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.
Our review process is unbiased and based on extensive research. If you buy through the links on our site, we may earn a commission.
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.
You do not want your cat trying to lick a potentially dangerous household product off of herself. This can be anything, like:
- Wet paint,
- home construction materials that cling to the fur,
- plants toxic to cats,
- and more.
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 (just like us humans!) that keep their coats shiny and healthy. Excessive bathing strips the coat of these oils and can result in skin irritation for your pet.
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, to get an idea of 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
- Re-moisturize, heal and soothes dry, scratched skin
- Neutralizes any odor
- 100% biodegradable, paraben and phosphate-free
- Moisturizes skin and adds shine to coat
- Detangles hair
- Tearless formula won’t irritate eyes
- Prevents mats and tangles
- Formulated to match natural pH
- Smells great and give coat a bright sheen
- Leave-in foam
- Cleans and soothes dry skin
- Crafted with calming fragrance
#1. Earthbath All Natural Shampoo
- Great for re-moisturizing and healing dry, scratchy skin
- Oatmeal and Aloe Vera
- 16oz or 1 gallon bottles
Personally, I don’t give my cats baths often. They’re short haired, and do a good job keeping themselves clean.
HOWEVER, there’s always that one time. Or multiple one times, with my boys.
And when it comes to getting the ridiculous mess off of my babies, I absolutely always turn to Earthbath.
It’s a completely natural, biodegradable option. It’s cruelty free, it smells good, and it just works, while being super gentle.
You’ve got a load of scents to choose from, too, but I picked up the Mango Tango and have been super happy with it.
Like I said, they don’t get into the dirty stuff very often, but when they do, you HAVE to have some of this on hand. Better safe than sorry, right?
#2. Four Paws Magic Coat
- Protein and Lanolin formulation to moisturize coat
- Helps with tangling
- Good for all ages
While not a natural option, it includes things much closer to what we’d expect to use as a shampoo or conditioner in our own hair.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with it not being natural, some of us just prefer if it was! (Which is why I love the product I ranked #1.)
But, for something a bit cheaper that works well to keep your snuggle butt soft and clean, this is one of the better options.
It’s very gentle, which is a prerequisite for a good kitten shampoo anyway, but also includes aloe, lanolin, and keratin, all of which help soothe both the fur and the skin underneath.
It smells pleasant enough, and works! And for a good price.
#3. Top Performance Fresh Pet Shampoo
- Helps prevent mats and tangles
- Cost effective
- Highly rated by user community
While you can get this in a smaller bottle, I wanted to give an option to those of you out there who have LOTS of kitties, either because you foster them or because you run a shelter…or you just have lots of them!
There’s a lot of larger options, including this 1 gallon jug, which mixes with water to create up to 9 gallons of conditioning shampoo.
The one thing we don’t like is that the ingredients give 4 specific ingredients but then just says “in a mild shampoo base”. I’d like to know more explicitly what’s in it!
But, for the ease of use of getting a massive jug, and cost effectiveness, it does the job!
#4. Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Bath
- No-rinse foam
- Aloe vera, neem oil, vitamin E and oatmeal
- Good for cats over 12 weeks old
Ok, so your cat HATES the water, and will try to kill you if you put him in the tub.
What do you do to keep him fresh and clean?
Thankfully there’s “waterless” cat bath products like this.
Actually, it’s the same idea as dry shampoo, which I have at home and use myself once in awhile.
Basically you just put some in your hands, and massage your cat from head to toe (watch his eyes!). Then, let it dry (which won’t take long), and either rub him down with a wipe, or brush him.
It’s not quite the same as a submerged bath, but it does a good job of adding a higher level of cleaning if he’s got into something less than ideal.
Also, this includes oatmeal, which I love as an ingredient, plus just a few other, mostly natural ingredients.
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.