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How to Give a Cat a Bath (Without Getting Scratched): Expert Tips & Tricks

british shorthair cat taking a bath
Image Credit; Zulkarnieiev Denis, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 24, 2023 by Catster Editorial Team

If you have owned a lot of cats, you know how much they hate water. If you are a new pet owner, you are likely in for a big surprise when you attempt to give your cat its first bath. No matter how cute and cuddly they are, you will receive the full force of their nails and claws when you put them in water, and they can quickly shred your skin to pieces, leaving you bleeding and in pain before you even get them in the water.

If you need to bathe your cat, keep reading while we provide you with a step-by-step guide that will not lead to injury for either of face divider 2

How to Give a Cat a Bath in 9 Easy Steps

If you have determined you need to bathe your cat, then these are the steps we recommend you take to do it.

1. Secure Your Cat

Before you tip off your cat that you intend to bathe it, we recommend securing the cat with a harness. A harness is a great way to control your cat’s movements without having to touch it. It also makes it easier to catch the cat if it should start running. Avoid the harnesses with chest padding for baths, especially if you are bathing to remove fleas, as it will be hard to clean the area behind the pad.

2. Choose A Spot And Method

In our experience, we found that cats do the best using a spraying showerhead attachment. It doesn’t require filling a basin with water and tends to scare the cat less. If the showerhead attachment is not an option, you will need to choose the tub, sink, or basin to give them a bath. The tub is probably best for full-grown cats, but you may find one of your sinks or a shallow plastic basin easier when bathing a kitten.

cat having a shower
Image Credit: Olleg, Shutterstock

3. Gather Your Supplies

You will need plenty of towels to clean up any water the cat knocks out of the bath. You will also need a towel to dry them off and another to wrap them up when they are finished. Have your shampoo ready, and you may also choose to use rubber gloves to protect yourself from scratches. In our experience, the gloves tend to scare the cat more, but they are helpful to minimize injury, especially if you haven’t given many baths before. If you are using gloves, get the kind that goes up to the elbow for maximum protection.

4.  Fill the Basin

If you use a tub, sink, or basin, fill it with warm water to get it ready. You want it to be warm to the touch like you would create for a baby.

5. Place The Cat In The Basin

Gently put your cat in the water, and moving quickly but calmly and gently, get the fur wet with the clean water, or use the shower attachment to rinse them. Keep them in place with the harness instead of your hands to minimize injury to yourself. A second person will be helpful here.

6. Apply Shampoo

Continuing to move quickly and apply the shampoo to your cat’s body and head but be careful not to get any in their eyes.

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats? What You Must Know! Cats are equipped with all the tools they need to bathe and clean themselves, but there may be times when your cat needs some assistance, possibly after they have walked through or played in something particularly dirty. Besides the fact that your cat will probably hate the experience of being bathed, it is important to remember that regular bathing can cause more harm than good, so it should be reserved solely for emergencies. With that said, there is a good chance that you won’t have cat shampoo laying around in the cupboard. So, can you use human shampoo on your cats? Is it safe? The quick answer is no, you shouldn’t use human shampoo on your cats. We’ll tell you more below. Should You Bathe Your Cat? Your cat has a rough tongue and powerful teeth. He has the tools he requires to effectively keep himself clean most of the time. This is especially true of short-haired cats. As such, it is rare that you will even consider bathing your cats. However, it is also true that cats are incredibly inquisitive. Some might say nosey. They want to investigate every portion of every room. They want to know what you keep grabbing out of the cupboard, and what it is that has such a strong smell in the back of the shed. They rub against things, roll in liquids and substances you don’t want them to, and have a seemingly endless list of ways in which they can cause mischief and end up caked in mud and other nasties. There may, then, be occasion when you feel it is necessary to bathe your cat. Occasional bathing is fine. The same natural oils that help protect your cat’s coat from everyday dirt and grime will recover after a bath. Frequent bathing, though, can strip these oils from the fur. This will leave your cat with dry fur. It can also lead to dry skin, rashes, and other problems that not only leave their fur lacking luster but may actually cause them harm. So, you can bathe your cat, but you should only do so when it is absolutely necessary. If you have ever had to bathe a cat, you likely won’t want to repeat the process too often. It tends to result in a lot of soapy water everywhere except on the cat, and a terrified and angry cat warning you off. It’s a lot of water, claws, and hissing, but not a lot of cleaning. You should make the process quick, be confident, and you should have everything ready before you even consider turning the tap on. Should You Use Human Shampoo? Even the most delicate human shampoo contains chemicals and other ingredients that are harmful to your cat. A lot of shampoos contain perfumes and even essential oils, both of which can prove toxic to your cat. The ingredients are effectively absorbed through the cat’s skin and broken down by the liver, but a cat’s liver is not the same as a human’s and it is not as effective at breaking down the chemicals that are found in human shampoo. Therefore, it is safest to use a shampoo specially designed for cats. Using Specialist Cat Shampoo It is worth having a bottle of cat shampoo in the cupboard, ready for any mud-based emergency. These shampoos are formulated especially for use on cats. They have the right pH balance, so are not usually as acidic as human shampoo, and they do not contain the same essential oils and perfumes as are used in our own shampoo. Cat shampoo won’t dry out your cat’s fur or skin as readily. It will contain some natural odor that will help get rid of the smell of dirt and muck, but it uses natural ingredients that are not damaging to your cat. Is Human Shampoo Safe For Cats? Some human shampoo may prove relatively safe for cats, but the majority of ingredients found in human shampoo can prove dangerous for your filthy feline. Stick to cat shampoo, only bathe when necessary, and be prepared before you grab the cat because the process is likely to get a bit scratchy.
Image Credit: Olleg, Shutterstock

