Tips to Bathe your Cat Successfully!

Orange & White tabby cat cryng in the bathtub soaking wet

I want to share a few tips to bathe your cat.  Cats have a reputation for hating everything involved with water!  This is true of most cats, however, you may have one of the few that loves water and plays with the faucet or meets you in the bathroom as you shower.  Even if they do all these things, it doesn’t mean that holding them underwater won’t be difficult.  Cats do things on their own terms.  Duh, it’s still a cat.

Cats need to feel in control

Your first issue is you need to acknowledge that you are asking a cat to do something they don’t want to do.  Cats want to be in charge.  Most of them have a control problem.  They resent the fact that you are forcing them into the bathtub and pouring water on them.  Even the ones that may enjoy a good bath, will put up a fight just for the fact that it was not their choice at the moment.  So remember to give your cat as much leeway as you can in acclimating to its situation.  This means allowing them to walk and sniff around the bathroom prior to the plunge in the tub and also allow them to walk around the tub as much as is possible while still keeping them under control.  Be Careful!  Their walk around the tub is really just a ploy for you to let down your guard long enough for them to escape.  Also – it’s a good idea to clip their nails a day or so before the intended water plunge.  My cats flip out with nail clips so you don’t want to do both on the same day and make their day even worse.

Essentials before you start

Make sure you have all supplies ready before you bring the cat into the bathroom.  You should collect:

Supplies to bath your cat







Cat or Kitten Shampoo


A cup for pouring over your cat – small to medium in size compared to the size of the cat.

Multiple towels for drying the cat.

A cage to keep them in after you dry them – as you will keep the bathroom warmer than the rest of your house.

A space heater to keep the bathroom warm.


Fill the Tub

Make sure that you draw the bath before you place the cat in the bathroom.  Running water is usually too noisy and scares them out of their minds.  No need to make things worse before you start.  Test the water often.  Make sure the temperature is warm but not hot.  Hot water dries out their skin and produces more flakes and dander.  The bath water should be warmer than when you intend to bathe your cat.  There is a bit of time involved in retrieving your cat from another room and also in allowing the cat to check out the bathroom before his/her bath.  Give him/her a few minutes to walk around the bathroom and chill.   Most cats will be cautious but curious.  Fill the tub so that when your cat stands in the center of the tub, they have all 4 paws in the water and the water level is halfway up their legs.  Don’t worry, you will get better at this the more times that you bathe your cat.

Torti cat sitting on the toilet

Into the Tub

Remove any items sitting on the edge of the tub beside what you will need for this cat bath.  Your cat may try and grab or push all your items into the tub in its desire to vacate the water.

When you are ready to place your cat in the tub, pick him/her up and talk soothingly to them.  Reassure them they will be OK.  Continue this thru their entire experience.  Place them in the water- all 4 feet at first.  Just let them stand there.  Some will buck and jump and all-out flip out.  Make sure to push them down gently to be standing on all 4 paws in the water.  Pet them with your dry hand and try to calm them down.

Wetting your cat

Once they have calmed down to a degree, you can use the cup to pour water over their bodies.  Do not pour water over their heads.  This will freak them out and probably ruin the bath.  I leave the head and ears until last.  And I usually forgo the head unless there is something that needs attention on their head, like a smell, a wound or dirt.  Don’t forget to get their stomachs wet.  I usually accomplish this by holding them up with one hand, so they are standing only on their back feet and I can pour the cup of water down their chest and I slosh some standing water up over their lower stomach.


Next, put a small amount of shampoo in the palm of your hand.  Lather up the back and work your way down the sides of the cat and down to their paws.  Less is more.  Add more if you need to but do it in small increments so that one large glob of shampoo is not deposited on his/her back.  Everything that you put onto the cat needs to be washed out before the bath is complete.

