How To Bathe Your Cat: Step-By-Step Guide and Effective Tips

One of the great things about cats is that they’re exceptionally clean creatures that can groom themselves, so you’ll rarely have to give them a bath. 

But when the situation calls for it, you might be unsure of how to make the process smooth and less stressful for both you and your kitty. 

In this article, we share a comprehensive guide on how to properly bathe your cat, as well as tips that all cat owners should take note of as informed by pet experts! 

We’d like to thank to following contributors for their valuable expertise and insights:

  • Ben Doyle, Owner of Pet Checkers,
  • Derrick Tolius, Founder of Simply Cat Care and
  • Matt Clayton, Founder and Chief Editor of Pet Hair Patrol.

  • *Disclaimer: All content published in this article is for general knowledge. It should not be deemed as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Please consult a vet for an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s health condition.

    Do you need to bathe your cat?

    Cat lying on chair and licking his paws

    Matt (Founder of Pet Hair Patrol) informs that cats generally don’t need to be bathed as frequently as dogs. They’re perfectly capable of keeping themselves clean with their special tongues and the amount of time they dedicate to self-grooming. 

    With that said, there are still certain situations where you might need to bathe your cat. 

    Length of coat

    Depending on the breed, your cat may have long, short or no fur at all. This greatly determines whether he’ll need a regular bath. 

    Long fur

    For breeds like Persians or Maine Coons that are longhaired, their fur may pick up more dirt and debris. Hence, it’s advisable to bathe them once every 2 months as  they might not be able to keep up with their own cleanliness. 

    Short fur

    If you have a cat with short fur, such as the British Shorthair, the good news is that they don’t usually need baths.  

    However, they should be bathed if they 
    • get very dirty or 
    • are on a veterinary prescription to eliminate any skin-inhabiting parasites. 

    No fur

    Hairless breeds will require baths at least once every 1 – 2 weeks as they lack fur to absorb excess body oils. Some breed examples include the Sphynx and the Bambino. 


    Old age might arrive with more mobility issues, so chances are your elderly cat may no longer be able to properly groom himself. 

    On the other hand, kittens will learn about self-grooming in their first few months. But you’ll need to bathe your kitty at least once a week if you get him before he starts grooming himself. 

    Health issues

    If you find that your cat has an unusual stench, there may be an underlying health problem. 

    Here are some common health issues that may inhibit them from self-grooming. Note that you shouldn’t rely fully on bathing to resolve the issue and should seek a vet’s professional guidance. 


    An obese cat may not be flexible enough to reach certain parts of his body. Therefore, you’ll need to assist your cat with cleaning. 

    Fleas, ticks, mites and lice

    The thought of bugs settling in your cat’s fur is especially disturbing. It’s also bothersome and painful for your feline friend, especially since pests like ticks will feed on their blood.

    Cases like this will warrant special medication and periodic baths to eliminate these pesky insects. 

    Loose stools

    Your cat may have a problem with his stools if the nasty odour is coming from the base of the tail. This could be an indicator of conditions such as diarrhoea, constipation or inflamed anal glands.

    Skin infections

    Skin infections can be another reason for bad-smelling cats. Serious infections may be accompanied with irritated skin and a thinning coat. 

    One sign of this is if your hand stinks after petting the cat. 


    Cats are curious creatures – it’s in their instincts! But sometimes their curiosity can land them in sticky situations. 

    Your cat may have frolicked in mud, or explored trash if they’re attracted to discarded food. As a result, they could ingest something toxic while they’re cleaning themselves. 

    Plus, stains from their little outdoor adventures aren’t exactly the best look for that new carpet in your house. 

    How often do you need to bathe your cat?

    Person holding cat in bathtub to bathe cat

    Bathing a cat too often is a huge no-no. Derrick (Founder of Simply Cat Care) states that cats already spend 40% of their day thoroughly grooming themselves and overbathing can result in skin conditions such as dry skin

    For most cats, bathing is not required at all! You should reserve that for special circumstances.

    If they have any specific medical conditions that inhibit their self-grooming, then bathing may become a necessity. 

    Step-by-step guide to bathing your cat

    Step by step infographic of how to bathe your cat

    Tools required

    Cat brush 
    Nail clippers 
    Cat shampoo: This should be chosen based on your cat’s age and coat type. Check with your groomer or pet store to find the right formula. 
    • Any prescribed skin medication 
    • A soft washcloth to clean your cat’s head and face
    • Plenty of soft towels for drying 

    Step 1: Do some grooming

    Trim your cat’s claws a few days in advance. This will keep them comfortable and prevents you from getting scratched. 

    You should also brush your cat well just before the bath to remove any matted or loose fur. 

    Step 2: Select the right time

    Cats aren’t the biggest fans of water. This goes without saying for a highly energetic and well-rested cat, which may actively jump around or try to escape during the bath.

    As a tip, Ben (Founder of Pet Checkers) advises picking a time when the cat is more mellow and spent. This could be after a long day, or you could also tire them out with some cat toys

    Step 3: Prepare the bath

    Lay out all your necessary tools and make sure that they’re easy to access. For the bath itself, use a tiny tub or a sink with a handheld spray nozzle. Add enough water such that it covers your cat’s paws. 

    Make sure that the water is lukewarm and comfortable to one’s touch.  

    It’s also important to give your cat a secure base to stand on. Tubs and sinks can get slippery, which will make your cat anxious and more likely to panic.

    You can do this by placing a folded towel or a rubber mat at the bottom of the tub or sink.

    Step 4: Place your cat in the bath

    Now comes the toughest part — bathing your cat! Begin by gently wetting his fur with a washcloth or the spray nozzle to get him comfortable. Be careful to not get any water into his eyes, ears or nose. 

