A Guide on How to Bathe a Cat Who Hates Water
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A Guide on How to Bathe a Cat Who Hates Water

Veterinarians.org Team

By

Medically reviewed by

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Cats are fastidious and very self-conscious about personal hygiene. Studies show that the average cat spends one-quarter of its life on grooming. 

And it is well equipped to do so – the 300 hundred small spines on the tongue act like a brush, and the saliva has strong antiseptic properties.  

Therefore, it is normal to wonder – is bathing cats necessary or just a pet care myth? The simple answer is there are situations in which cats do need baths. 

However, this triggers an even more critical question – how to bathe a pet with a genuine hatred for water?

In this article, we will discuss the situations in which cats need baths. We will also explain how to make bathing a stress-free experience for your cat and a scratch-free experience for you. 

Should You Bathe a Cat?

Yes, it would help if you bathe your cat. However, this does not mean you should schedule regular baths – it means you need to bathe your cat in situations when licking away the dirt is not enough.

Basically, the reasons for bathing cats can be classified into three groups:

  • Situational
  • Cat breed
  • Medical.

Situational Reasons for Bathing Your Cat

Cats can get adventurous and end up in a sticky or stinky situation. Here are some practical examples:

  • Skunk spraying – removing the smell takes thorough cleaning, and you will need to step in and help your cat
  • Trash digging – in this case, your cat can clean itself, but you do not want her ingesting all the germs and toxins from the garbage
  • Fur bugs – bathing can help remove superficial infestations with creepy pests like ticks, lice, fleas, and mites.

Breed Reasons for Bathing Your Cat

Due to their specific anatomy and physiology, some cat breeds need more frequent bathing. Common examples include:

  • Long-haired cats like Persians. The Persian cat has long, lustrous and high-maintenance hair. Keeping the coat clean and tangle-free requires daily attention and usually some human assistance.  
  • Hairless cats like Sphinx. The Sphinx needs periodic baths (every few weeks) to remove the excess skin oil. If the skin oil builds up, it will attract debris and increase the risk of skin infections.   
  • Water-loving cats like Turkish Vans. The Turkish Van is the exception to the cats-hate-water rule. Anecdotal reports suggest that these cats jump into waters to cool off during Turkish summer heats.   

Medical Reasons for Bathing your Cat

Sometimes, bathing can be a medical necessity. There are medical conditions that:

  • Require bathing as part of the treatment plan – for example, cats with allergies, atopic dermatitis, and seborrhea need more regular bathing to manage the condition and soothe the symptoms.
  • Prevent cats from self-grooming – cats with arthritis and cats that are elderly or obese are physically incapable of self-grooming or will only groom the body areas that are easily accessible. 

Now that you are familiar with the “when” of bathing cats, it is time we discuss the “how”. 

How to Prep Your Cat for a Bath

Before we explain how to successfully prep your cat for a bath, we should debunk the popular myth that cats hate water. Cats do not hate water – they simply have good reasons for not being wet:

  • Evolution – modern cats descended from the Arabian wild cat who lacked access to large water bodies and had no advantage of swimming
  • Fight or flight – as semi-domesticated species, cats are always alert, and having wet, heavy fur compromises agility
  • Negative experience – cats squirted with water as a disciplinary measure are likely to be afraid of baths
  • Scent changes – bathing changes how the cat smells and ruins the hard work of self-grooming, meaning it needs to start from scratch and lick itself back to “normal.”        

Now that you understand the roots of your cat’s skepticism for water, it will be easier to craft the right preparation strategy. Here are some tips on how to prep your cat for a bath. 

Stay Calm

The first thing you need to do is stay calm and be patient. Rough handling and scolding will only add to the already stressful situation and make things worse. Plus, cats can sense how you feel and pick up your negative attitude.

