How to Give a Cat a Bath

Cat Bathing 101: How to Give a Cat a Bath

Cat owners know the truth: cats hate water! Right? That is what has become the universally accepted view of many cat owners. Cats avoid walking in water, going outside when it’s raining, and especially swimming or bathing in water. They screech, cry, scramble and scratch to stay away from water, at all costs.

Cats’ attitudes towards water basically boil down to the relationship the cat has had with water throughout its lifetime. They are not, in fact, all afraid of water, especially if they have been exposed to it in a playful manner, preventing them from associating water with negative experiences.

You may be one of those rare, lucky people whose cat actually loves water. Please know how blessed you are and how jealous other cat owners are of your good fortune! For other cat owners, bath time can be a nightmare; especially when the kitty has not been de-clawed.

Cats instinctively wash and groom themselves on a daily basis, so is bathing them even necessary? Unfortunately, if Fluffy rolls around in her litter box or plays in something especially stinky outside, there may be no other option.

How can we give our beloved felines a bath when the mere sight of water makes them run for the hills?

Where do we start?

Cat Bathing 101: How to Give a Cat a Bath

How to Bathe a cat

This article will describe the steps involved in bathing your cat, as well as a few practical suggestions to make this undertaking possible. Who knows? It may even become an enjoyable experience for both of you!

What You’ll Need

Bathing your cat properly and comfortably will require a few simple tools. You will need:

  • a good quality grooming brush,
  • a nail trimmer,
  • a spray hose or water container,
  • a small rubber mat,
  • cat shampoo,
  • a washcloth,
  • a towel.

Your Cat Actually Likes the Water

Lucky you! Bathing your cat automatically becomes a much simpler task. There will be no struggle getting them into the water.

So, where do you begin?

1. Brushing Your Cat

Take your time and brush your cat thoroughly with a quality brush to remove loose hair, dirt, and possible knots in her fur. This is also a relaxing experience for your cat. Make sure to be gentle, and if your cat has matted fur, you can use a detangling spray before brushing to make the experience painless.

Brush in an upward motion, not forgetting the belly, the tail, and the area under the tail. A word of caution here: your cat may not enjoy you touching her belly and she may try to scratch or run away. If you know your cat well, you can opt to brush her belly or not. It’s your call.

2. Trimming the Nails

If your furry friend still has her claws, you may want to trim them first to reduce the risk of getting scratched should your cat struggle.

The best time to trim your cat’s nails is when she is relaxed and sleepy. Placing her onto your lap may be a reassuring, effective option.

Take one paw at a time into your hand, holding the kitty close to your body. Gently squeeze the paw with one finger underneath on the pad of the paw and your thumb on the top.

This extends the claw for easier trimming. Avoid cutting the claws too short or too close to the quick, which is the pink tissue inside the claw. This can bleed and be extremely painful for your cat, all the while destroying any trust she has in you cutting her nails.

Work quickly, but carefully, as cats may lose patience. If that is the case, you may want to trim just a few at a time, taking breaks in between. Reward kitty for her patience with a tasty cat treat.

If you would like more information on claw trimming, you can watch this detailed instructional video prepared by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine:

3. Preparing the Water

Place a rubber liner or mat in the bathroom or kitchen sink so the kitty doesn’t slip. Pour a couple of inches of warm water into the sink, making sure it is not too hot.

It should feel about the same as her body temperature, as your cat’s skin can be very sensitive.

4. Washing Her Face

If your cat will allow it, place soft cotton balls in her ears to keep them nice and dry inside. Gently place kitty into the water and start by using a clean, damp washcloth to clean her eyes and face, and around the outer ears.

Pay close attention to remove any debris stuck on or around the eyes. Be careful not to get any water inside her ears or nose; she won’t appreciate it very much.

5. Washing Her Body

Start by thoroughly wetting your cat, either with a faucet hose or a container that pours well. With your hands, gently massage a small amount of cat shampoo through her fur, in the direction that it grows, avoiding the face and eyes.