    After doing so, you can slowly lower your cat into the tub and wet them down starting from the legs. Keep speaking in a gentle and reassuring voice to calm him down. Examine his body language and tail movement to evaluate how he’s reacting to the bath. 

    Step 5: Gently massage the shampoo into your cat’s fur

    It’s important to follow the instructions for application stated on the cat shampoo or medication. With a pea-sized amount of cat shampoo, gently massage it in the direction of their fur’s growth.

    Start by working the shampoo into your cat’s neck, followed by the body, legs and tail, avoiding their faces. The action should mimic petting or stroking motions. 

    If you need to clean your cat’s face, don’t rub the shampoo in or pour water over it. Use your washcloth to gently and carefully wipe the dirt off.

    Take extra caution around the eyes and ears, which are extremely sensitive areas.

    Step 6: Rinse thoroughly

    After your cat has been completely lathered, you can start washing them off with clean, lukewarm water. 

    Make sure that all of the soap is completely gone! You wouldn’t want your cat to get a tummy ache from consuming any leftover soap when they self-groom later. It can also aggravate their skin. 

    Step 7: Dry your cat well

    Dry them by wrapping them with a soft towel and gently rubbing their wet fur. Switch over to a new dry towel when the current one becomes damp. 

    You can continue until your cat is completely dry or if they start to get agitated. 

    Step 8: Reward them!

    You’ve finally reached the end! Now you have a clean, dry and happy cat. It’s time to reward your cat with delicious treats

    Positive reinforcements will help them see bathing as a positive thing, especially if you’re going to have to do it more frequently. 

    Alternatives to water baths

    You might think that all hope is lost if your cat is scared of water and just won’t go anywhere near it. But not to worry! Here are some alternative methods you can consider. 

    1. Waterless baths
    For a cat that’s frightened of water, you can look out for cat-safe dry shampoo or wipes at your local pet store.  

    2. Taking them to a professional groomer 
    Professional groomers are trained to properly handle cats during sessions. If you can’t handle bathing your cat on your own, try taking him for one bathing and grooming session

    Tips for bathing your cat

    Cat standing in bathtub with water

    1. Use positive reinforcement

    Use positive methods such as praising or rewarding them whenever they display good behaviour during baths. Treats are a great way to condition acceptable behaviour or serve as a distraction.  

    2. Pay close attention to the temperature of the water

    It’s important to maintain the bath water at a comfortable lukewarm temperature. You could accidentally scald your cat if it’s too hot, or shock them if it’s too cold.

    Take note of the temperature as you can get carried away while trying to keep your pet calm.

    3. Use a suitable shampoo

    As every cat has different needs, you have to take the time to find the right one for your fur baby. The shampoo should be based on your cat’s age, fur type, or if they have any medical conditions. 

    Some owners assume that when their cat’s shampoo runs out, they can simply use their own as a replacement. However, human shampoo is too acidic and will dry out their skin. 

    Karen (Animal Behaviour Manager of Operation Kindness) mentions that you should speak with your veterinarian if you notice any coat or skin issues.

    Baths may seem like the surefire solution to fix problems like dandruff but it could exacerbate the issue if you don’t use the right shampoo.

    4. Wash your cat carefully with a spray nozzle

    When using a handheld spray nozzle to wash your cat, use your hand as a ‘barrier’ first to reduce the force of the water. When your cat gets more comfortable, you can slowly take your hand away.  

    The loud sound of running water together with the water pressure could scare them if you immediately spray at them. 

    5. Dry them thoroughly

    You should aim to get as much water out as possible when gently drying your cat. Similar to humans, cats can get chills if you don’t dry them off properly. 

    Blow drying may seem like a quick solution, but you’re advised not to do it as you run the risk of accidentally burning their skin. Leave that to a professional groomer instead!

    Frequently asked questions

    Bathing a cat in bathtub and shower head

    Are you supposed to bathe cats?

    While cats don’t need frequent baths due to their self-grooming habits, you might still need to bathe them under certain circumstances.

    This could include the length of their fur, age, any associated medical conditions or if they’ve gotten into sticky or dirty situations. 

    What is the best way to bathe a cat?

    The best way to bathe your cat is to use a cat shampoo that’s suitable for their skin or age. Use a small amount and gently massage it into their fur. Start at their neck and end at the tail. 

    Use lukewarm water to wash them and avoid the face, eyes and ears.

    How do I wash my cat without getting scratched?

    Ensure that your cat is calm before bath time and adhere to the right steps. Cut their nails as well to protect yourself from painful scratches. 

    It’s also great if you could get a partner to gently hold your cat in place while you bathe him. Alternatively, you could avoid scratches altogether if you send him for professional grooming. 

    How can I calm my cat down during a bath?

    Make sure they feel secure and comfortable with a non-slippery base at the bottom of the tub. You can use a soft towel or rubber mat. 

    As you bathe your cat, talk to them in a calm and soothing voice. Treats are also a good distraction and can be used as a reward to help them have a positive association to bathing. 

    Why do cats hate water?

    Cats aren’t very fond of baths because they find the experience stressful. They aren’t the most tolerant of new experiences or changes, so the feeling of being drenched may be foreign to them.

    Thus, a cat that’s been regularly exposed to water or baths will be more accepting of it than a cat that’s not. This is why it’s advised to start bathing your cat when they’re kittens so they’ll be more used to it. 

    Giving your cat a soothing bath

    Now that you know the right methods to give your cat a bath, give them a try during your cat’s next clean up session. Here’s to having a clean, happy and healthy pet! 


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