Cat Bathing 101

Posted by Tomlyn on Sep 19th 2018

September 2018

Even the most inexperienced of all cat owners probably knows one fundamental truth about felines. Most of them hate water. The good news is that they generally do a great job of grooming themselves. With a bit of brushing on a regular basis, bathing is usually unnecessary for most cats.


Every once in a while, a situation will come up when there is no other choice but to give a cat a bath. For me, it was immediately following the first time I took Nabisco on a long car ride. Stressed from the trip and confinement in his carrier, he soiled himself. I was in the parking lot of a road side stop 4 hours from home and 5 hours from our destination when I noticed what had happened. Needless to say, I had a long time to think about bathing him upon arrival!

Should you find yourself in a similar predicament, here are a few tips to make the process easier:

Make a plan. Having a plan of attack and being organized is essential for making the process of bathing a cat as simple and painless as possible. It will also keep stress for both you and your cat to a minimum. Giving your cat Tomlyn’s Relax & Calm chews once a day for a few days prior and then again 2-4 hours before the bath will help your cat better cope with the process.

Identify a location. Figure out where you are going tackle the project. I suggest a room with a deep sink, counter space, and door that closes off the room to eliminate the potential for escaping. I find the laundry room works well.

Gather supplies and have them at the ready.

  • Towel or non-slip pad for the sink
  • Cat shampoo
  • Ear cleaner
  • Source of warm water for rinsing
  • Towels for drying
  • Treats

Sinks are slippery, especially when they are wet. Your cat will likely resist the bathing process and may be sliding around in the sink. The non-slip pad or towel in the bottom of the sink can provide some much needed traction. Cat skin is not the same as human skin. Use a shampoo formulated for cats. Your veterinarian or local pet specialty retailer can recommend an appropriate product. As you are bathing your cat, be cautious with shampoo and water around the cat’s eyes, ears, and nose as they may be irritating to these structures. Bathing time can be a great time to clean your cat’s ears. Tomlyn’s Veterinarian Formulated Ear Cleaner and the towel used for drying should do the trick. Just squirt a small amount in each ear, and then gently massage the base of the ear. As you are drying the cat, use the towel to wipe away any excess ear cleaner. If your sink doesn’t have a spray nozzle, having a pitcher of warm water at the ready for rinsing can be a huge help. You don’t want to be searching for towels when your freshly clean but unhappy wet cat is trying vacate the bathing area. Having an assistant offer your cat treats before, during, and after the bath can positively condition the cat to the experience.

Be efficient. The bathing a cat can take just a few minutes if you’re well prepared. During the process, focus solely on the cat and work as quickly as possible. Your cat and your sanity will thank you.

With any luck, bathing your cat should be an infrequent event, rarely being necessary. If you find that your cat is needing more frequent bathing due to soiling or a failure to self-groom, you should consult your veterinarian. These behaviors may be subtle signs of an underlying medical or behavioral condition that needs attention.

Good luck!