is wet these tangles will be very difficult to remove.

Now your cat is ready for a bath so let’s get the bathroom ready.

3. Put a Towel or Nonslip Mat in the Bath or Sink.

This will help to make sure your cat doesn’t slip and feel uncomfortable when in the bath.

The experience will be much better for your cat if they have steady footing.

It’s also a good idea to place a couple of towels on the floor beside the bath too as some water will end up on the floor no matter how careful you are.

4. Gather the necessary equipment.

Ok you’re going to need some pet shampoo, remember there is a difference between dog shampoo, cat shampoo and human shampoo.

Do not use human shampoo on your cat as this can cause skin problems.

Find a cat shampoo and ensure you follow the usage instructions as some shampoos need to be diluted before applying to your cat’s skin.

If you are in a tight spot and you can mix water (4 cups) with gentle dish soap (1 cup) and apple cider vinegar (1 cup).

Other equipment includes a cup or bucket to rinse the shampoo off of your cat easily and a couple of clean, dry towels.

5. Wear clothes that will protect your skin (and that you don’t mind getting wet!).

As we mentioned earlier, cats are not big fans of water so there is a chance they will try to get out of the bath by climbing up your arms.

Avoid being scratched by wearing a long-sleeved shirt or jumper.

Your clothes will get damp during the bathing process so wear something that you don’t mind getting wet.

6. Run the bath.

Run the tap so the bath has a few inches of warm water in. Make sure the water is lukewarm, not hot.

It is best to run the bath prior to bringing your cat in as the noise and movement of the running water can cause your cat to become anxious and frightened.

This is also why we recommend having a cup on hand to allow you to rinse the shampoo off of your cat as using the shower and the tap can be overwhelming and can feel like an attack on them rather than a pleasant experience.

7. Place your cat in the bath.

Now you have everything ready to bathe your cat.

This is where things begin to get challenging so before you get started, decide whether you need two people to make bathing easier as with two people one person can hold your cat and the other can wash and rinse them.

tuxedo cat wash

It is possible to bath your cat alone too but it’s generally easier and less stressful to have a helping hand. Once you have decided, calmly and quietly pick up your cat and go to the bathroom or sink. Slowly put your cat into the bath or sink and begin to wet them down, starting with the legs and avoiding your cats head.

You may want to use a harness to help you maintain control of your cat during the bath.

8. Be kind to your cat.

If this is the first time your cat is experiencing a bath and is clearly unimpressed by the situation it may be better to bath them in stages.

On this occasion, you could just wash their feet and legs then do more another day so you slowly introduce them to a full bath.

The most important thing is to not fight with your cat, it is not worth it and you will end up having negative experiences every time you want to bath them.

If your cat seems to be handling the bath well, continue to the next step.

9. Wash them from the neck down.

Use a small amount of cat shampoo and gently wash your cat.

Working in the direction of the growth of their fur, massage the shampoo into your cat’s neck, body, legs and tail.

Avoid their face and make sure you keep the shampoo away from their ears, eyes, nose and mouth. This washing action should resemble you petting or stroking your cat.

10. Rinse the shampoo away.

Now you can thoroughly rinse your cat to remove all of the shampoo.

Use the cup for rinsing and use clean warm water to make sure there is no soap left on your kitty’s coat.

The rinsing water should be clear and free from bubbles by the time you are finished.

11. Dry your cat with a towel.

Now your cat is clean, you can use a towel to gently dry them.

Blot as much water from their fur as you can using a towel. When the towel is damp, switch to a clean dry towel.

Now you can wrap your cat in a towel and rub their fur in a very gentle, comforting way.

Continue until your cat is dry (or until your cat has had enough – don’t force them).

12. All done! Give your cat a reward.


You now have a clean, dry cat.

Before you do anything else, give your cat a reward. Positive reinforcement is essential.

tabby cat eating from a food bowl

The experience of bathing needs to have positive associations for your cat so give them some of their favourite treats.

This will help you a huge amount when it comes to future bathing experiences.

Throughout the whole process ensure you are praising your cat and once the bath is over give them lots of affection and attention.

Top Tips For Washing A Cat

Below are our top tips for bathing a cat:

• Have everything you need ready before putting your cat in the bath
• Give your cat plenty of praise
• Remember a small amount of shampoo goes a long way
• Use a washcloth to carefully wipe your pet’s face
• Patience is key

If your cat really does not want to be bathed, it is best not to force them.

There are other options such as sending them to an experienced groomer or finding alternative methods such as using dry shampoo or medicated sprays.

Of course, not all cats hate water – some actually love water so just do what is best suited to your feline friend.

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