Ahhh, there's nothing more relaxing than slipping into a nice, warm bath — unless of course you're a cat. While it's true that some cats enjoy getting wet, most domestic cats don't, so bathing most cats is not for the faint of heart.

If you're going to bathe your cat, it pays to be prepared with everything you need at the ready, because once the bath begins, you'll have your hands full of wet, unhappy cat. And trust us — she won't sit and stay while you go for the shampoo. Instead, your cat may use every weapon at her disposal to evade capture and cleaning. So before you bring her to the sink or tub, make sure you have your bathing arsenal ready.

This might also be an ideal time to trim your cat's nails. If you're new to cat nail trimming, check out this quick video that will walk you through the process:

Cat Bathing Supplies

Here's what you need to have ready before you start bathing your cat:

  • Non-drying shampoo formulated for cats
  • A tub or sink
  • Mineral oil, to protect your cat's eyes from shampoo*
  • A cotton ball*
  • Cat comb or brush
  • Non-breakable cup or pitcher
  • Washcloth
  • Thermometer*
  • Towel
  • Hair dryer*
  • You may also want to consider some protection for your forearms and hands… Welder's gloves come to mind*

*Optional items

A quick note about shampoo: Every species has a specific pH level, which is why there are shampoos specially formulated for cats. Using shampoo formulated for humans, dogs, or other animals can irritate your cat's skin — and frankly, your cat will likely be irritated enough by the bath itself. If you are bathing a kitten, be sure that your cat shampoo is safe for kittens, too.

How to Give Your Cat a Bath

Before you get started, have you trimmed your cat's nails recently? Last chance! OK, let's go.

  1. Place a rubber mat or towel in the bottom of your sink or tub to give your cat some traction during the bath. (This is a much less painful option than having her use your arms.) Then, very nonchalantly, find your cat, pick her up and bring her to the bathing location. Offer her a treat to distract her from the fact that she is now going to get wet.
  2. Prepare your cat for her bath by combing or brushing her. If she's a longhair, make sure you carefully remove any mats in her coat, since water will just make them worse. As an optional step — and if your cat lets you — place half of a cotton ball in each of her ears to keep water from getting in, and one drop of mineral oil in each eye to protect them from shampoo. Now you're ready to run the water, and the REAL fun begins.
  3. Run the water and make sure it's warm. About 102º is ideal, because that's your cat's body temperature. Then, using a spray hose, cup, or pitcher, gently pour the water over your cat's body, avoiding her head. Ignoring her threatening growls, continuously apologize to her in a soft voice, asking her not to take revenge on your curtains.
  4. Once your cat is wet, apply the shampoo and massage it in gently. You'll have to work fast — once your cat's coat is lathered, she is virtually unstoppable during an escape. And she knows this. If you need to clean her face, use a washcloth to gently wipe the area.
  5. Next, rinse your cat with warm water, again avoiding her head. Be sure to rinse thoroughly — shampoo left in your cat's fur can contribute to skin allergies, or be ingested when she grooms herself.
  6. Finally, remove the cotton from your cat's ears and gently dry her by stroking her fur with a towel. If she's willing, try wrapping her in the towel with just her head sticking out. After toweling mostly dry, some very well-adjusted cats may even enjoy a quick blow dry with a hairdryer on the lowest setting.

At this point, many cats will simply run off and find a place to hide, groom themselves, and plot their revenge while they dry. If your cat doesn't leave, make a peace offering immediately — a favorite treat usually helps. Also, make sure your house is warm and free from drafts until your cat is completely dry. And of course, watch your back, at least until you can be sure she has fully recovered her dignity.

Want to learn more about our fascinating feline friends and how to care for them? Check out Cat Chow’s Catipedia website!

References:
 Brunner D. The Cat Owner's Manual. 2004: 132-5.
 Shojai A. The Purina Encyclopedia of Cat Care. 1998: 191, 197-200.
 Robins S. Cat Fancy, "7 Steps to Bathing a Cat." Oct 2013: 24-25.
 Robins S. Kittens 101, "Beauty Basics." 2015 Annual, Vol. 18: 79.