How To Bathe Your Cat (And Find Out The Best Shampoo To Use)

Every cat owner dreads the idea of dousing their feline in the sink.

Cats hate water. The few exceptions to this rule show off their water-loving cats on YouTube. These cats seem to exist purely to make the owners of ordinary cats jealous.

Don’t worry. Bathing a cat is not as tricky as it seems.

As long as you have the right tools and the know-how, bathing your cat is easy.

Here are some tips for a painless bath experience and how to find the perfect shampoo for your favorite kitty.

Do Cats Need Baths?

Cats are naturally equipped to keep themselves meticulously clean. Their tongue and teeth are designed to handle the rigors of feline hair care. Their flexibility enables them to reach almost every inch of their bodies. Cats usually take care of all of their grooming needs – but sometimes they require your assistance.

Occasionally circumstances outside of your cat’s control make it impossible for her to get clean. Cats’ tendency to rub against every available object results in the occasional sticky disaster. Wet paint, glue, honey and home construction materials all cling to your cat’s fur.

You do not want your cat trying to lick a potentially dangerous household product off of herself. Cats that go outside can track all sorts of unpleasant material inside on their fur. Mud, pine sap and all kinds of unpleasant surprises await the unsuspecting kitty out of doors.

Older cats, overweight cats and cats with health conditions often have trouble keeping themselves clean. Complete baths are not always a good idea for these cats. Partial baths are less stressful than a full soak. Sometimes the best solution is a cat wipe. These wipes remove dandruff, urine stains and oil without the need for water.

Long-haired cats and cat breeds like Persians require more bathing than their short-haired cousins. All that fur is hard to maintain. These cats require regular brushing and the occasional bath to help keep their coats healthy. Silky fur quickly grows greasy and matted without such care.

You can bathe your cat too much. Cats and dogs have natural oils that keep their coats shiny and healthy. Excessive bathing strips the coat of these oils and can result in skin irritation for your pet. Gauge your cat’s bathing needs. A good rule of thumb for long-haired cats is to bathe no more than once a week. Short-haired cats can go months without a bath and may never need one unless they get into something unpleasant.

How To Bathe Your Cat

Baths are stressful for cats. It is your job to keep them as comfortable as possible.

Begin bathing your cat periodically when they are a kitten. This gets them used to the process and prevents misunderstandings and bloodshed down the road.

Did you adopt an older cat? Older cats that have never been bathed take some convincing about bath time. Watch the video below, then follow these steps on how to bathe a cat to ensure a positive, safe experience for you and your cat.

Time your bath. Observe your cat to see if there is time of day your cat is more mellow than others. Don’t bathe your cat in the middle of her hunting hour. She will not appreciate the interruption. Choose a time when she is relaxed and receptive.

Clip those claws. Some cats hate bath time. Clip you cat’s nails to prevent scratching during the bathing process. Another idea for arm and hand protection is investing in cat nail caps. These vinyl caps slide over your cat’s nails and protect you and your furniture from kitty claws. The downside of these products is that they do not allow your cat’s nails to retract.

Assemble your materials. The best way to ensure bath time goes smoothly is to assemble your materials ahead of time. You need a towel, brush, a non-slip mat for your feet, a non-slip mat or towel for your cat and a cup or gentle spray hose for bathing. Ask a friend or family member to help if possible.

Begin with a brush. Brushing your cat out prior to bathing removes mats, dead hair, and debris. Mats shrink and thicken when wet. This shrinking makes them harder to remove from your cat’s coat. Brush your cat out as best you can.

Apply warm water. The bathtub and the sink are good places to bathe cats. Bathrooms have the advantage of small spaces with a closed door should your cat make a run for it. Sinks are appropriate for small cats and kittens. Bathtubs are better suited for larger cats. Adjust the water so that it is warm. Don’t use very cold or very hot water. Gentle spray hoses are a great tool if your bath or sink comes equipped with one. A plastic cup or pitcher is a good alternative. Be sure to use plastic. Shattered glass can harm you and your pet and is sure to leave an unpleasant impression on your kitty.

Go slowly. Cats respond well to gentle applications. Dousing your cat all at once is a recipe for disaster. Speak soothingly to your cat during this process.

Add shampoo. Pour a little shampoo into your hand and begin lathering your cat. Start from her neck and work your way to her tail. Be sure to work in the direction of hair growth. Avoid getting water on her face and ears. Stopping her ears with cotton balls is an easy way to avoid ear infections. Is your cat’s face messy? Wipe it with a warm cloth. Even gentle pet shampoo can irritate her eyes and get in her nose and mouth. Dilute the shampoo to one part shampoo and five parts water if you have to use shampoo on her face.

