How and When to Give a Cat a Bath

Because cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, many owners believe their cats don’t need any help from humans. That’s not true, says Certified Feline Master Groomer Lynn Paolillo.

“People think their cats are grooming themselves when in fact what they are doing is licking themselves. They do that to help spread excess oils around more evenly as we do when we brush our hair,” said Paolillo, an instructor and certifier with the National Cat Groomers Institute.“ The problem is the dirt and excessive dandruff doesn’t go anywhere.”

While brushing your cat helps cut down on hairballs and matting, many cats will benefit even more from occasional baths. Regular baths are especially beneficial for cats who don’t have the best hygiene as they can end up with greasy or sticky coats, writes Holistic Veterinarian Karen Becker in her article “How to Bathe a Cat and Live to Tell About It.” Obese cats especially have difficulty when it comes to grooming the back half of their coats. This can lead to flaky skin that can get infected.

People automatically think that cats hate water and can’t be bathed, but if introduced to water at an early age it isn’t traumatic for them, Paolillo says.

“When you start bathing cats from when they are kittens it just becomes a normal part of life,” the groomer said. “If you give treats and snuggles after every bath, the cat will start to make a positive association with being bathed.”

How often you bathe a cat will depend on the cat’s age, comfort level and need. When Paolillo fosters kittens she bathes them every three days because there’s poop everywhere. At 12 weeks and older they get monthly baths.

“I wouldn’t go any longer than every three to four months as they get older,” she said. “The goal is to give your cat regular baths so he or she sees it as something positive.”

Many of the cats coming to Paolillo’s salon are on a four to six-week bath schedule and the owners never have to deal with shedding, matting or hairballs. Those who want to bathe their cats less opt for haircuts.

Preparing for the bath

  • Don’t use the shower. Instead, bathe your cat in the sink preferably one with a spray nozzle.
  • Becker recommends placing a towel in the bottom of the sink to help prevent the cat from slipping.
  • Half fill the sink with warm water.
  • Get all your supplies ready.
  • Becker advises enlisting the help of an assistant to hold and comfort the cat during the bath.

Choosing Products

Make sure you choose a cat-friendly shampoo. According to Becker:

“That means one with no scent and no additives. No sulfates whatsoever. Look for a shampoo that’s organic, very gentle and mild, and most importantly, designed for use on cats. I don’t recommend human shampoos at all. Stick with one that is pH balanced for cats, unscented, free of all chemicals, and coconut oil based if possible.

Paolillo recommends hypoallergenic cat shampoos and advises against using a conditioner because it will leave behind a residue. Be sure to read the label carefully as many pet shampoos need to be diluted before using.

If you’re concerned about the reaction of your cat, Becker suggests using a flower essence blend a few minutes before the bath to help reduce anxiety. She recommends Scaredy Cat and Rescue Remedy as two good options.

Bathing Process

  • Paolillo said cat owners need to be confident and deliberate when it comes to bathing their cats.
  • Slowly lower the cat into the water.
  • If this is the first bath using a washcloth instead of a hose may be less stressful for the cat. You can use the hose on a gentle flow if the cat doesn’t appear stressed.
  • Start washing at the back of the neck and work down to the tail. Stay away from the ears, nose, eyes and mouth.

persiangettingabathRuthie, a blue and white Persian, is a senior who gets bathed every four weeks to help with her oily skin and dandruff and to keep her coat from tangling/Photo courtesy of  Lynn Paolillo.

Rinsing and Drying Off

  • You can pour water from a pitcher or use a hose on a gentle flow to rinse off the shampoo.
  • It’s important to rinse well as any shampoo left behind can irritate a cat’s skin and will also be ingested when the cat licks his/her coat.
  • Dry well with towels or a human blow dryer on a cool or warm setting.
  • Cats with single coats will dry faster than those with double coats. When drying a double-coated cat stop every 10 minutes to break up clumps of hair with a metal comb. This will help the coat to dry faster.
  • It’s important to make sure the coat is thoroughly dry to avoid skin irritation or clumping that can lead to matting.

When to Seek Professional Help

  • If you have an older cat who has never been bathed, Paolillo recommends seeking the help of a professional cat groomer. An experienced groomer can make the first bath less traumatic for a cat and offer insights to the owner on how to approach future baths.
  • A stressed cat can scratch and bite as a defense mechanism or when stressed.  Since cat bites are more likely to get infected it’s best for seniors or owners with compromised immune systems to seek the help of a groomer when it comes to bathing their cats.
  • If your cat is panicked or overly stressed, seek the help of a professional groomer.

“It’s important for owners to remember that because the cat freaked out with them, that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen at the groomers,” Paolillo said. “I bathe every cat that comes into my salon. Once you know what you’re doing and you get them past that first bath, it’s actually the least stressful part of the whole grooming process.”

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Photo courtesy of Lynn Paolillo


michela c
michela c5 months ago

Thanks (but do cats love having a bath???)

Peggy B
Peggy B5 months ago

Good to know. TYFS

hELEN hEARFIELD5 months ago


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Cindy S
Cindy Smith9 months ago


Kelly S
Past Member about a year ago

omg my cat would have a heart attack

KimJ M
KimJ Mabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing but I`ve never found it necessary to bathe our cats

KimJ M
KimJ Mabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing but I`ve never found it necessary to bathe our cats

KimJ M
KimJ Mabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing but I`ve never found it necessary to bathe our cats

Jaime J
Jaime Jabout a year ago

Thank you!!