Do not use human shampoo, as it contains harsh detergents and is not safe for your sensitive cat. It is also important to read the label of the shampoo bottle to follow the instructions carefully. You may need to dilute the shampoo beforehand with water.

Rinse your cat thoroughly with clean water afterward, once again making sure to avoid her face. If your cat does not like the spray hose, using a pitcher of warm water to rinse her off might keep her calm and reassured and work much better.

6. Drying Your Cat

Rub down your cat with your hands to remove most of the water. Wrap your cat in a clean, warm, absorbent towel and rub her rigorously to dry the fur. You may want to brush her again with a clean brush to set the fur in place.

Put your cat in a warm, clean area of the house until she completely dries, to keep her from shivering and getting dirty once again.

If you like a fluffy cat and she is not afraid of a hairdryer, you may choose to dry her fur manually, being careful not to use the hot air setting and not blowing the air directly into her ears or eyes.

Keep your cat facing you, and start drying from behind. Move on to the legs, then the belly and back, and finally the front area, below the face. Again, make sure the air is not hot, and do not blow into your cat’s eyes or ears.

Your Cat Has a Water Phobia

Many cats have an extreme aversion to water, making bath time an arduous and scary experience.

So, what do I do, you ask?

Of course, it is always preferable to get your cat used to water from a very young age. However, this is not always possible. Easing them into watery situations gently and playfully may help them feel more comfortable and relaxed around water.

A dripping faucet can be a very intriguing game for a kitten. They will often paw at the steady stream, try to grab it, or drink from it. Some will even venture into the sink and let the water trickle down their heads, licking it up as it flows down their face.

What if I have an older cat?

If your cat is more mature, you will need to begin its bathing regimen gently, gradually, and progressively. Begin by placing your cat in the sink on a slip-proof mat.

Calmly rub her down with a warm, damp washcloth, beginning with her eyes and face. Talking to her may help keep her calm.

Work your way down, in the direction that the fur grows, towards the tail. If your kitty seems unperturbed, try turning on the water slightly without it pouring on her. Wet the washcloth and gently rub it over her fur. Continue washing her with feline shampoo, which has been properly diluted with water, gently rinse and dry your cat as described earlier.

Still No Chance?

Despite your non-threatening, friendly approaches to bathing your cat, she may still resist your well-intentioned attempts. What do you do when she really needs cleaning, you have tried everything and she will not go anywhere near water?

Are there any last-resort options? Yes!

1. Waterless shampoo

There are many varieties of safe and effective waterless cat shampoos on the market. This product usually comes in a pump and can be left in her fur, as it is a very gentle and soothing foam. It cleans and moisturizes your cat’s fur and skin without the mess and possible horror of washing and rinsing with water.

You can check out some available varieties, and their respective reviews.

2. Pet wipes

Moist pet wipes are a great option for a quick clean-up. They are hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free, and they can control shedding in the house. You can quickly get rid of dander, allergens, and odor by wiping down your cat regularly. Wipes are available wherever pet supplies are sold and they are very affordable.

You can browse through a few products here.

Bathing Your Cat: Recap

Some cats can be more difficult than others to bathe, especially when they have a clear distaste for water. Arm yourself with a few quality products, learn as much as you can about the process, and know your cat well.

With an organized bathing regimen, some patience, gentleness, and reassurance, your cat may slowly adjust to the water and see it as less threatening. However, other options are available that may make cleaning your cat less traumatizing, for both of you.

It is up to you, as a loving, responsible cat owner, to listen to your cat’s behavior and feelings, and chose the perfect option for you both. After all, we want the best for our cats and their time with us to be as loving and positive as possible.


  1. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
  2. Animal Planet.
  3. Doctors Foster and Smith.
  4. Korich, J., DVM & Richards, J., DVM. (2012) Cornell University College of Veterinary
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