Rinse. Rinse with more warm water until all the shampoo is gone. Go slowly. Some cats lose patience at this step which is why a helper is useful. Make sure all the shampoo is gone (this is important!!) so that your cat does not lick it off of herself later.

Pat dry. Dry your kitty thoroughly. This is especially important during the winter when it is cold. Gently rub and pat your cat with a towel. Some cats tolerate hair dryers. Make sure the setting is on the lowest heat and try to avoid blowing directly in her face. This dries out her eyes and other mucous membranes like her nose. Long-haired cats require additional brushing out with a wide tooth comb.

Reward. Bath time is hard on cats. Reward your feline after her bath. Give her some of her favorite treats and plenty of affection – if she wants it. Hopefully, she will remember the treat next time she needs a scrub.

Choosing A Cat Shampoo

Human shampoos and conditioners dry out your cat’s skin and hair. You need a shampoo designed for cats for optimal bathing results. Look for shampoos that use mild ingredients like oatmeal. Need help finding the best cat shampoo? Here are a few products that receive good user reviews and are veterinarian approved.

Top 4 Best Cat Shampoo Quick-Find Table

1. Four Paws Magic Coat

Four Paws Magic Coat shampoo is affordable and received a 4.5 out of 5-star review from Amazon. The ingredients are mild. It is a water-based solution that contains aloe and lanolin to promote healthy coats. 64% of 296 reviewers gave the product five stars, and there are many positive and helpful reviews for cat owners to peruse.



2. Earthbath All Natural Shampoo

Earthbath All Natural Shampoo is effective for both cats and dogs. 76% of the 940 reviewers gave this product 5 stars and many reviewers on Amazon left helpful tips and personal endorsements. The ingredients are all natural and safe for pets. Earthbath offers several formulas for your pet’s needs. They carry a hypo-allergenic shampoo along with several other scents. Cat owners should steer clear of the tea tree oil formula as tea tree oil has been documented to be toxic to cats.



3. Top Performance Fresh Pet Shampoo

Top Performance Fresh Pet Shampoo received 5 stars on Amazon from 87% of its 56 reviewers. Prices range from ten to twelve dollars. Top Performance advertises a mat prevention formula that is pH balanced for cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens. Customers rave about the positive effects Top Performance had on their pets. Some claim the shampoo reduced itching and flaky skin. Be sure to dilute the shampoo according to instructions on the label as it is too thick to be used directly out of the bottle.



4. Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Bath

Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Bath offers a water-free solution for cats that can’t stand water.  The foam is a leave-in formula that includes aloe vera, neem oil, vitamin E, and oatmeal. It requires no rinsing and is effective for cats 12 weeks of age and older. Prices range from six to nine dollars.



Bath Time Made Easy

Bath time does not need to be stressful. Follow these steps and use a proper shampoo and you and your cat will emerge from the bathroom safe and clean. Baths are an important part of cat ownership, especially as your cat ages. Start bathing your cat now to prepare her for later.

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Luciferbui - November 1, 2016

How i buy it in Japan?

Clarity - January 19, 2017

I use vo5 shampoo bc I can’t afford those cat shampoos. I hope that’s okay? . I can barley even afford another cat. ( I begged for one for my bday and though I really like the cat I regret getting her) my mom is mean she won’t let me take the cat back where I got it from. I know I can’t take care of it properly. Nobody in my house really understands how to properly take care of cats and if I try to explain this to my mom she’ll just get mad at me. I already have an older cat whose like 6 ( she doesn’t really like the new kitten) when my older cat was younger she didn’t do half of the nasty / annoying things my new baby kitten does so I didn’t have to wash my older cat. However I have to wash the younger one bc she sleeps in my bed. They don’t won’t her loose at night and chances are her and the big cat might fight at night while everyone is trying to sleep. Sorry for this long paragraph I’ve just been extremely stressed out since I got another cat. I wish I didn’t.

    Catological - February 8, 2017

    Hey Clarity –

    Thanks for your comment! It seems you’re in a tough spot. Definitely a good idea to keep the new kitty clean.

    And please do your best to take care of both of the cats, and if you really are unable to, please find another loving home for one of them, as cats deserve our full attention and love if we decide to get one of them.

    Thanks for doing your homework and being a good cat parent!



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