10 tips for drama-free cat baths

10 tips for drama-free cat baths
10 tips for drama-free cat baths. Image: MikeB

In most cases, it is not necessary to bathe your cat regularly, as cats are fastidious groomers and do an excellent job of keeping themselves clean. They use their tongues to remove dirt, debris, and loose fur from their coats, and their saliva contains enzymes that help break down any odour-causing substances.

However, there are some situations where it may be appropriate to bathe your cat:

  • If your cat has gotten into something dirty, sticky or toxic, and they cannot safely groom themselves.
  • If your cat has a medical condition, such as a skin allergy or infection, that requires special medicated shampoos or bathing as part of the treatment plan.
  • If your cat is overweight or elderly and cannot groom themselves effectively, occasional baths may be necessary to maintain hygiene and prevent skin issues.

Because baths should only be used in specific situations, bathing your cat can be a challenging task. Even generally gentle breeds, such as the British Shorthair, can become plenty feisty once faced with the prospect of the dreaded B-A-T-H. However, with proper preparation and a few tips and tricks, cat bathing doesn’t have to be a whole ordeal.

Preparation is Key

Before you attempt to bathe your cat, gather all necessary supplies so that you don’t have to keep leaving them to grab whatever you need. You should have:

  • A washbasin or large sink that fits your cat
  • A non-slip mat for the bottom of the basin or sink
  • A gentle cat shampoo
  • A handheld showerhead or pitcher for rinsing
  • A large towel for drying
  • A brush or comb to remove tangles and loose fur
  • Treats or toys to reward and distract your cat

Place all items within reach, so you can easily access them during the bath. Now that you have everything, you can start bathing your cat.

10 Tips for Drama Free Cat Baths

1. Choose the Right Time

Select a time when your cat is calm and relaxed, preferably after a play session or a meal. Avoid bathing your cat when they are agitated or energetic, as they’re much more likely to fight back or injure themselves – and you. If you’ve just come in from the outdoors, give them 15 minutes to lose their ‘wild mode’ before you attempt to bathe them.

2. Acclimate Your Cat to Water

Help your cat become more comfortable with water by gradually introducing them to the sensation. Allow them to explore a shallow water basin, giving them the chance to get used to the feeling of water on their paws. In general, you’ll want to have done this well beforehand so that you don’t have to spend a lot of time doing this on the day of the bath.

3.Create a Comfortable Environment

Fill the basin or sink with just enough warm water (around 3–4 inches deep) to cover your cat’s paws, and place a non-slip mat at the bottom to provide secure footing. Make sure the room where you’re giving your cat a bath is warm and free of drafts. You’ll also want to make sure that the room is secure and your cat can’t escape if they decide that they don’t want a bath today. This shouldn’t be a problem for most normal bathrooms, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.

4. Gently Introduce Your Cat to the Bath

Hold your cat securely but gently, and slowly lower them into the water. Offer treats or toys as a distraction and to create a positive association with bath time. Talk to your cat in a soothing voice to reassure them and keep them calm. You can hold your cat by the scruff of their neck, or use a harness if you’ve never given them a bath and think they might be tricky to control.

5.Wet Your Cat’s Fur Gradually

Using a handheld showerhead or pitcher, slowly pour warm water over your cat’s fur, starting at their neck and working your way down their body. Be careful to avoid their face and ears, as getting water in these areas can be uncomfortable for them, and in the worst case can cause infections.

6. Lather Up with Cat-Specific Shampoo

Gently massage a small amount of cat-specific shampoo into your cat’s fur, starting at their neck and working your way downward. If you are bathing your cat because their coat is contaminated, be sure to scrub especially well wherever their coat is most particularly soiled; otherwise, you can focus on their paws, genitals and tail.

7. Rinse Thoroughly

Gently rinse your cat’s fur with warm water, ensuring that all shampoo is removed. Residual shampoo can cause skin irritation – just another reason to not give regular baths – so take your time and be thorough. Be prepared for your cat to shake off excess water during this step, or get “the zoomies” in an effort to dry off.

8. Dry Your Cat

Wrap your cat in a large, soft towel, and gently pat them dry. Avoid rubbing the fur, as this can cause tangles and is generally uncomfortable for most cats – don’t rub them the wrong way if you value your skin. If your cat tolerates it, you can use a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting to speed up the drying process, but be sure to keep it at a safe distance to avoid burns.

