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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

How to Give a Cat a Bath

Oct 31, 2014 11:01PM ● By SUZI HARKOLA

Yes, gentle reader, it is possible to give your cat a bath without ending up in the ER. Although most cats will never need to be bathed by their owners, – think brushing, combing or simply rubbing her down with a damp cloth as alternatives -- there could be occasions when a bath is necessary.

                Brush her first, especially if yours is a longhair, to stimulate the skin’s oil glands and to remove as much shedding fur as possible. Any cat with burs or mats will need to be combed as well.

                Begin with the best organic shampoo possible and be sure it is labeled “for cats and kittens.” Never select a product for any animal, including humans, other than feline.        You’ll also need a big fat sponge and a washcloth, some cotton balls for cleaning around the ears and eyes, a rubber non-slip mat, a plastic cup and several towels.

                Wear old clothes with long sleeves. If possible, trim the claws to further prevent scratches.

Talk someone into helping you. One person can support the body and firmly, but gently, massage the head and control the neck and feet, while the other shampoos and rinses.


Now you are ready to give your cat a bath.

  1. Fill a tub with very warm water, just deep enough to cover the cat’s paws. A double sink with a rubber mat or towel in one side and warm water in the other side works great. Keep in mind that what feels warm to you, feels cold to the cat. Test the temp as you would a baby’s bottle by putting a few drops on your wrist.
  2. Fill two containers with warm water for rinsing and set aside.
  3. Put the towels nearby. You may want to warm these in the dryer first.
  4. Open the shampoo and set it out of the cat’s potential reach cat. Have a bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid nearby to cleanse very oily areas, such as stud tail or automotive grease.
  5. Find the cat. Gently calm her and, holding her firmly, carry her to the tub. Massage your cat’s head, mimic a feline purring sound and offer some “to die for” treats.
  6. Close the bathroom door and don’t open it again until Kitty is relatively dry.
  7. Place the cat in the water. Meowing, hissing and yowling at this point are normal if your cat has not been previously socialized to bathing.
  8. Spot clean the oily areas with Dawn BEFORE wetting the cat and shampooing. Massage the stain gently and then blot excess away with a dry washcloth.
  9. Soak the cat from the neck down, using a sponge. Using a small amount of shampoo, start with the cat’s neck, then move to the body, legs, belly and tail. Keep the shampoo away from  her eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Use the washcloth to clean the face. A flea comb works great to remove fleas from the face.
  10. Using the cup or sponge, rinse thoroughly with the water in the tub or sink, then drain and rinse twice more with clean water from the containers. If your cat will tolerate it, you can also run warm water from an attached sprayer hose (use low flow!). Remove ALL soap from her coat.
  11. Get as much water from the cat’s coat as you can with your hands, then blot Kitty dry. Shorthaired cats can finish drying themselves. You’ll need to comb longhaired cats until the coat is completely or nearly completely dry to prevent mats. (Hand hair dryers can be quite frightening unless your cat has been conditioned to a quiet low-flow dryer.)
  12. Last but certainly not least, reward Kitty with her favorite treat or catnip. She’ll soon associate a bath with gentle massage, undivided attention from you, and probably more important, a tasty morsel.


Suzi Harkola is a life-long cat lover and Editor of Natural Awakenings, Sarasota/Manatee and Peace River editions. Kate Brown, DVM and professional cat groomer at Brandt Veterinary Clinic in Nokomis, contributed to this article.




Tips from a Pro:

The VERY BEST WAY to bathe a cat is to first socialize and condition your kitten or young cat to having a bath. Start with a small amount of warm water in the bathtub. Use catnip, treats and a feather toy on a stick to encourage Kitty to explore on and around the tub, occasionally getting wet. Use treats, toys, and massage, while running the water and handling the feet. Trim the nails and do all your pre-bathing activities. Only after Kitty accepts the preliminaries should you start the bath.


We at Brandt were recently awarded “Cat Friendly Status” by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and are increasingly advocating for what's best for cats from their perspective.
The feline scent is very important to a cat. Since bathing will remove these scents and substitute foreign fragrances, bathing should not be performed routinely in cats. Exceptions are severe flea infestations, Kitty getting into grease and oils, and infections resulting in crusts and scabs.  
Environmental allergies can be alleviated by wiping the cat’s face, feet and undersides with a damp towel rather than bathing. This can remove irritating pollens and other allergens without making Kitty smell like a shampoo bottle.
Feliway and similar pheromone sprays and diffusers in the bathing area can also help to calm Kitty.  "Clipnosis" clips applied to the scruff at the top of the neck can similarly calm Kitties.


Kate Brown, DVM

Brandt Veterinary Clinic, Nokomis, 941-485-1555

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