Cats usually do an excellent job of grooming themselves, so you won’t really need to worry about giving them a bath very often. However, when the time comes, these tips on how to bathe a cat can be a lifesaver. The goal is to get in there, get your cat bathed and get them out as quickly as possible. Some cats are terrified of water, which can cause them to lash out at their owners, scratching and clawing to get out of the tub. But by following the tips I’ve included here in this article, you can put together a bathing routine that will help you quickly and thoroughly bathe your cat, so you can make it through the situation without a scratch on you.

gray cat done with shower

Does a Cat Need to Be Bathed?

Most breeds of cats don’t need to be bathed. Cats often do an excellent job of cleaning themselves, thanks to their rough tongue, which is covered with tiny barbs that are curved. These curved barbs are called papillae and they transfer saliva across their fur. Each lap will spread the natural oils in their hair evenly across the skin and coat. These little barbs also help naturally detangle the fur. This is why you’ll often see a cat biting and licking at clumps of fur. However, there will be times when people need to step in and give their cats baths to remove dirt, debris, fleas, or if their feline has an accident.

Use the Best Cat Brush for Long-Haired Cats

Brushing your cat should be done daily, if you have a cat with long hair. These coats are very susceptible to tangles and large mats. For this task, you’ll need to find the best cat brush for long-haired cats. These brushes are specifically designed to help detangle or de-mat a thick, long-haired coat, and they can prevent these issues from happening in the future.

Grooming Needs

On average, a kitty spends approximately thirty percent of their time grooming, however, cats with thicker or longer coats will need help from their owners to keep their hair detangled and free from mats. Additionally, pet experts claim that it’s much more important to focus on grooming your cat than bathing them. In my experience, brushing a cat regularly can help reveal any skin issues a cat may have, can keep the skin and coat healthy, and can make bath times much easier. Not all cats need to be brushed, such as shorthair tabbies, but doing so can be very relaxing for your cat and can also help remove dirt and debris. Regular brushing can also prevent hairballs and can reduce the amount of hair you find on your clothing and furniture. Long-haired cats should be brushed daily, while short-haired cats will only need a good brushing once a week. If you’re not sure about your cat’s grooming needs, speak with your veterinarian.

Reasons to Bathe Your Cat

Not all cats need to be bathed often, or at all, since most are such excellent groomers. However, there are exceptions. Below, you’ll find the most common reasons vets recommend bathing a cat.

Harmful Chemicals

As I mentioned earlier, most cats don’t require baths frequently. Typically, a cat will only need to be bathed if he or she has gotten into something she can’t ingest, such as paint, gasoline, antifreeze, oil, or if the cat is older and incontinent. Basically, if anything gets on a cat’s fur that can be considered harmful, it must be washed off ASAP. You should also remove any harsh chemicals or anything that could be toxic to cats, from the house.

Skin Conditions

Another reason a cat may need to be bathed frequently is due to ongoing skin issues.

Some cats can develop dry skin, yeast, or other conditions that can be soothed by a bath. If you leave the heat on around the clock, the air in the house can become very dry, and can impact skin health.

If your cat has other skin issues, a vet may also recommend a special soap for cats with ringworm, flea allergies, or seborrhea.


Cats who are obese or seniors with arthritis may also benefit from baths. There will be times when an obese kitty will not always be able to groom themselves well or they may have trouble reaching certain areas. While cats tend to hate water, they  hate being dirty even more. A senior kitty may be more tolerant of a bath than a young adult.

Mat Control

Many types of long-haired breeds, such as Himalayans, Persians, and Maine coons, can benefit from baths once every month. This is done to help prevent mats or to loosen up any existing mats. Shorthair cats that have dense coats may also need a bath, occasionally. If the cat has a coat that’s severely matted, you may need to take them to the groomers. Groomers have experience with cutting out mats. They may even need to shave the cat if the mats are painful. Contact local groomers in your area. Some will make house calls, which can minimize a cat’s stress and anxiety.

Breed Needs: Tuxedo Cat Vs. Sphynx

bathing a cat

The Sphynx, a hairless breed, usually requires more baths than furred cats because they have an oily residue that can get on the furniture and other fabrics, while a tuxedo cat, which has a short, dense coat, may only need a bath once every few months.

Some pet experts recommend using unscented baby wipes for Sphynx cats, if the owner does not want to bathe them weekly.

If you’re not sure if your breed of cat will benefit from a bath regularly, contact your vet to learn more about your cat’s specific grooming and general care needs.

Pet Accidents

Your cat may have a litter box accident or diarrhea. Older cats often have feces matted in their fur, especially if they have a long coat and don’t stay on top of self care. In some circumstances, you can wipe the cat down with baby wipes. For larger messes, you’ll need to give your cat a bath. Additionally, a kitten under eight weeks of age may need a bath if they don’t have mom around to help clean their fur.

Bathing Cats Who Hate Water

As a cat mom, you know how much cats hate water. As a pet owner, you’ve probably experienced firsthand how chaotic it can be to try to bathe a cat. There are very few domesticated cats that enjoy a nice hot bath.

There are several theories surrounding why cats hate water. One of the most popular theories is that cats despise getting their fur wet since a wet coat weighs them down. Another theory is that water negatively impacts a cat’s natural odor. Whatever the reason behind why a cat hates taking a bath, it’ll still need to get done if they’ve had an accident, they’ve stopped grooming, or they got too dirty during playtime.

