How to Give a Kitten a Bath
Cats and kittens are usually pretty good about grooming themselves. However, sometimes—if your kitten decides to climb into your sooty fireplace, for instance—the job requires more than self-grooming can handle. By knowing how to acclimate your kitten to receiving a bath and what steps to take to scrub your kitten clean, you can prepare yourself for the next time your kitten needs a bath.
Acclimating the Kitten to Baths
Ensure the kitten is at least eight weeks old.Baths are not suitable for cats under eight weeks of age.Prior to eight weeks, the mother cat will take care of most of the kitten’s grooming needs. If you do need to groom the kitten prior to eight weeks, use a soft, damp cloth to spot clean soiled areas of the kitten’s fur instead of giving the kitten a bath.
- Even if the kitten doesn’t need a bath at eight weeks, this is the ideal time to start acclimating a kitten to baths if you want to be able to bathe the cat into adulthood for purposes of showing the cat or to cut back on your personal allergies to the cat’s fur. By starting as a kitten, your adult cat will be more receptive to baths in general.
Acclimate your kitten to thorough handling.If you know you want to be able to bathe your kitten, then start acclimating the kitten to handling by you as early as possible. In addition to learning not to fear the water, the kitten will also need some time to learn that the amount of handling required for a bath is okay.
- Handle the kitten’s paws and splayed toes, tummy, back, and inside the ears.
Veterinarian Pippa Elliott MRCVS gave us this tip: "Never under estimate the power of praise. Tell the kitten how clever they are, and fuss and pet them. You could even practice the bath ahead of their next meal, so they get this as a reward."
Place the kitten in the bathtub without water.Your first instinct may be to use a sink to bathe your kitten However, it’s not safe because the kitten could potentially jump out of the sink and sustain an injury. A bathtub is a much better option since the kitten can’t jump out of the tub basin. Place the kitten into the dry tub and let it explore and sniff around for several minutes while you offer praise.
- You can also start using this step prior to eight weeks of age so that the kitten is already comfortable with the tub by the time you ever add water.
Wet the kitten’s paws.After the kitten is comfortable with the dry tub, try wetting the kitten’s paws without giving a full bath. Run one or two inches of warm (not hot) water (just enough to cover the paws) with the kitten in the bathroom, so the kitten adjusts to the sound of running water as well. You may need to close the door to stop any escape attempts. Keep a hand under the kitten’s belly for support and lower the kitten’s paws down into the water.Offer petting and praise to calm the kitten down, and offer the kitten treats after standing for several minutes without fighting the water or trying to escape the tub.
- If the kitten won’t calm down in the water, then don’t offer the praise and treats since you’ll reinforce the wrong behavior. Instead, remove the kitten and try again the following day. You may have to repeat the process for several days before the kitten stands in the water without a struggle.
- If at any stage your kitten panics, gently grasp her by the scruff and lift her up out of the water. Holding the kitten by the scruff has a naturally calming effect and will help her to relax.
- You may want to place a grippy mat at the bottom of the tub since the kitten is more likely to panic if slipping around on the wet tub floor.
Use a clean dry towel to dry the kitten’s paws.A small kitten can very easily become too cold with wet fur. As you acclimate your kitten to receiving baths, always make sure you gently rub the fur dry anytime you remove the kitten from the water regardless of whether it’s just the paws or whether the entire kitten is dripping water.
Keep calm.The process of acclimating your kitten to your handling and any amount of water can take time and patience. No matter what, never get angry with the kitten or raise your voice as it will only scare the kitten and set the process back. Instead, offer a calm soothing tone, and offer plenty of positive reinforcement with petting, treats, and praise as the kitten makes progress.
Bathing Your Kitten
Consider enlisting help.You can scruff a kitten to help calm her down at any point in the process, but this isn’t always possible while you’re scrubbing or lathering shampoo. If your kitten has shown difficulty adjusting to the water alone, then enlist help from a second person before taking the next step. Have the person on hand and ready to scruff her if she panics or tries to claw her way out while you already have your hands full.
