How to Bathe a Cat Without Getting Scratched (Or Dying)

Tayler Tayler (75)

I know what you're probably wondering: Should I bathe my cat? Aren't they master groomers themselves? As with the question of whether to trim a cat's claws, if you're asking—then the answer is probably yes!

Unfortunately, as they grow older, cats can lose the grooming instinct.

Some cats, particularly longhaired cats and older cats, might need a bath from time to time. While this is likely an infrequent occurrence, it's an important skill to have if you have a furry counterpart and don't want your arms to be covered in scratches. Just as important as knowing how to give a cat a pill or get cats off your counter top.

Why should I bathe my cat?

The good news is, you likely won't have to bathe your cat because cats have a natural instinct to groom themselves. For my cats, they only like to groom themselves on my bed when I'm trying to sleep (I swear, it's legs up, tongue out for my cats at 3 am).

They groom themselves for many reasons:

  • To keep clean (of course)
  • To regulate body temperature
  • To distribute oils found in the skin across the fur
  • In some cases, cats groom themselves to calm themselves if they feel anxious, embarrassed, or worked up for any reason.

Unfortunately, as they grow older, cats can lose the grooming instinct. If you have a longhaired cat, they're more likely to need a deep clean which is where you can step in.

Now, without further adieu, here's how you can give your cat a bath without getting scratched.

Pet Nail ClippersPet Nail Clippers ×1
Towel ×1
Pet Grooming BrushPet Grooming Brush ×1
Bucket ×1
Burt's Bees Shampoo for CatsBurt's Bees Shampoo for Cats ×1

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Clip those kitty nails.

This is an absolute must if you're about to introduce your feline to the bath. Cat's moods can change quickly, going from peaceful to murderous in a matter of seconds. Regardless of whether your cat is stoic or wild, trimming your cat's claws is vital to your safety.

How to cut your cat's claws

  • Place your cat in your lap and use your forearms to help keep your cat in place on your lap.
  • Carefully squeeze the toe of the nail you intend to cut to expose the nail.
  • Using pet nail clippers, carefully cut the claw.
  • A good rule of thumb (or paw!) is to give the quick more space between the nail and the quick than you think you need.

Stay tuned for a detailed guide and breakdown for how to safely trim your cat's claws!

What do I mean when I say "quick"?

The quick refers to the collection of nerves and blood vessels that help nourish the claw or nail. Have you ever cut one of your nails too short? If you have, you've likely damaged the quick. While it does grow back, human's quicks are spread out over a larger surface area, whereas cats have a tighter concentration. Cutting a cat's quick will result in more blood and more pain than when a human's quick is cut.

Brush your cat.

A lot of dirt and grim can be trapped in the fur of your cat, so much so that you might not even need to bathe them after you brush them.

Brushing your cat is pretty self-explanatory but try to focus on pulling out as much loose fur as possible. A pet grooming brush is specifically meant to pull out up to 95% of dead hair. This will make it easier to wash your cat and it'll minimize the amount of post-bath cleanup.

Take this time to play with your cat! A cat that is worn out from playing will be much easier to bathe.

Cat in a bath.

Now that your cat has shorter claws (or murder daggers as they're colloquially called) and all of the dead hair has been removed, you're ready to choose the container that you want to use.

Here are a few basic tips for choosing the right bath:

  • You'll want a shallow container. Sinks, shallow basins, and buckets are all good options because a full bathtub can be overwhelming.
  • Place something like a rubber nonslip mat on the bottom to minimize any slipping.
  • If you decide you can only use your bathtub, but careful not to fill it too high.
Bathing cat.

Whether you fill up your sink, bath, or plastic tub, here are a few things you need to know as you're topping off your container:

  • If you're filling up a bath, fill it up anywhere from 3" to 5".
  • Use lukewarm water.
  • Use a cup or a pitcher to pour the water slowly over your cat's tail and back.
  • Avoid pouring water on your cat's head. This can startle and upset your cat.
  • If you want to wash your cat's ears, you can use a moistened cotton ball to clean the ears (without going too far in!).
  • You can also use a moistened washcloth if you want to wash their face.

Picking your shampoo

I'm a huge fan of all Burt's Bees products because they're made with natural ingredients and veterinarian recommend formulas. Their Hypoallergenic Shampoo with Shea Butter and Honey is my absolute favorite!

Using your shampoo

  • You can work the shampoo into a lather in your hands or on the washcloth.
  • Focus on the problem areas like their belly, paws, backside, and tail.
  • Make sure you rinse completely.
Cat post bath.

Now that you have a clean, albeit moist, feline on your hands, it's time to dry them.

Cats lose body heat when wet.

Cat's fur holds onto water. Even a little bit of water often takes a while to dry and, while this likely won't hurt your cat directly, it can make them very uncomfortable which is why you'll want to have one or two towels on hand to help absorb as much water as possible.

How to dry your cat

  • Swaddle your cat in give them a gentle rubdown. They probably won't tolerate this for long so make sure you're firm but gentle.
  • If you have a longhaired breed and they'll remain calm for this, don't be afraid to give them a blow-dry. If you do this, angle the blowdryer away from their face and make sure you never angle the blowdryer into their ears or face.

Make sure you reward your cat with a few tasty treats! This will help to establish a positive association with baths in the future. If your cat seems panicked, stop the bath and try again another time.

It's also important to note that some cats will respond differently to baths. It's even rumored that some cats love water. My cats, Val and Halla, are no such creatures, hence this careful process that has helped me safely bathe them.

Be careful, remember not to stress them out, and you'll do just fine!

Only the best for your cats.
Tayler Tayler (75)

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