How to Bathe a Cat without Getting Hurt: 11 Easy Steps

Cats notoriously loathe water. My cat’s interest in water goes as far as taking a few sips from the faucet and running off. If he happens to get a little on his face? Instant regret and dramatic noises ensue.

People often wonder how to bathe a cat without getting hurt, especially if the cat hates water. 

As a veterinary technician, I can tell you for certain that cats are excellent self groomers and rarely need baths.

Their tongues are barbed with something called papillae, which help untangle knots and smooth out fur. It also helps spread natural oils across their bodies, which is why cats always feel so soft. 

Cats do need help sometimes, and long haired cats need to be brushed regularly to avoid matted fur.

A bath is warranted if your cat gets into something bad, like paint, makeup, oil, or anything they shouldn’t ingest.

It’s also necessary if your cat is overweight and having trouble reaching their bottom parts for cleaning, or if they’re elderly and too weak to clean themselves thoroughly. If your cat is a messy eater, they might want some help with cleaning, too. (Find out how much you should be feeding your cat!)

While cats may hate water, there’s one thing they hate even more: being dirty. So giving them a nice, relaxing bath when they need it is something they will truly appreciate…even if they kick and scream along the way. 

Now the question is, how do you give them a bath without getting scratched?

Even the most demure cats may put up a fight when they see water. Luckily, there are ways to reduce your chances of getting hurt when bathing your cat.

I’ve bathed a countless number of cats at my veterinary clinic. Over the years, I’ve perfected my technique, and it’s very rare that I will ever get scratched.

For the feistiest of cats, it might be worth wearing pet grooming gloves that go up to the elbows. But for the most part, they’re unnecessary if you take the right steps to make it a calming experience. 

Step 1: Time it Right

Think about when your cat is at its calmest. Typically that’s after they have eaten or played.

You’ll want to time their bath for this period, as they won’t have a lot of energy to fight you.

In fact, they might be their most cuddly at this hour, so while they may be a bit shocked when you pick them up for a bath, they should relax somewhat once they feel the warm water. 

Step 2: Brush Your Cat

Before you take them into the bathroom, give them a good brushing. This will prevent your drains from clogging, as bathing tends to loosen up a lot of fur.

If they have any mats, be sure to remove these before bathing them. It’s best to regularly brush your cat’s coat so their fur doesn’t get too knotty, especially if they are medium or long haired. 

Step 3: Prepare the Bathroom

You will want to place down a rubber mat at the bottom of the tub or sink where you’ll be bathing your cat.

This will prevent him or her from slipping, and will greatly reduce your chances of being scratched.

A cat often scratches because they feel they are not securely placed in the tub or sink. A mat will help them feel safe. 

Step 4: Get a Helping Hand

This step might not be necessary if you have a smaller sized cat, but it certainly helps.

Getting a loved one to help you out will not only keep you calm, but also help things move quickly.

The key to a scratch-free bath is speed: you will want to get your cat in and out of the bath as fast as possible.

When you have a helping hand, one of you can hold the cat while the other focuses on washing and rinsing. 

Step 5: Fill Tub or Sink with Water

Now we’re getting into the action! Fill the tub or sink with warm water. It shouldn’t be hot, but it shouldn’t be cold.

Only fill it up a couple of inches, any deeper and you risk getting your cat’s face and ears wet, which we want to avoid.

Make sure the stopper is completely secure, so that the water doesn’t drain out when the cat is inside.

Turn off all running water before you get your cat, as the sound could trigger them.

Step 6: Gently Grab Cat

Lovingly pick up your cat and carry him/her to the bathroom. You should handle your cat in the same way you always do.

Gently talk to them, as they find comfort in your voice. Present yourself in a calm way at all times, as cats are very sensitive to our tone and demeanor. 

Step 7: Place Cat in Water

Put the cat in the water slowly, paws first. Your cat will be surprised, even if you’ve done this before! It’s just their natural reaction. 

Step 8: Turn Water on or Pour Water on Cat

If you have a gentle sprayer, use this. If not, use a large cup to pour water on your cat.

Get their entire body soaked, but avoid their face and ears. Getting water in their ears could cause a nasty ear infection, so this is best avoided. 

Step 9: Apply Gentle Shampoo

Use either a shampoo specially made for cats, or a baby shampoo. These shampoos are gentle and will not cause as much eye irritation if a little soap accidentally gets in their eyes. It also nourishes their skin.

Massage the soap gently into the fur in the same way you would wash your hair. Make sure to get in all their crevices, including in between the back legs, in the armpits, and in between the toe pads.

If you have a helping hand, have them hold your cat while you apply the soap, or vice versa.

Step 10: Rinse Cat

You’re almost there! Now it’s time to rinse all that soap off your cat. Use the sprayer or cup to pour water onto their fur, being extra careful not to get any on their face or in their ears. 

Step 11: Towel Dry

You did it! Now it’s time to towel dry them. The easiest way to do this is to wrap them up in a towel and massage the towel into their fur.

Once they’re at the point where they aren’t dripping, you can take a smaller, dry towel and rub it into their paws, tail, stomach and chest. 

Keep Them Warm and Give Them Love

For the rest of the day, make sure they are warm. They will take a few hours to dry, especially if they have longer or thicker fur.

You can give them access to soft blankets, or put their cat bed in a sunny spot. Be sure to let them know how great of a job they did, and offer them lots of extra pets or treats if they want them!

This will reinforce the idea that bath time isn’t so bad. Ideally, bathing your cat will get easier and easier as time goes on! 

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Lisa is a vet tech at a busy veterinarian's office in New York City. She finds her career incredibly fulfilling, and loves sharing her pet knowledge with the world. As the owner of FOUR beautiful cats, Sunny, Honey, Cali and Bear, she is a feline expert!