Give some freedom

Always keep one hand on the cat at all times.  Allow them to walk around the tub if they need too.  I have some cats that walk along the back edge and try and squeeze thru myself and the front or back of the tub as a way to escape.  This gives him an opportunity to think he’s accomplishing something in his single-minded desire to escape the tub.  Some cats just stand there and take it all in, but cry constantly.  One of my cats, Nomay, I call affectionately my Mexican jumping bean because she tries to jump her way out of the tub each second she is in there.  It makes for a difficult bath – which I guess is her point.  Some cats will settle down until they feel you relax your grip and then they try to make their escape.  Make sure you have the bathroom door closed for any escapees.  It’s better to have a wet cat running around the bathroom, instead of the entire house.


After the cat is fully lathered up, use the cup to rinse off the shampoo you just applied.  Make sure that all the soap comes out.  Take your hand and move it over the fur, to make sure that all the suds are removed.  If any soap is left in the fur, it will irritate the skin and cause additional flaky skin.  This is counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish with the bath.

The Head

I would avoid dumping water over the cat’s head unless absolutely necessary.  Take the washcloth and dunk it in your sudsy water and wash the cat’s face and ears gently.  Make sure that you keep the shampoo suds clear of the cat’s eyes.  This is another reason not to dump water on your cat’s head.  Water will flow in every direction on its head.  We want to keep the eyes clear of suds.  Working on the head will most likely be the last straw for your cat.  Again, make sure all the suds are out of the fur before attempting the head.

Prepare for drying

Prepare your first towel before putting the cat in the bathtub.  Have a full towel within reach of the bathtub.  While still holding the cat in the tub with one hand, open the towel and place flat on the floor or your lap.  Pick up your cat and hold in the air over the tub.  If you can squeeze out any excess water before placing the cat on the towel in your lap, do so, but this will depend on how much your cat squirms and how heavy they are.  I can’t remove any access water from my 20 lb, Alex because it takes both hands just to hold him up.  If you can’t squeeze excess water out, just let the cat drip for 30 seconds.


Wrap the cat in the towel like a burrito and hold him/her there for a few minutes.  This will allow the towel to absorb some of the wet fur and for the cat to breathe a sigh of relief.  Most of mine do not try and get away but relish in the fact that the bath is over.  Once the cat feels safe again, it will squirm to get away.  Allow the cat to stand up and walk around the room.  Follow them with a dry towel and dry them while they walk around.  This can be accomplished by placing the towel on either side of their bodies and rubbing.  Cats dislike this, so you can only get 3-5 rubs in before they are plenty mad.  But each cat is different.  Usually, those that tolerate the bath hate the drying and vice versa.

Place in cage

Hopefully, these two drying steps will dry them enough so that they are not ‘dripping’ wet anymore.   Place them in a wire crate in your bathroom.  This limits the area that you need to clean up and also keeps them from picking up any stray dirt they will find when trying to hide from you in the bathroom.  Pump up the heat in your bathroom.  A space heater can accomplish this if you don’t have individual controls for your bathroom.  Keep them contained for an hour or until their fur is just damp.

3 kittens drying in a cage after their baths

Self Drying

Your cat will begin his/her cleaning of themselves almost immediately.  While this may seem counterproductive to remove the dander from their fur, they are only placing one layer on it, while you bathed off a month’s worth of layers. This also helps dry them.  They will spend almost all their time in the cage, licking their entire body until they are satisfied with their work.

Different fur

Each cat will dry differently.  My Alex has a double coat which is very thick.  I keep him in the cage until he is just damp.  My Gabe used to be the first one dried.  He has very thin fur.  Just a few towel drys would work on him, however, he hated the drying more than the bath, so he would just dry him in the cage.

My best bath taker

My baby Ham, is the best bath-taker of all the cats I have ever had, including my personal cats and all my fosters.  She stands in the bathtub and doesn’t move.  She expresses her displeasure with loud piercing cries, but I can remove both my hands and go grab something and she will remain where she is.  Please don’t expect that from your cat.  But the more often you bathe your cat, the better they will take it.  Don’t be discouraged by your first try.  It takes practice for you and your cat.

Start early with kittens

If you are allergic and decide to live with cats, I recommend bathing your kitten once a month just so they get used to a bath.  Also, kittens are much easier to handle in a bathtub.  And as the kitten grows and you gain more experience, baths will become easier.


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