Start Early

The best way to get a cat to tolerate a bath is to begin bathing them as soon as you bring them home. Cat owners that have a kitten should bathe them regularly, so they become used to bath time. A bath once a month, starting at an early age, can make it easier to bathe your cat as an adult and senior.

If you find yourself in a position where you have to give your adult cat a bath and they hate water, follow the tips I’ve included below. Many of these tips are designed to help you bathe your cat quickly and easily.

Sign it’s the Right Time

The first step is choosing the right time. With felines, timing is everything.

Pick a time after a kitty has played or eaten, so they’re more likely to be mellow.

If your cat tolerates having their claws trimmed, try to trim his or her nails before you bathe your cat. If possible, file down the ends to help dull them.

Avoid bathing your cat if you see any sign of aggression or irritability and try again the next day.

Preparing to Give Your Cat a Bath: Gather Supplies

preparing to bathe a cat

You can use the bathroom sink or the shower for bath time.

Place all of the cat’s bathing supplies within easy reach, such as their shampoo, towels, hair dryer if needed, and everything else you need, such as grooming tools. This can also include a cat’s favorite treats.

Make sure the products you use are specifically designed for cats and don’t contain harsh ingredients. There are several brands to choose from that are gentle on a cat’s fur. You can find many types of pet shampoo at your local pet store. The staff at pet stores can also help you choose bathing products, whether you have an adult cat, senior, or a kitten.

Never use a human shampoo instead of a cat shampoo under any circumstances. Shampoo for cat’s is specifically designed for their coat’s pH level.

After you have the right products and tools on hand, ask a family member to help with the bath. With two people, you can get a bath done in no time. One person can hold the cat while the other person applies the shampoo, massages it in, then rinses it out.

How to Bathe a Cat

Before you bathe your cat, try to think of ways to minimize the use of running water and turn off the shower head as soon as possible. The sound of running water often causes a kitty to start panicking.

Another option is to use the sink instead of the bathtub. The smaller size may make a cat feel less frightened. You can fill the sink up with just a few inches with warm water.

Have a friend place the cat in the sink as they continue to hold onto him or her.

Use a cup to gently pour water over the cat’s back and wet down all areas of the body.

Give your cat a treat or favorite food for not bolting out of the bath.

Lather Up

The next step is lathering up the shampoo. Use adult or kitten shampoo, depending on the cat’s age. Make sure you follow the cleaning product’s instructions and allow the shampoo to stay on your kitty for the recommended length of time.

Drain the water and slowly fill it back up with clean water as your friend continues to hold onto the cat. This last step is tricky, since, as I mentioned, felines are scared of the sound of running water. Give your cat a towel to keep warm as the water drains in the sink or tub.

Gently rinse off your kitty, using the cup to slowly pour water all over the body.

Once the shampoo has been rinsed out, towel dry the fur as much as possible. Use a comb or brush specifically designed for cats and brush out their fur. This step is especially important if a cat has mats, or you want to prevent future mats. This step will also help get rid of any trapped debris and loose fur that didn’t come out during the bath.

And that’s it. Your cat is now clean, damp, and may not be in the best mood, but you both made it out of there alive and unscathed.

Other Cat Bathing Tips

cat ready to take a bath

  • Before you bathe your cat, make sure you have all of your bathing supplies on hand before you get started. This includes brushes, combs, shampoo, detangler products, and towels.
  • Check the water temperature before putting your cat in the tub.
  • Make sure you thoroughly rinse out the shampoo, otherwise, soap residue can get trapped in the fur, which can lead to itching and skin issues.
  • Use a warm washcloth to wash the cat’s face. Avoid using soap on the face and around the eyes.
  • Even if your kitty doesn’t usually mind the bathing experience, there will be many times when a cat just doesn’t feel like it and may struggle or fight once it’s time. At that point, leave the cat alone and try again another day.
  • Take special care to avoid getting any water in the cat’s ears.
  • Speak to your cat in a soothing voice during the bathing process.
  • Wrap your cat up in a towel and go to a draft-free, warm room to finish the towel drying process. Allow the cat to remain in this room until their coat is mostly dry, unless it’s hot outside.
  • The earlier a cat is introduced to the bathing process, the better. An older cat who has never been bathed before will be almost impossible to bathe.
  • If your kitty will not cooperate at all and turns very aggressive, don’t risk getting a serious injury. Take the cat to a professional groomer, or even your vet’s office. A vet can safely sedate a cat and bathe them.
  • If your cat is having frequent incontinent episodes, speak to their veterinarian about their condition. The veterinarian may request you schedule an appointment to determine the cause of the incontinence. In most cases, it’s an issue with an aging kitty. However, this can also indicate an underlying health problem.

Final Thoughts

When you learn how to bathe a cat properly, you can help avoid stressing your cat out, while preventing serious injuries to you, your helper, and your feline. Again, it’s important to introduce bathing at an early age. If you’ve recently adopted a cat, keep in mind, it is possible for some cats to learn how to tolerate baths, although most will continue to despise the process. However, if the cat is trying to scratch you, hisses, puffs up their tail and flattens their ears, or growls, this job is better left to the professionals. Use your best judgement here to avoid stressing out your cat and seek advice from your veterinarian if you feel that bathing your cat could result in injuries. With the information I’ve included in this article, people can safely bathe their feline at home, and make baths less stressful for their cat.