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How to Bathe a Cat: 6 Tips for a Safe, Scratch-Free Bath

how to bathe a cat

If there’s one stereotype about cats that nearly always holds up, it’s that they DO NOT like water. They don’t like being in it, and they definitely don’t like being sprayed with it. So how DO you bathe a cat when they’re dirty? This article will offer some helpful tips on bathing skittish felines.



Do Cats Need to Be Bathed?

Most cats, especially short-haired breeds, are excellent self-groomers. However, all pets have a tendency to get dirty every once in a while. Whether your indoor cat got into the dusty attic or your outdoor cat caught some burrs in a bush, every cat will need a bath eventually.


Long-haired cats, like the Norwegian Forest Cat, need a little more grooming help than most short-haired breeds. The fluffiness of their fur can keep them from reaching the inner layers with their tongues when they groom. Hairless cat breeds (like the Sphynx) need semi-frequent baths to clear the oil on their skin that hair would normally absorb.


Is It Okay to Bathe a Cat?

Yes, it is okay to bathe a cat! Bathing too often can cause dry skin, cat dandruff, and generally annoy your feline friend. But, a bath once in a while won’t hurt.


However, some cats who were rescued from shelters may have troubling pasts involving water, which makes bath time terrifying for them. But as long as the experience of bathing isn’t traumatic for your cat (or you!), it’s definitely a good idea to keep them fresh and clean.



How Often Should You Bathe a Cat?

The National Cat Groomer’s Institute (NCGI) recommends that most cats be bathed every four to six weeks. How frequently you bathe your cat will depend on their fur-type and lifestyle.


Over-bathing can cause dry skin, leading to itchiness and increased shedding. On the other hand, under-bathing leads to tangles, matting, increased hairballs, and possibly even acne.


Most cats will benefit from bathing about once a month, but certain breeds need less frequent baths. The general rule of thumb is that if your cat is dirty, their hair is matted, or they smell, you should bathe them.



wet cat in a blue tub with towel



What Do I Need to Bathe a Cat?

When it’s time to bathe your cat, there are a few things you’ll want to round up before you hit the tub. Let’s go over a quick checklist of essential items for successfully bathing your cat.


  • Bathtub, Plastic Bucket, or Large Sink – Make sure there is a non-slip mat on the floor of whichever space you choose. That will help prevent your cat from slipping and sliding around as you bathe them.
  • Cat or Kitten Shampoo – A cleanser designed specifically for cats is essential. Human hair and skin have a different pH than cat hair and skin. Shampoo that works for us is not meant for felines, and it can actually be harmful to their health. You can find cat shampoos at most local pet stores or online shops.
  • A Cat-Specific Brush – Cat brushes are specially-made to help remove excess hair and detangle knots and matting. You’ll definitely want one of these for before and after bathtime.
  • Towels and a Hairdryer – Cats need to be dried immediately after bathing. Their hair tends to retain moisture, which can cause them to lose body heat very quickly. A towel works fine, but blowdryers are best for keeping their fur detangled and soft.



How to Bathe a Cat

As we mentioned, bathing your cat isn’t often necessary, but it can dramatically improve their fur and mood. Plus, it will decrease the amount of cat hair and hairballs you find around your house.


However, bathing a cat is typically not an easy task. It’s vital for you, the owner, to create a calm, nurturing environment for your cat’s bathtime.


The more relaxed your cat is prior to the bath, the less likely they are to freak out when it comes time to get in the water. If you’re nervous, they’re likely to be nervous, as well. Let’s go over some helpful ways to prepare your cat for bathtime.


Help Calm Them Before the Bath

Sometimes, even if you do your best to remain calm, you just can’t get your cat to settle down. Luring them out of hiding with treats is a good way to make cats happy before bathtime. But if you want to provide your cat with extra relaxation, our CBD cat treats, oil, and CBD catnip spray are excellent, soothing options.


CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating natural hemp compound. It has a range of therapeutic properties that relax cats and other animals (even horses!). In addition to lulling your pet into a peaceful mindset, CBD can help with things like swelling, digestive issues, and appetite concerns!


Our salmon-flavored CBD cat treats are the perfect way to slowly entice your cat into the bath. After the salmon flavor draws them in, the CBD will (typically) begin to kick in within 30 minutes an hour. Your cat will begin to relax and slow down, making it much easier to get them into the tub.


If you want to try another option, you can easily mix our CBD oil for cats into your cat’s regular food or give it to them directly. The oil provides a soothing boost of CBD just like the treats, and you can measure out a smaller or larger dose as you please. The oil also kicks in within about 30 minutes to an hour and can help your cat feel relaxed enough to comply with bathtime.


If you want to learn more about cats and CBD, check out our blog! You can read all about how CBD is feline-approved and super helpful for stressful tasks like traveling or vet visits.




Trim Their Toenails

If you can, try to trim your cat’s nails about a day before the bath. CBD can also help relax them for this activity, though some cats are fine with nail trimming. We recommend doing it a day before the bath to give your cat some time to cool down before you add more stress with a bath.


Trimming your cat’s nails dramatically decreases the risk of getting scratched during the bath. Cats are likely to extend their claws and wildly try to grab onto things to stop them from going into the water. The trimming will save you from scratches, and it may also save your shower curtain too.


Brush Them Thoroughly Before the Bath

Using a cat-specific hairbrush, gently comb through your cat’s tangles and remove excess hair from their coat before the bath. This will help prevent wet cat hair from getting all over your bathroom/house. It will also make thoroughly washing their fur much easier.



striped feline on lap getting brushed




The best time to bathe your cat is after mealtime or playtime when they’re a little more worn out than usual. After eating, many cats are much calmer and more easygoing as they digest their food. After playtime, cats are likely to be slow-moving and tired, making it easier to get them to comply.


Monitor the Water

You’ll want to fill your tub, bucket, or sink with warm (not hot) water to a level no higher than your cat’s stomach. Deep water will likely make your cat more anxious than they already are. When the tub, bucket, or sink is ready, slowly and gently attempt to lower your cat into the water.


Once they get used to the water, use a cup to slowly pour small amounts of the warm water over patches of their body. Distracting your cat with treats can be helpful during this process. Once they’re wet, gently lather the cat shampoo in a small area, rinse, then repeat in another small spot.


Have a Towel Ready

Remember, it’s crucial to have one or two towels ready as soon as the bath is over. If you have to leave your cat to grab a towel from the closet, your very wet cat is likely to leap out of the tub and make a soppy mess. Keep the towels next to you so you can grab them as soon as you’re done.



Things to Avoid When Bathing a Cat 

To avoid stressing out your cat, getting scratched, and a gigantic mess, there are a couple of things to steer clear of during the cat bathing process.


  • Showers – We do not recommend attempting to shower your cat. The continuous falling water can be extremely stressful for cats, making them more likely to freak out.
  • “Tossing Them in the Deep End” – It’s crucial to take bathtime nice and slow with cats. We do not recommend dropping them into the bathtub, even from a very low height. Slowly lowering them as you speak comforting words is the best way to ease them into the water. If they’re resisting, listen to them! You can always try again later, but tossing them in when they’re afraid will likely make everything worse and break their trust in you.
  • Pouring Water on Your Cat’s Face – It’s best to keep your cat’s face dry during the bath. We recommend using a damp, warm washcloth to clean their face after the bath is over or before you begin.



Final Thoughts – How to Bathe a Cat

If you’ve ever tried to bathe your cat, you probably know that it’s no easy task. We hope these tips can help you keep your cat calm before, during, and after bathtime to make things a little easier for you. Cats are fickle creatures — we just need to do our best to help them feel safe. Learn more about taking care of your cat here.

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