Brown tabby cat getting a bath without scratching

How to Bathe Your Cat Without Getting Scratched to Bits

Last Updated on June 22, 2021 by Holly Anne Dustin

Yes, you can bathe your cat without getting scratched to pieces. Your furbaby can learn to tolerate, or even enjoy, a nice bath; despite the prevailing myth that all cats hate water.

A kitten can be bathed as young as 6 weeks with a quality kitten shampoo. The earlier it becomes part of his regular routine the easier it will be to bathe him as an adult. But even an adult cat can be bathed without undue stress to either you or your cat. And you will finish the job scatch-free.

Why Bathe Your Cat

It is important that you are able to bathe your cat without getting scratched. Even low-maintenance cats can get into something toxic or sticky that you need to get washed right off. Every cat is going to have a potty issue at some point that needs a bath to remedy especially if your cat is longhaired. Your furbaby could develop a medical condition that requires regular bathing. Or someone in your family could develop allergies.

Bathing teaches Kitty to allow handling in an unfamiliar way without scratching the handler. My show cats need to be able to handled by a lot of people that handle differently. But even cats that don’t show have to be handled by vet techs and your vet.

Making bathing a positive experience helps Kitty get used to unfamiliar handling in future situations.

How to Bathe Your Cat

Bathing a cat isn’t as hard as people think; even if you have never bathed a cat before. The most important thing I can stress is that you need to stay calm and don’t freak out. Kitty needs to trust you, and trust that you have things under control, or she will freak out too. That’s when you risk being clawed to death while bathing your cat.

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Preparing to Give Your Cat a Bath

Clip Kitty’s claws first so she doesn’t hurt you if she tries to get away. Be sure she is brushed out without any mats. Don’t get mats wet. It is like felting wool and will make it much worse to remove the mat.

Put a rubber mat or a towel in the bottom of your bathtub or kitchen sink. It makes Kitty feel more secure to have something to sink his claws into instead of sliding around.

Organize your supplies before you start. The last thing you want is an upset, wet, cat flying through your house because you had to grab your shampoo.

Click here to check out this post for more cat grooming tips 

Wash Your Cat

Wet your cat’s coat. You can use a sprayer or a pitcher. Mixing a little bit of shampoo into the water will help saturate the coat. Make sure he is thoroughly wet. Don’t get water in his eyes. Be sure to keep his ears dry to prevent infections.

Apply shampoo, dilute according to manufacturers’ instructions or use an amount about the size of a quarter. Shampoo the coat. Don’t get his face wet.  You may have to shampoo more than once if Kitty is extra greasy or dirty.

Rinse Kitty Thoroughly

Rinse the cat until the coat is squeaky clean.This is where most people go wrong. You need to rinse a lot more than you think you do. I tell people to rinse until they think Kitty is rinsed and then rinse 5 times more.

Most cats don’t need conditioner but silky long coats and dry or damaged coats might need a light rinse. You don’t want to add anything heavy. I only use a light rinse on my Persians. Again, be sure you rinse thoroughly.

You can keep a white cat’s clean and bright with a brightening shampoo.

Dry Your Cat

Once you rinse out kitty, dry her by wrapping her in an absorbent towel. I like to keep one in the dryer to help dry and warm Kitty. Switch the wet towels for dry.

Use paper towels, or a microfiber cloth, to dry her face, legs, and tail. Pat, don’t rub or you’ll encourage matting. You can dry Kitty with a hair dryer on low and cool, or preferably use a high velocity pet dryer, once she’s as dry as you can get her with towels.

Your short- or medium-haired cats might not need blow drying, but it will blow out loose fur and cut down the shedding. You will need to blow dry long-haired cats or they will tangle and mat. After the cat is dry comb him out to make sure there are no mats.

Reward Kitty When You Finish

Reward her when you’re done. Give her a favorite treat, plenty of cuddles, and her favorite foods. Praise her. Make bath time as positive as possible.

What Not to Do When Bathing Your Cat:

  • Don’t use restraints like “Cat bags” or grooming tethers. Restraints will make Kitty freak out from the lack of control in an already unfamiliar experience.
  • Scruffing.  Scruffing is often recommended as a good way to handle cats because it is similar to how their mothers carry them as kittens. But mother cats don’t carry older kittens or cats that way. Scruffing is an aggressive act to cats beyond kittenhood. The only time cats would be handled in that way in nature would be by a predator or during mating. It is not calming. Scruffing is sometimes necessary in an emergency situation; such as if you are handling a feral cat, a cat in pain, or an aggressive cat. There are much better ways to handle your furbaby for routine bathing.
  • Yell and scream and freak out. You’ll only scare her. Losing control is the worst thing you can do. Kitty depends on you to hold it together.
  • Make it a punishment. You want to make bathing and grooming a positive experience.

Help Your Cat Get Used to Bathing So She Won’t Scratch You.

  • Start young. Obviously if you have an adult cat you’ll possibly have to overcome more resistance. Take time to train Kitty to tolerate the bathing process if you can. If she rolled in fly-tape like my Mocha, well then you just kind of have to go for it.
  • Let him play with dripping water in the sink or tub.
  • Drop a motorized fish toy in a shallow tub of water or float some ping pong balls. If the tub doesn’t entice, try a heavy, large casserole type dish.
  • Let Kitty to play in the dry bathtub. Then add a little bit of water so she’s used to the feeling on her paws.
  • Wipe her with a wet washcloth to get her used to the feel on water in her coat.
  • Don’t discipline her with a spray bottle of water. Not only is it ineffective, but she won’t see water as a positive experience.
  • Churu or similar treats might help a food motivated cat. Put her in a shallow tub and let her lick her treat while you dampen her coat.
wet cat getting a bath
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Cats have a well deserved reputation of being very clean animals. In fact, they are rather vain. (As well they should be.) Once Kitty gets used to being bathed, she will appreciate being all fresh and clean after a bath. My cats are more playful and social after being groomed. I’ve heard the same from many of my clients. They feel good and they know they look good. Make it a positive routine and you too will be able to bathe your cat without getting scratched to pieces.

