Alas, the unthinkable has happened: your cat has decided to roll around in poop, splash around in a mud puddle or get on the wrong side of a skunk. He needs a bath, pronto — but how do you bathe a cat without ending up in a bloodbath?
Few cats enjoy bathtime, but with the right techniques and a lot of patience, you can make it more tolerable for your filthy feline. And, yes, it can be done without you getting scratched to bits!
Follow our step-by-step guide to bathe your cat without the pain, struggle and dread we all associate with feline bathtime.
The Best Way to Bathe Your Cat
Before Beginning: Try to Prepare in Advance
A bit of routine grooming and a healthy dose of good vibes will go a long way towards making your cat’s bathtime easier when the need arises.
Keeping your cat’s claws trimmed to a reasonable length will protect you from his wrath when he sees that basin of water. You can purchase kitty nail clippers from a pet store or, if you’d prefer to leave it to the professionals, visit a vet or groomer to get the job done.
Brush your cat to get him used to your touch on various parts of his body and to remove any loose fur, dirt, debris or tangles that make bathing harder.
Of course, if your cat gets into something stinky and needs an immediate bath, you can’t really prepare in advance. But if his bath isn’t urgent, taking a few days to prepare for the big event will make him — and you— more comfortable.
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Step 1: Assemble Your Tools
You’ll need several items to bathe your cat: a brush, shampoo, towels and a cup or small watering can (for rinsing your cat).
Keep your tools within reach so you can focus on the bath.
Step 2: Fill the Tub
Fill your bathtub with 3-5 inches of warm (not hot) water. You’ll want to get the water close to 102 degrees F — a cat’s body temperature — to prevent chills and burns.
If you don’t have a bathtub, you can use a large, shallow basin, your kitchen sink or even a kiddie pool.
Step 3: Calm Your Cat — and Yourself
Cats pick up on human moods extremely well, so if you’re nervous about bathtime, your cat will be, too. So take a few deep breaths and spend a few minutes enjoying some calm, pleasant time with your cat.
Now is a great time for the pre-bath brushing, which many cats find soothing. Get his fur nice and smooth and talk to him sweetly while doing so.
If you have a feline pheromone diffuser like Feliway, you can activate it now for an even bigger relaxation boost.
And if he’ll allow you to, gently place a cotton ball in each of his ears to keep water out of them.
The secret here is to fake it ’til you make it: if you act like everything will be just fine, you’ll convince your cat of it, too.
Step 4: Take the Plunge
Now for the most dreaded part of the process: getting your cat into the tub.
Carry your cat into the bathroom and close the door behind you. Then gently lower your cat into the water.
There will likely be a struggle, but stay calm and don’t fight your cat. If he’s squirming so much that you can’t get him into the water, you may need to try another day.
Your cat may not want to have all four feet in the water. If that’s the case, let him stand with two feet on the edge of the tub, ideally facing the wall, and hold him in place.
Once your cat is in the water, a firm but gentle grip will usually keep him still enough to bathe him. If not, you can try putting him in a harness, which allows you to get a good grip on your cat without hurting him.
Step 5: Lather Up and Rinse
Forceful running water from a faucet or showerhead is likely to scare your cat, so use a cup or small watering can instead. Fill the cup or can and pour the water gently over your cat’s body, avoiding his face and ears.
Shampoo your cat with a gentle rubbing motion in the direction of fur growth. Act like you’re petting him to make him feel more secure and avoid going against the grain of his hair.
Then fill the cup or watering can again and rinse the shampoo off thoroughly. You’re done when the water runs clear off your cat.
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Step 6: Dry Your Cat Off
The hardest part is over! All that’s left to do is dry your cat off.
Lay a towel out on the floor, lift your cat out of the tub and place him on the towel. With another towel, blot the water from his fur.
Once he’s no longer dripping wet, quickly wrap the towel he’s sitting on around him to swaddle him. Dry him off by massaging his body through the towel.
If he’ll tolerate it, you can also dry your cat off with a hair dryer set to “warm” (never hot!) and a brush or comb.
Finally, give your cat a couple of treats — he earned them!
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett