Cats are quite adept at keeping themselves clean, but sometimes they need a little extra help from their humans. If your kitty has fleas, you definitely want to take that extra step and bathe him. But just the prospect of bathing your cat might make you a little nervous. How do you give your cat a bath if he hates water? The best strategy is to slowly get him acclimated to the bath using warm water while being very patient and speaking in reassuring tones.
The first step in keeping your cat calm is to stay calm yourself. Cats tend to pick up on their owner's energy. Staying calm doesn't guarantee your cat won't freak out a little when her paws touch the water, but it can help. You can also set up a Calming Diffuser in the bathroom, which mimics the pheromones that help a cat know she's safe and secure.
Help Your Cat Get Used to the Water
Some cats need time to realize the bathwater isn't secretly trying to hurt them. Let him get slowly acclimatized to the idea of a bath by just getting his paws wet at first. Or put him in the bathroom with you while you're taking a bath, so he gets used to the sound of running water.
Give him treats when his paws get a little wet. You might even float one of his toys in the water. This could make him curious enough to dip a paw in, helping him realize it's not so scary.
Some cats will gradually become more comfortable with water, while others will still need that extra nudge and comfort during an actual bath.
Prep Everything Before the Bath
You don't want to start your cat's bath only to realize you forgot something, so set up everything in advance. Trim your cat's nails a day or two before the bath to reduce scratching.
Have several towels ready. One should be on the bathroom floor to soak up spilled water, and one will be used to blot your kitty's fur after his bath. Some people even put a towel or rubber mat at the bottom of the tub so their cats have more of a grip while they stand.1
Brush your cat's fur before you bathe him. Matted fur can be tough to detangle once it's wet, which might hurt when you're applying the shampoo.2
Have the flea shampoo near the tub so you can reach it easily. Adams Flea & Tick Cleansing Shampoo is a great choice for cats. It kills fleas, ticks, and lice while preventing new flea eggs from hatching for 30 days. Another option is the Adams d-Limonene Flea & Tick Shampoo, which has a conditioner and citrus scent.
Use Warm Water and Consider Small Tubs
Cats tend to be calmer if the water they're in is warm and comfy. The water shouldn't be too hot, but it also shouldn't be so cool that it might leave your cat feeling chilled.
Some people bathe their cats in a bathtub with a low level of warm water, just enough to reach their cat's chests. Others may set up smaller plastic tubs in a sink or tub to keep their cats a little more confined. Fill one with soapy water and one with clean water to wash out all the flea product.
Whichever method you choose, your cat might be a little calmer if he's used to a harness and wears it during the bath. But this only works if the harness is the thinner kind that still lets you work the flea shampoo into his fur.
Be Careful While Bathing Your Kitty
Some cats don't like sudden movements, and they need you to take things extra slow while they're feeling vulnerable in a bath. Wash your cat gently and speak to him soothingly.
Don't use a spray hose on your cat. Instead, dip your hand into the warm water and gently scoop the water onto your kitty. Scoop a little at a time until his fur is wet down to the skin. Take care not to get any water or soap in your cat's eyes, ears, or nose.
With flea shampoo, you want a good lather. Continue to work the lather in over the whole cat for three to five minutes, being sure to avoid the area around the eyes. (Your cat will love the massage!) Make sure you read the directions carefully and don't leave the shampoo on longer than directed.
If the bathroom doors are closed and there's no place for him to hide, you can take your cat out of the tub and replace the old water during those few minutes. If you're using small tubs, then top off the clean water with some warm water to keep it a comfy temperature. Watch him closely and make sure he doesn't lick himself. Then rinse it all out and don't leave any soap behind.
After the bath, blot his wet fur with a dry towel to get some of the excess water out. Then let him out into a small, draft-free, warm room where he can air dry.
Alternatives If Your Cat Just Won't Tolerate a Bath
Some cats simply won't tolerate a bath, no matter how much you try. In those situations, there are other flea products that get the job done. Adams Plus Flea & Tick Spot On for Cats is a treatment you put on the back of his neck every 30 days to kill adult fleas and eggs before they hatch. The Adams Plus Flea & Tick Collar for Cats kills fleas and ticks for seven months.
Make sure you treat your home so fleas don't hide in your carpet. Try a carpet spray, carpet powder, or fogger. If you ever let your cats outside, even on a harness, consider treating your yard with Adams Yard & Garden Spray.
The best time to teach a cat to tolerate a bath is when he's a kitten. He'll get used to it and realize it's just part of life. But if you missed the kitten window, you can still successfully bathe your kitty if you have some patience, plan ahead, and remain calm through the process.
1. Shojai, Amy. "How to Bathe Your Kitten or Adult Cat." The Spruce Pets, 8 October 2019, https://www.thesprucepets.com/cat-bath-advice-553938.
2. Conklin, Lisa Marie. "How to Bathe a Cat Without Getting Scratched." Reader's Digest, https://www.rd.com/advice/pets/how-to-bathe-a-cat/.