However, cats can be unpredictable and, if startled, can panic. Therefore, it is advisable to do some damage control and have your cat’s nails well-trimmed before bath time comes 

Stroke Your Cat’s Fur and Pet Them

The key to every successful training and experience is positive reinforcement. Your cat needs to feel encouraged and supported. To do this, make sure you stroke your cat’s fur and pet it throughout the process.

Talking to your cat sweetly and gently is also helpful. Basically, it would be best to reassure your cat that bathing is not a bad thing and that everything will be alright. 

Get Your Cat Used to Water

Teaching a cat how to tolerate water can be a lengthy process and needs to be started as soon as possible, preferably while your cat is still a young kitten. These are the few steps to getting your cat used to water:

  • Put your cat in an empty sink or bathtub and let it play with its favorite toy or give it treats. Depending on what motivates your cat, you can also be affectionate and do some petting. At this point, the goal is to associate the sink/bath with a positive experience
  • Once the cat is comfortable in the empty sink/tub, you can start using a wet washcloth. You do not need to soak your cat with the washcloth – making it a bit damp will do the trick.
  • The next step is to get your cat acquainted with actual water. You should put some water at the bottom of the sink/tub and let your cat’s feet adjust to the feeling. Once again, toys, treats, and praises will make things easier.
  • After mastering these steps, it is safe to assume that your cat will tolerate bathing, and you can try the real deal. However, we should note the importance of getting your cat well-dried after the bath. The cat’s fur dries hard and can be uncomfortable, making the overall adjustment to water more challenging. 

Using Calming Treats

High-quality calming treats can be your best ally in the cat-bathing journey. We recommend using the Honest Paws Calm Cat Soft Chews. 

Made with all-natural and human-grade ingredients like chamomile flower powder, passionflower, CBD oil, and silvervine, the Calm Cat Soft Chews promote calmness and relaxation. Plus, they are non-GMO and soy-free. 

The Calm Cat Soft Chews are salmon-flavored, meaning even the pickiest cat will find their taste irresistible. Each jar contains approximately 60 treats and will have you covered for a significant number of baths. 

How to Bathe a Cat

With the preparations covered, it is time we explain how the actual bathing should look like. To keep things smooth and simple, just follow these steps.

Step 1: Check your supplies and ensure you have everything you need within reach, including brushes, shampoos, towels.

Step 2: Dry brush your cat before the bath to remove fur mats and tangles and decrease the workload during the bath.

Step 3: Protect the eyes and ears from water and soap by putting Vaseline around the cat’s eyes and cotton balls in the ears.

Step 4: Fill the sink/tub with a few inches of lukewarm water and gently put your cat inside while holding it by its scruff.

Step 5: Use a cup, your hand, or the sink/bath hose to gently soak your cat until thoroughly wet (the sound of the hose can be spooky for some cats).

Step 6: Gently rub the cat-friendly shampoo into the coat and avoid getting shampoo into the eyes or mouth.

Step 7: Rinse the shampoo thoroughly, and where possible, let the water flow from the head and down towards the body instead of the other way around.

Step 8: Once the shampoo is rinsed out, run your hand through the fur in the hair growth direction to remove the excess water

Step 9: Scruff your cat to get her out of the bath and wrap her in a large and dry towel (keep it covered until the towel soaks most of the water).

Step 10: Use the hairdryer to completely dry your cat while keeping it at a safe distance to prevent burns (it may take some time for your cat to get used to the sound).

You can increase the time interval between two baths by allowing your cat to self-groom, practicing regular brushing, and spot-cleaning with a damp cloth when necessary. 

Our Final Thoughts

Bathing is not straightforwardly mandatory for cats, but it can be necessary for specific situations. 

You will obviously need to step in when the cat’s sticky and stinky coat becomes incompatible with the spotlessly clean living room.

However, as a responsible cat parent it is your mission to keep your feline friend as comfortable as possible at all times, including during baths. 

The good news is with the right approach, cats can get used to water, and bath time does not have to equal stress, hissing, and scratching.