9. Groom and Reward

Once your cat is dry, use a brush or comb to remove any tangles and loose fur. Of course, you’ll want to use a brush or comb that suits your cat’s coat – something this basic should already be in your care kit. This is also a good chance to check for any signs of skin irritation or parasites. Play with your cat and reward him with treats, praise or a favourite toy to reinforce the positive experience and help them associate bath time with positive outcomes – there’s no reason to be conservative with their rewards, since this isn’t something, they should be getting very often.

10. Be Patient and Stay Calm

Remember that bathing a cat can be a stressful experience for both you and the cat. Patience and calm are essential to creating a tranquil environment and ensuring a successful bath. If your cat becomes too agitated or frightened, stop the process and either try again later or bring them to a professional instead.

How often do you give a cat a bath?

Why do cats hate water? 5 reasons. Nuanced answer.

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Do cats really need baths: If so, how often?

Cat being showered and washed

Folks who are new to kitty guardianship often ask if bathing a cat is necessary, and if so, how often should they be bathed?

In this writer’s opinion, since cats come equipped with perfect grooming tools – teeth and a rough tongue – their instinctual drive to keep their coats clean and shiny, makes bathing a cat necessary only when they have gotten into something that’s really sticky or smelly.

This said there are a few feline breeds that require bathing on a regular basis. For example, the Sphynx lacks a sufficient hair coat to absorb the oils on their skin.

These kitties need to be bathed at least once a week to prevent their pores from being clogged which can lead to major skin irritations. And the oil on their skin attracts dirt. They can become smelly and sticky. The attraction of the hairless coat no longer appeals in quite the same way. They are relatively high maintenance cat companions.


Some feline experts recommend that Persians should be groomed daily, and should be bathed fairly regularly to keep them clean and sweet-smelling. Also, they need their faces cleaned regularly because of tear duct overflow fur to blocked tear ducks. This causes staining under the eye down the side of the nose on both sides. Additionally, to keep their coats in top condition, show cats are often bathed prior to competition.

In case the situation arises where a kitty is in need of a bath, what are some of the steps a feline guardian can take to make bath-time a lot easier and less stressful for both the kitty and for themselves?

Timing is everything: The best time to give a cat a bath is when the kitty is feeling relaxed and mellow. Some people recommend playing with their cats before bathing them to tire them. Purrsonally I disagree. Even though a cat can get off a lot of excess energy during an intense interactive play session, sometimes they can actually get over-stimulated; preferring to continue the game.

Trimming kitty’s nails before bathing them is extremely wise. Brushing their coat, thoroughly to remove any excessive hair or mats is also helpful. To prevent kitty from getting water into their sensitive ears (only if they willingly accept this step without becoming agitated) gently place a cotton ball into their ears.

To prevent kitty from slipping and to give her security and extra confidence, place a rubber mat in the bottom of the tub or sink where kitty will be bathed. Fill the tub or sink with only three or four inches of lukewarm water. Using a hand-held spray hose, or an unbreakable cup or plastic pitcher, gently and methodically wet the kitty down; taking extra care not to get water into the cat’s nose, ears or eyes.

Only use a shampoo made for cats since human shampoo may be too harsh, drying out kitty’s skin. Start gently massaging the soap into the fur, working down from the head to the tail – in the same direction that the hair is growing. Be very careful not to get any lather into the kitty’s nose, eyes and ears. To clean the cat’s face, gently use a washcloth dampened with clean lukewarm water. Be sure to gently wash kitty’s nail-beds to remove any greasy grime.

Using the hose spray, pitcher or cup, carefully rinse kitty off with lukewarm water. Be sure that any traces of shampoo are rinsed away. Have a soft, (preferably cotton) towel ready in which to wrap up the cat. Some cats struggle energetically to get out of the towel. Work gently but quickly to get kitty as dry as possible. Some cats may even tolerate being blown dry with a hairdryer set on the lowest heat setting. With long-haired kitties check for any matted fur. Use a wide-tooth comb to carefully untangle any knots.

Following the bath be sure to keep kitty in a warm, draft-free area until she is thoroughly dry. To make bathing a more pleasant experience, reward her with her favorite treat. Using positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to help turn something that some cats may initially consider a negative experience into something that is no big deal.

