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Should you wash a cats head?

10 low-stress tips for bathing and grooming a cat

Except for drinking, you won’t catch most cats coming close to water. The closest thing most felines see to a bath is their own tongue. Although that’s enough for most cats, sometimes they need to be bathed or groomed because they got tangled or for medical reasons. If you’re skeptical or fearful, try these ten […]

Except for drinking, you won’t catch most cats coming close to water. The closest thing most felines see to a bath is their own tongue. Although that’s enough for most cats, sometimes they need to be bathed or groomed because they got tangled or for medical reasons.

If you’re skeptical or fearful, try these ten tips for getting your cat and yourself through the process without stress or injury:

1. Be selective in how you’ll bathe your cat. Some cats prefer a shower, with their human holding them close. They sometimes find it more soothing than being held only in the arms. Other cats prefer a sink where they can be up high, while others would rather get in the bath tub, although some cats find a faucet aversive. Consider pouring warm water from a cup, or using an extended, flexible nozzle to give yourself more control.

2. Mind the water. Bathwater should be kept at the temperature comfortable for an infant. You might want to look into baby bath monitors to keep it save and comfortable for your cat. They can also great stressed out at the force of the water coming from a faucet, nozzle, or shower head; keep the pressure low, or use a cup as recommended earlier. Wet washcloths can be used as well.

3. Watch the face. Most cats are afraid of having their faces washed, so only bathe them from the neck down. To clean the face or sensitive areas like the ears, pet wipes are often better tolerated. Unless it upsets the cat, put cotton balls in each ear to protect them from water.

4. Place an anti-skid mat on the bottom of the bathing surface to give your cat a better grip. Many cats will panic when their feet slip, but if they have grip and stability, the struggle is often reduced.

5. Keep them calm. Try using lavender or chamomile scents in the bathing area, as they can keep you and the cat calm. Classical music, played softly, may help, too. Think spa!

6. Treats! If your cat will take treats, such as licks of tuna or soft cat food off a spoon, have a helper reward your cat during the bath. Even for cats who won’t take treats, petting, gentle massage, and talking can be soothing as well. Post-bath, find a ritual your feline especially enjoys. This could be a special reward given to them only after baths, such as a special type of food or extra special play session. Many times by pairing it with a positive after the bath time is better tolerated because of the anticipated reward to come.

7. Take it slow. For cats who are especially upset with baths, try getting them comfortable with the bathing area without water to begin with. Place the cat in or near the bathing area and reward for staying in this area with a session or play or palatable treats.

If the cat is still freaked out even without water, try doing the training in an area near the bath, such as just outside the bathroom door or on the floor outside of the bath. Then, practice the training with water flowing in the bath but the cat outside of the area to get them comfortable with the sound of water. Also, practice the types of handling and holds that are done in the bath without water being used so the feline is accustomed to this type of handling. Only progress at a rate the cat stays comfortable with and is relaxed enough to enjoy rewards.

8. For cats who are fearful of running water, alternatives are available. Consider using facial wipes for the cat’s face and ear wipes for the ear area. Body wipes can also be used all over the cat’s body in place of a bath or between baths. For more thorough cleaning, the coat can be cleaned using a waterless grooming foam, which only needs to be applied and then toweled off for a deeper clean. While they may not be as thorough as a bath with water, they still remove many of the allergens collected on a cat’s coat, and will leave a cat smelling and looking fresh. In a similar fashion to a bath, a cat can be given rewards both during and after being wiped clean.

9. Be careful. If the cat is sensitive of certain areas being touched, such as paws, start with the areas the cat is comfortable with and clean those, such as only cleaning the back and sides of the cat. Then, gradually accustom the cat to having the sensitive areas touched by using a hand without a grooming product to begin with.

Practice handling around the area in a manner the cat is comfortable with. For paws, this may mean handling the cat only near the shoulder to begin with and progressing down the leg towards the paw only as the cat remains relaxed with the handling. With ears, it may mean handling around the neck, head and base of the ears and only doing light touching and handling as the cat stays calm. Be sure to pair handling with rewards the cat finds enjoyable. Or, even do the handling in a manner the cat is relaxed with and follow up with a reward they already enjoy; like their meal, petting or a play session.

10. Drying time is relaxing time. When a cat needs to be dried after a bath, those who are comfortable with handling often prefer to be held inside of a towel or two that can be gently rubbed to dry their coat. Or, if they are the type of cat who wants space immediately after the bath, if possible, towel the cat in the area where they can be contained, such as the bath or sink area. Then, holding the toweled cat, lower her to the floor where she can be released rather than jumping, which can cause anxious anticipation and result in injury.

