By Popular Demand: How to Bathe a Cat and Live to Tell About It

Story at-a-glance -

  • In this video, in response to popular demand, Dr. Becker demonstrates how to successfully bathe a cat. Her model is her very own Enzo, a rescued, once semi-feral kitty who has never been bathed.
  • The reason some cats need regular baths is because they may not have the best hygiene despite their natural grooming activities. These kitties can wind up with greasy or sticky coats. Also, cats with weight problems can only groom areas of the body they can comfortably reach. The back half of the coat of overweight cats often becomes matted, and the skin can get itchy, flakey and even infected. Long haired cats may not be able to effectively keep up with all the grooming necessary to keep their coat and skin clean and healthy.
  • Preparing to bathe your cat is as important as the actual bath. Enlisting a helper is a really good idea. That way, you can have a cat “holder” and a cat bather. You may want to trim your kitty’s nails before the bath, and also apply a Bach Flower Essence like Rescue Remedy or Spirit Essence’s Scaredy Cat to your kitty to calm her. You should have all your supplies laid out, a non-skid surface in place in the bottom of the sink or tub, and the water regulated at a comfortably warm temperature.
  • Bathing your cat involves wetting him down from the back of the neck to his tail, avoiding his head, then lathering him up with shampoo. The shampoo you use should be cat-specific and organic – no scents or additives. A thorough rinse is important, and don’t forget those hidden spots like the belly, and under the arms, neck and tail. Dry your cat using a series of towels, making sure to keep him in a warm room until he’s completely dry.
  • It’s important not to force your cat to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Cats don’t enjoy baths, but many tolerate them well enough. Others, unfortunately, become extremely frightened and distressed. If your kitty flips out at bath time, just let him go to avoid injury to yourself and further stress to your cat.

By Dr. Becker

Today, I’m filming a video at Natural Pet (my animal hospital) on the topic of bathing cats.

Now, I’m sure some of you are watching this video strictly for its entertainment value! After all, most kitties don’t enjoy baths and the whole ordeal can be hugely stressful for everyone involved.

But there are some cats – some Maine Coons, for example – that don’t mind the water. But even kitties who don’t mind water don’t necessarily like baths. This is similar to dogs that love to swim but don’t like bath time.

Anyway, I’m doing this video by popular demand. I get a lot of requests from my clients and Mercola Healthy Pets readers to demonstrate the best way to bathe a cat.

Introducing Enzo the Cat, aka 'Squishy'

It’s important to take a few precautions before trying to bathe your cat. Keep in mind that when a kitty gets angry or stressed -- no matter how docile or sweet she may be normally – bad things can happen. So I recommend you ask someone to help you with this project. I’ve asked Ashley, the best vet tech in the world, to be my assistant.

Today, we’re going to bathe one of our rescues. His name is Enzo, but we often call him Squishy because, well, he’s squishy! He came to us through our trap-neuter-release program. You’ll see he has a notched ear – that’s how we mark feral cats at the same time we neuter them, so we know when we see them out and about that they’re feral and have already been neutered. If a cat with a notched ear winds up in one of our traps, we just release him.

Enzo arrived around Halloween last year. The women who trapped him realized he was quite young – only about six months old at the time. Since the area he was found in has a coyote population, the women were nervous he would become coyote prey. Since he was not fully feral, we opted to keep him here for several months to try to domesticate him, and he domesticated beautifully.

Enzo was at the clinic for several months. Then on New Year’s Eve, my husband decided no kitty should spend the holiday alone. So he came into the clinic, collected Enzo, and he’s been at my house ever since. (We call these scenarios “foster failures!”)

Why Certain Cats Need Regular Baths

I’ve never tried to bathe Enzo, so this will be a great demo for those of you who’ll be attempting to bathe your own cat for the very first time.

In case you’re wondering why some cats occasionally need baths, one reason is that many kitties don’t have the best hygiene despite their natural tendency to groom themselves. These kitties can wind up with greasy or sticky coats as a result. And cats with weight problems can only groom areas they can reach. If you’ve ever watched an obese cat trying to groom himself, you know the challenge it presents. The back half of the coat of overweight cats often becomes matted. The skin tends to flake and get infected.

So kitties that don’t or can’t groom themselves efficiently need regular baths.

