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How to bathe a cat - step by step

How to bathe a cat - step by step

Cats are excellent at self-grooming, and they come equipped with all the tools they need to keep themselves in perfect condition. But according to Dr. Amy Onderdonk, DVM, there are a few good reasons to bathe your cat occasionally. 

At some point, your cat might get into a mess that they can't groom their way out of, and only a good soak will do the trick. A regular deep clean can also reduce shedding and the spread of allergens. "Most cats do not need bathing, but there are exceptions," explains Dr. Onderdonk. "For example, hairless cats] tend to overproduce sebum and need routine baths. And on rare occasions, we recommend bathing cats with dermatologic skin conditions with medicated shampoos, but not very often because cats famously dislike water. There are also people who are allergic to cats who bathe their pets weekly to reduce the dander on their coat." Make sure to speak to your vet for recommendations if you’re unsure on which products to use.

If you ever need to bathe your cat, here are some valuable things to consider.

First, know that not all cats hate water

If you've never bathed a cat before, don't overthink it. In some ways, washing a cat can be easier than cleaning a dog, mainly because they tend to be smaller and easier to contain. If you regularly bathe them, they will grow more comfortable with the process as they mature.

"It's a rare cat who will take to bathing readily unless started early and gradually, but some cats love water!" says Dr. Onderdonk. "I had a client send me a video of her cat swimming in the bathtub. Because she started bathing him as a kitten, he grew to love the water, and she allows him to do laps in her tub. Other cats are less interested in being immersed in the bathtub but are intrigued by moving water in the shower or dripping from the faucet. There is minimal risk involved in allowing a cat to play in water, but you would always want to start out with just a small amount of water in the tub and supervise." 

What you'll need

Not much. Just a moisturising pet shampoo, flannel, and towel. Again, chat to an expert about what products are safe. A sink is preferable to a bathtub, and a sprayer attachment will make things easier, but you can also use a cup to pour water over your cat. An extra pair of hands is most helpful so aim to find a friend or family member to help you hold them so they can't escape halfway through.

Run the 'bath'

Fill the sink with a few inches of warm water and lay a towel down at the bottom, so your cat doesn't slip around. Gently place your cat into the sink and wet their coat using the sprayer or cup. Always keep at least one hand on your cat. They may yowl initially but don't give in. "The biggest safety measure is to protect yourself from getting scratched or bitten - some cats will redirect their fear and panic to their owners. Gloves and a long-sleeved shirt may provide protection. And simply starting out slow and gently (and using tasty treats) may help them get used to the process." Says Dr. Onderdonk. 

Lather and rinse

Squeeze a small amount of shampoo onto your cat's coat and massage it in. Work up a good lather, washing all over, including the cat's belly and under their tail. Use a flannel for their head to avoid getting water in their ears, then rinse thoroughly.


Blot as much water as you can off your cat. Don't rub the towel around, especially if you have a long-haired cat, as that will tangle the hair . Wipe in the direction the hair grows, applying gentle pressure to soak up the moisture. Once most of the water has been wiped off, allow your cat to continue to dry and groom themselves .

"Pay attention to the effects that bathing or playing in water has on the individual cat," says Dr. Onderdonk. "If bathing creates dry, irritated skin, you'd want to cut back on it. And if getting water in the ears leads to ear infections, that's another good reason to discontinue bathing."

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Written by:
Jackie Brown
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