If needed, when lowering the cat, position her in a way where the towel is wrapped gently around her paws or hold her firmly by her side with paws facing away from you to lessen the chance of being clawed as you set the cat down.

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Bathing a Cat: Do’s and Dont’s

Bathing a cat is not really a good idea because on the whole, cats don’t much like water (unless they’re Bengals, who positively enjoy splashing around in puddles).

Cats have all they need to keep themselves clean, so giving a cat a bath is generally only necessary in extreme circumstances.

Angry Siamese cat in a bath

I can’t believe you just did that!
Image © iStockphoto | Debbi Smirnoff

For example, if they get covered in an oily or toxic substance that they can’t remove by themselves, or when they come into contact with something evil-smelling, or get invaded by ticks or fleas.

Occasional bathing will also probably be needed for long-haired cats and essential for the Sphynx breed, whose lack of fur means that the oil produced by their bodies is not removed in the normal way. (Normally, excess oil is removed from a cat as their fur is either groomed out or falls out.)

You need nerves of steel when bathing a cat. But if you do need to give your cat a bath, here are our instructions.

Before Bathing a Cat. Prepare:


Wear old clothes — jeans and a long-sleeved shirt or sweater to protect your skin from getting scratched.

Your Cat

Clip your cat’s nails. Many an unsuspecting owner has been badly scratched by unhappy cats trying to flee the scene! Once you’ve done that, keep your cat secure and safely out of the way while you organize .

The Kitchen or Bathroom

The kitchen is a good place for bathing a cat, especially if you have a double sink. One half can then be used for soaping and the other half for rinsing off.

Whether you have a single sink or a double one, if you use the kitchen sink it’s a good idea to take a folded towel and lay it on the counter at the edge of the sink, with the open end of the folded towel level with the edge, so that when you’ve finished, your cat can climb up straight up into the towel.

Another idea is to put a large towel at the bottom of the sink to give your cat something to grip onto.

(The tips above about the towels were sent to us by one of readers, Diane. Thank you Diane!)

Alternatively, you can use the bathroom shower or bath, where you have the added advantage of a shower head for to rinse with. If you decide on the bathroom, one way is to use the bucket method — use two buckets (or large saucepans or similar containers) one for the soapy water, one to rinse.

Whichever room you choose, make sure that all breakable items are moved well out of harm’s way.

Your Tools

Collect together everything you’ll need. Sponge or face cloth, specially formulated shampoo for cats, or flea shampoo if you’re treating fleas.

Don’t use human shampoo or soap as these can harm the animal’s skin and fur. You’ll also need a brush, a comb and several large towels.

The shampoos below, available on Amazon, appear to be well-tolerated by most cats:

The Water

The water temperature should be the same as the cat’s body temperature (102ºF/39ºC), which is higher than our own, so to you the water should feel slightly hotter than luke-warm. If not, to the cat, the water will feel uncomfortably cold.

Put a small amount (around a tablespoonful) of shampoo into your first container. Add water and mix well – you need enough water to partly cover your pet, but don’t overfill your container, because cats don’t like having their faces splashed.

Fill the second container with clean warm water.

And Here Goes!

Step 1: Washing

Bring in your victim dearly beloved faithful companion. Lower him gently into the first container. Once in, use one hand to support him and the other to work your way through his fur so that the whole body, apart from the head, gets wet.

(You may find at this point that an extra pair of hands would be useful when bathing a cat. Remember this! Enlist help next time around.)

Add a little more shampoo and work it through the fur all the way up to the neck, then rinse and remove as much of the soapy water as possible with your hands before taking the cat out.

Step 2: Rinsing

Put your cat into the container with the clean water, rinse him well, and again, squeeze away as much water as possible with your hands. You may need to rinse more than once.

Rinse, rinse and rinse again if necessary, as it’s very important to get all the shampoo out of the cat’s coat to avoid leaving him with skin problems.

Step 3: Drying

Don’t leave your cat with wet fur. Wrap him securely in a towel but avoid covering his face as this may frighten him.

Towel his fur in every direction and if necessary use further towels to get him as dry as possible before releasing him. He’ll probably lick himself all over, which will help to dry him off.

If you have a long-haired cat, brush its fur gently to remove any knots and tangles, and finish by combing through.

That’s it. You’re done. You’ve either succeeded or may have decided never to do it again. Bathing a cat is not always fun, but congratulations on your first attempt! Treats are probably in order — one for your feline friend, and most certainly one for you too .

Related Cat Care Articles

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  • Looking after older cats

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