7. Rinse

Once the shampoo is applied and has created a lather, gently rinse it from your cat’s body with the sprayer or a small cup. Make sure you’ve removed all of the soap before lifting the cat out of the water.

8. Towel Dry

Use a clean towel to dry off your cat the best you can. Once again, the harness is the best way to keep the cat in place while you work. Once you get most of the water off, you can wrap them in another dry towel and carry the cat as long as it will allow absorbing more moisture.

wet gray tabby cute kitten after bath_KDdesignphoto_shutterstock
Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Pixabay

9. Air Dry

Once the cat is tired of being carried, you can let it down and remove the leash. It will probably run off to groom itself and will return in an hour looking for a treat. It probably deserves one, and so do you.3 cat face divider

How Often Should I Bathe My Cat?

If you asked your cat how often you should bathe it, it would likely say never, and it may surprise you to find out that we technically agree. Despite the huge mess they like to create around the litter box, cats are extremely clean animals that meticulously bathe themselves for a good portion of the short time they are awake each day. In fact, when a cat doesn’t groom itself it is often the sign of a health problem, and you should take it to the vet and have it checked out. We recommend bathing a healthy cat rarely, if ever.

wet gray tabby cute kitten after bath wrapped in green towel_KDdesignphoto_shutterstock
Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Pixabay

Why Would I Have To Bathe My Cat?

  • Fleas: You might be surprised to find out that even indoor cats can get fleas. It’s rare, but fleas can jump on your clothing while you are out for a walk and wind up on your cat when you come back home. Outside cats will get fleas frequently, and it will be a constant concern for the life of your cat. If your cat is an outside cat, we recommend a complete medicine like Frontline to help with the fleas because it’s much more efficient, and it also takes care of heartworm that occurs in outdoor cats and can be deadly. If you have fleas on an indoor cat, you can probably take care of them with a flea shampoo, which will require bathing your cat.
  • Hairless Cats:  The Sphinx, Peterbald, Donskoy, Bambino, and other hairless cat breeds have oil on their skin that you will need to wash off regularly. These oils would normally coat the hair as it grew, and the cat would groom it away, but in the case of these cats, it creates a buildup on the skin. These oils will then rub off on your furniture and clothing as the cat moves, and it will also begin to smell. To keep hairless cats clean, you will need to bathe them every week with a sensitive, natural shampoo. There are plenty of brands available, and you may need to try a few to find one you both like.
  • Skunk: If your cat confronted a skunk, it likely needs a bath. You’ve no doubt heard dozens of methods to get the smell off your pet, from baking powder to tomato juice, but they will all require putting your cat in the tub. We recommend a good shampoo with a sprinkling of baking powder because tomato juice can get quite messy, especially with a cat.
  • Other Reasons: Your cat might also walk-through mud, chemicals, paint, or some other substance that they can’t clean off themselves or you don’t want them to. In this case, you will need to bathe them to get them clean.

Extra Tips

  • If you intend to bathe the cat regularly, start when they are just a kitten, and they will consider it a regular part of their routine.
  • Bathe kittens after a long play session.
  • Bathe older cats after an afternoon catnap.
  • Never use human shampoo.
  • Calming pheromones can help some cats.
  • Use a helper to hold the harness.

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Bathing your cat will be a memorable experience for both you and your cat, but with the cat harness and shower attachment, it can go a lot better than with a tub full of water and rubber gloves. Some cats don’t mind taking a bath, and if you do it every few months from birth, they may become used to it. However, most cats never need a bath, so there is no sense putting you both through it unless it’s absolutely necessary. In that case, move quickly and use this guide.

We hope you have enjoyed reading and feel more comfortable about this seemingly impossible task. If you know other cat owners that might help, please share this guide to bathing your cat without getting scratched on Facebook and Twitter.

See also:

Featured Image Credit; Zulkarnieiev Denis, Shutterstock

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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