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17 thoughts on “How to Bathe Your Cat Without Getting Scratched to Bits”

  1. Karl Kittenhausen

    While I appreciate the article, I’m sorry to say but you failed to mention what the entire article is in fact titled and about. How not to get scratched to bits.
    I have three and while two hate it and cry like they are dying, 🙄, one quite literally “worms” or twists and turns like he’s about to be operated on by aliens and has a chance to get away. And he won’t stop wriggling. Then he starts to hiss and which point comes the claws. Just to clip his nails is a NIGHTMARE. SO, how do I bathe my cat without being clawed to bits?

    1. Clip the claws first. Always reduce the risk. I have one that’s near impossible to clip her claws. If you have a second person to help it’s easier. Have one person hold Kitty and the other clip quickly. Distracting with treats or favorite toys can help. For the bath it’s all in the handling. Make him feel secure – put a towel or yoga mat in the tub so he can grab onto it. A towel hung on the side of the sink can help. A lickimat with baby food or a churu treat can keep the head occupied while you wash the rest. If Kitty is very scared try filling a bucket with water before you start instead of using a shower approach. The noise of the running water scares them. Don’t get his face wet. Don’t use too much product because it will require much more rinsing. Then use cupfuls of the water from the bucket to rinse. Stay calm and be gentle. Speak soothingly. Some cats like music (my Betsy responds to industrial metal – go figure.) My Sunspot is a wiggle worm. Keeping a hand across his shoulders or his chest helps or sometimes lifting his front paws off the ground while hold him under the arms. Some people advocate scruffing but unless you have a kitten that can be taken as aggressive.

  2. Hello, I have a question my cat Biddens is part Maine coon cat and domestic tuxedo cat. I have had him since he was 8weeks old and was infested with fleas until he was two years old when I got rid of them. I would give him regular baths but ended up traumatizing him and I stopped. How can I give him a bath now and be positive experience when he still remembers kitten hood baths?

    1. The best thing you can do is make it non threatening. Keep the water warm. Don’t make it too deep. The running water from the tap is usually what scares them the most. You could try filling a bucket with the warm water and dip the water with a pitcher to wet him and rinse him. Don’t use a lot of shampoo so it won’t take as much to rinse him. Think spa 😉 low lights, classical music or the calming music for cats channel on YouTube. Talk to him or sing to him softly. Creamy treats. Stay calm and work fast. Dry him well. I would just dry him well with a towel and not worry about drying with a drier as long as you can keep him warm. Comb him out so he doesn’t get matted. Rinsing him well is the other key to make sure he doesn’t mat. If he’s really traumatized you could start by just getting wet without shampooing or anything and stop just before he hits panic mode. Try getting him to play in water – robotic fish toys or ping pong balls in like an inch of water. Then when that’s ok wet him with a washcloth, then pour water, then finally work up to the whole thing. Most cats do get to the point they are ok with it. And the ones that don’t get to at least tolerate it, you’ll learn how best to do it as fast as possible. Hope that helps.

  3. I’ve only had one cat, and he was about two years old when he came to live with us. I never bathed him because he didn’t seem to need it until he was quite old. I filled the sink with warm water and carried him over to the sink. Although he was normally quite docile and easy-going, he freaked out before I ever got him in the water. I wish I would have known to start out bathing him earlier in his life. (He never did get a bath because it was not worth traumatizing him.)

  4. I don’t know much about cats but I imagine they can be gradually trained to tolerate bathing just like anything else. I imagine it needs to be done in baby steps.

  5. This is such a helpful post. Thanks to you I rinse Harvey over and over again to get rid of the eardrops that leak out (thanks to his dropped ears).

    If it’s done properly, I think you could probably b;athe most cats. It just takes knowledge like this!

  6. My previous Persian was fine with baths. NOT Truffle or Brulee. They usually stay pretty clean, but every once in a while, they need a butt bath. I like the idea of using a warm towel from the dryer.

  7. I had two cats years ago who I would bath every once in a while when they were younger. One of those cats lived to 19. She had a harder time cleaning herself, so I would give her a bath every 6 months or so just to help her stay clean. I still brushed her longer hair, but super gently because she was also arthritic. She had a hard time spreading her oils around evenly, so bathing her helped. I wish I had these tips back then.

  8. Very Nice Tips on how to wash a Kitty. I will have to share this with my family member who has a cat who doesn’t feel comfortable getting cleaned. Thanks for the tips. From Ava Jaine (Dachshund Station)

  9. I never thought about bathing cats till I started reading cat blogs, I never did when I had cats as at the time the vet said it was not necessary but things have changed since then. I will now know if in the future I get cats again.

  10. I wouldn’t think it’s good to bathe a cat cos wouldn’t you wash away all their natural oils that keep the coat shiny? TW tried to bathe her cat about a century ago. The cat was pure white. She put some pink shampoo on her and she bolted out the back door. She was pink for quite a while and no doubt licked some nasty stuff when she washed.

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