How to Bathe Your Cat

Have a plan in case you ever need to clean up Kitty.

Do cats really hate water? You may not think so when your cat chases a drip from the kitchen faucet. But try giving your feline a bath and youll likely find out your cats true opinion of water.


When Your Cat Needs A Bath
One reason cats need baths is that they dont always groom themselves thoroughly. This is especially true of long-haired breeds that can develop matted fur. Another problem with long-haired cats, such as Persians, is that feces can get stuck on the long hair of the cats backside, making a terrible mess that the cat cannot, unfortunately, remove himself. The result is a smelly, dirty cat…that needs a bath. Even short-haired cats occasionally get themselves dirty, greasy, or just plain smelly, especially if theyre obese and simply cant reach the parts that require cleaning.

Get Prepared
The first thing you need to do is to trim your cats nails, says Marie Heffron, a groomer with 23 years of experience.  When your cat feels the water, she will immediately try to leap out and grab anything possible – and you dont want that to be your arm.

What essential items do you need for the bath?  You should have a couple of towels, a coarse metal comb for removing dirt (or feces) from matted fur, if necessary, and a brush or comb for your cats fur after the bath. Water in the sink or tub should be lukewarm.  Make sure you test it with your arm, says Heffron, who works at Four Paws Pet Grooming in Manlius, New York.

As for shampoo, Heffron recommends buying some pet shampoo from your veterinarian or supply store.  But if you need to give your cat a bath right away, its actually better to use dish detergent than human shampoos, she says.  Dishwashing soap is safer if the cat swallows some of it, and it wont strip oils from the cats fur as much as regular shampoo does.  But in an emergency, using a small amount of human shampoo should be okay.

The Technique
Bathing a cat is ideally a two-person job. If you must go solo, then come up with a way that makes your cat feel as secure as possible, protects you from scratches and bites – and gets the job done.

Have everything ready before you take your cat in to have the bath. If youre using the bathroom sink, put a towel on the bottom so your cat cant slip, and partially fill the sink with water. (Another tip is to open the shampoo bottle beforehand.) Place the comb nearby to remove any dirty, matted fur. Wear clothes you dont mind getting soaked, and prepare to mop up the floor afterwards.

The whole point is that once you get your cat into the water, you want to get the job done as quickly and painlessly as possible. To prevent an escape, close the door as soon as you bring your cat into the bathroom.

Its important to know how to hold your cat when you bathe him. Of course, if you dont have a helper, you will need to be extra careful.  Grab the cat by the loose skin at the scruff of the neck, just as mother cats do with their kittens, says Heffron. This brings out a natural response; if you control the head, then you can control the rest of the cats body. Even so, expect some crying, yowling and wriggling.

If you only need to clean part of the cats body, such as the rear end, then wrap the cat in a thick, heavy towel and just expose that area. (Your veterinarian or groomer can clip the rear area if it poses a frequent cleanliness problem.) There are also cage-like devices you can buy in your pet-supply store that make bathing a little more manageable, says Heffron.

If you need to wash your cats face, you should use a washcloth. Never spray water in a cats face, says Heffron.  That will just terrify or anger the cat.

Post-Bath Care
After your cat has been bathed, immediately wrap him in a thick towel and just hold him there for a moment to calm him. After he starts to dry, gently comb out any knots, especially if he has long fur. 

Youll notice that your cat will take a long time to dry, especially if he has long or thick fur, says Heffron. Its a good idea to confine him to one area while he dries. Perhaps keep him in the bathroom with the door closed for a while, or in another room that doesnt have a lot of dirt and dust that he can gather onto his wet fur. You certainly wouldnt want to give your cat another bath so soon, would you?