Some cats take to bathing like a fish takes to water. In the video uploaded to YouTube by RitaTheCornishRex, apparently after some minor protestations, Rita ultimately does get into the “swim” of things!

When do you give your cat a bath? How does your cat react to bathing? Tell us about it in a comment. Note: this article was first published on March 19, 2014, over 8 years ago. It has been upgraded and republished today (date of post).


Photo credit: Flickr User Finn Frode — Finn used to be a regular contributor to PoC. Come back Finn! This is one of his posts.

Below are some articles on bathing cats.

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Bathing your cat is like removing her ID

Sad kitty in bath

There is no need to bathe your cat unless a little catastrophe has happened such as she fell into a paint pot or she has been ‘skunked’. There may be other occasions such as a flea treatment shampoo. However, I am not sure I like those. I think there are better ways to remove fleas.

Domestic cats should never be bathed by their owners. I should imagine that some cat breeders bathe their show cat to fluff up their coat and to polish her image but even then that’s not a good thing from the cat’s perspective. However, I have to add a note and say that some cats will like being bathed…:) 🙂

Two cats in a bath

Cats spend a good part of every day grooming themselves. They are covering themselves with their scent. This is their identity (ID). Jackson Galaxy says their body scent is a “Raw Cat Staple”. He means that it is an essential part of the wild cat mentality lurking below the veneer of the domestic cat. Cat body scent is also a ‘source of serious mojo’. He means a cat’s scent is an important element in ensuring a domestic cat is content, relaxed and able to be himself because he feels comfortable in his skin and at home.

A sibling cat or a cat friend may well fail to recognise a bathed cat because she has lost her ID. Cats recognise other cats by their scent.

You can gently wet-wipe a cat if she is old and unable to groom herself properly and Jackson recommends a baby wipe, if needs must. Otherwise steer clear of bathing your cat. It ain’t natural unless the cat is a hairless one when once a week is necessary.

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Do Cornish Rex cats need baths?

It seems like a slightly misconceived question: “Do Cornish Rex cats need baths?” But actually it is quite an interesting question because it leads to a discussion about the coat of this quite rare wavy-haired purebred cat.

Do Cornish Rex cats need baths?
Photos: Middle left and the two on RHS are copyright Helmi Flick. The other 2 are in public domain (Pinterest).

Sebaceous Gland – Sebum

The reason why the question is asked is based upon the same reason why people say that you have to wash the skin of a Sphynx cat. The reason is this: the sebaceous glands in the skin produce an oil, sebum, which is designed to keep the coat in good condition. The Sphynx cat has no coat and therefore the oil has nowhere to go. It sits on the skin where it can pick up dirt and where the dirt and oil can then be deposited upon bedclothes et cetera.

Turning then to the Cornish Rex we know that this cat has a coat. It is a very interesting and pleasant to look at coat but it is quite thin. It is what defines the cat.

Cornish Rex Coat

In the typical feline coat there are three main kinds of hairs: guard hairs, awn hairs and down hairs. The down hairs are the undercoat and the other two sorts of hair strands are the overcoat.

It is stated that the Cornish Rex has no guard hairs and that it is almost entirely made up of down hairs. This is not strictly accurate because under microscopic analysis this cat does have awn hairs but they are greatly reduced so that they are almost like down hairs. In fact all the hairs are reduced in length by the Cornish Rex gene which gives this cat a coat which is about half the thickness of a typical cat and the fur is also much finer. Each hair is about 60% of the thickness of the typical feline hair.

In short, this cat breed has a very thin coat and therefore the sebum produced in the cat’s skin is unable to disperse throughout the coat adequately which means the coat becomes oily which in turn means that the cat’s owner has to clean the coat because it is greasy. By cleaning the coat the owner will bathe her cat.

So the answer to the question in the title is that you probably have to bathe your Cornish Rex at regular intervals but not too frequently.

Show Cats

An added complicating factor in this discussion is that on the Internet there is a webpage written by cat breeders who show their Cornish Rex cats at cat shows. They quite naturally bathe their cats before showing them to ensure that the coat is in tip-top condition. But the reason behind this bathing is not the same in essence as the reason that I’ve stated at the beginning of this article.

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