Preparing for the Bath

Since this task will be stressful for both you and your kitty, I recommend getting everything set up beforehand – before you actually put your cat in the tub.

I’m going to get the bath ready first, including regulating the water temperature. The goal is to get Enzo into the tub, get him bathed, and get him back out as soon as possible to decrease his stress level.

I’m also going to use a flower essence blend from Spirit Essences called Scaredy Cat. If you’re concerned about what your kitty’s reaction will be to bath time, I recommend using a flower essence blend. There are several different types and blends. You can also use Rescue Remedy. What these products do is help reduce your cat’s anxiety.

None of my kitties are declawed, so something else I’m going to do to prepare for bath time is give Enzo a nail trim. The goal is to keep the stress level as low as possible, but in the event he flips out on us, the nail trim will reduce the amount of damage he’s able to inflict. My assistant Ashley will hold and cuddle Enzo while I quickly give him a pedicure.

Then I apply a little Scaredy Cat. I use flower essences very liberally. I pet the cat with some on my hand. I also apply a little to my fingers and rub it on the inside of the tips of his ears. You can also give flower essences orally, but I prefer to give them topically since they are alcohol tinctures.

Enzo is now purring, so the Scaredy Cat is doing its thing.

Now, I’m in the bathing area of my clinic where I have a wonderful raised tub that makes bathing animals easy on the back. You can consider bathing your cat in your kitchen sink, which will be better ergonomically than bending over a regular bathtub.

I recommend you put something down on the floor of the sink or tub to provide a non-skid surface for your cat. I use a wet towel. The water should be lukewarm – not shockingly cold or too hot. And you should have a dry towel within arm’s reach when you take your cat out of the bath.

When you’re selecting a shampoo, it’s important to pick a cat-friendly one. 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.

My water temperature is perfect. I have everything laid out. I’m ready for Enzo.

Enzo Has His First Bath

Just as a reminder, having a helper is recommended, because while you can bathe your cat on your own, if you’re not sure how she’ll respond it could get ugly. Having an extra set of calming hands on your kitty during the process will help. You basically have a holder and a bather. Your holder should be comfortable with your cat and focused on keeping her steady and calm. A squeamish helper could make the situation worse, so make sure your helper can provide a steadying, calming influence.

If your kitty does flip out, just let her go. A frightened, distressed cat will shred or bite you to get free. A kitty who is in fear for her safety can do some real damage to tender skin, so just let go if your kitty freaks out.

I don’t know what Enzo’s response will be because I’ve never bathed him. If he flips out on us, we’ll just let him bolt from the tub and that’s that. However, we’re hoping he’ll be cooperative.

As you can see now that Enzo’s in the tub, he’s doing very well. He’s being very good, which will make this process so much easier. Just as with dogs, I don’t recommend bathing your cat’s head. I’m wetting Enzo down from the back of his neck to his tail. And now I’m lathering him up with an organic, kitty-specific shampoo.

If your cat has long hair, you might want to dilute your shampoo with water first, then pour the solution over the coat to get the shampoo down into the dense fur more easily. Enzo has fairly short hair, so I’m able to apply shampoo directly to his coat.

Now, I’m washing Enzo’s front legs… moving on to his bottom… and on to his tail. Enzo continues to hang in there and is being extremely cooperative even though he’s clearly not exactly enjoying himself.

Now, I’m going to rinse out the shampoo. It’s important to get all the shampoo rinsed out of your cat’s coat, because any residue left behind can become a skin irritant. Make sure to rinse the belly, the underside of the neck, the armpits, and under the tail.

Now, we’re going to sort of wring Enzo out, wrap a dry towel around him and remove him from the tub.


Well, I must say that was wildly successful! I didn’t really anticipate Enzo would be so cooperative. I certainly hope your cat’s bath goes as easily as this one did!

Most importantly, you never want to do anything to your kitty that your kitty doesn’t want done. I don’t think Enzo loved the bathing process, but he was not aggressive or hostile at any point.

Now, we’ll towel dry him, but I won’t use a blow drier on him because I suspect the noise would freak him out. So I’ll use a series of dry towels, and hold and cuddle him in a warm room until he’s completely dry.

I wish you the best of luck with your kitty bath!