Use a washcloth.After the kitten has adjusted to standing in water without struggling, you can start wetting more of the cat’s fur in the bath. Initially, trying using a wet washcloth to rub down the kitten instead of pouring water.This will combine the wetting-down process with some nice petting and scratches along your kitten’s back, which the kitten will enjoy more than simply getting drenched with water.
- Don’t use any type of shampoo yet at this point. Just give the kitten a couple of washcloth-scrub baths first to help the cat adjust. If you try using shampoo before the kitten has fully acclimated to receiving baths, then you could get stuck with a panicking, soapy kitten. As with other steps, offer plenty of praise and treats to reinforce when your kitten reacts appropriately to the bath.
- A full bath with shampoo should only take around five minutes, so aim to acclimate the kitten to this length of time in the tub.
Pour water over the kitten’s back.After the kitten has adjusted to receiving a bath with a wet washcloth, then you can move on to using a small cup or bowl to pour some of the water over the kitten’s back. As always, offer praise and treats if the kitten is receptive to the new step in the process.
Keep water out of the kitten’s face.Getting water in the kitten’s eyes, ears, or nose can be very dangerous for the kitten. As you get closer to the kitten’s head while pouring the water, ensure that you lift the kitten’s chin and also use your hand to prevent water from running down over the kitten’s face.
- To wash the kitten’s face, use a clean, damp washcloth without any shampoo to wipe around the eyes, ears, and mouth. Use short strokes following the lie of the fur to mimic a mother licking the kitten.
Use shampoo.Use about a dime-size portion of a kitten-formulated pet shampoo. Spread the shampoo around on the kitten’s wet coat and lather up the fur.Scrub around the flanks and tummy and don’t forget to scrub between the paw pads to loosen any trapped dirt. Lift the kitten’s tail and gently use a soft washcloth if you need to clean around the kitten’s anus.
- Ensure that you use a shampoo for kittens and not human shampoo. The pH balance is very different, and human shampoo will overly dry your kitten’s skin.
- Even after you kitten has adjusted to the shampooing, you should still only use it every other time you bathe your cat to keep from over drying the kitten’s skin.
Rinse the kitten thoroughly.Since the kitten should already be accustomed to you pouring the water, you should easily be able to rinse the shampoo off the kitten now. For any soap around the top of the kitten’s head, use a clean, wrung-out washcloth to wipe out the shampoo instead of pouring water on your kitten’s head.
Keep it quick.Don’t rush, but don’t leave the kitten to soak in the water either. The entire process for wetting, scrubbing, and rinsing the kitten should only take about five minutes. You don’t want to test the kitten’s patience for the whole process as this can make it harder for the cat to acclimate to baths in the long run.
- As with all steps in the process, stay calm and use a soothing, reassuring voice to offer consistent praise to the kitten during the bath. This should help keep the kitten calmer for longer.
Dry the kitten thoroughly.As with any of the other steps that required the kitten getting wet, you should gently towel dry the kitten as soon as you remove it from the water to avoid the kitten getting too cold.
- Though a towel is preferable, if you want to use a blowdryer to dry the kitten, ensure that you use the coolest temperature on the lowest speed setting and keep the blowdryer at least twelve inches away from the animal.
QuestionWhat do I do when a kitten has fleas?Community AnswerWhen a kitten or just a cat has fleas the best idea is Dawn soap. I've used it for my cat and it completely works. You can get the fleas off better if you have a cat/kitten with light colored fur so you can see them.Thanks!
QuestionAre there any alternatives to cat shampoo?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJohnson & Johnson baby shampoo (a very minimal amount), and make sure to rinse it all out, as excess soap can dry out their skin.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I already gave the kitten a bath, and now it is afraid?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerUse some kind of toy or catnip to get the kitten to stay so you can wash it, or use a towel to hold it still and calm it.Thanks!
QuestionCan a 5-6 week old kitten take a bath? Also, will it hurt to pull ticks off?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRemoving ticks from cats should be done by a vet as they know more what they are doing. You shouldn't give them a bath, but wipe it down with a wet cloth if it's dirty. It will eventually learn how to bathe itself, especially if it's around other cats who will show it what to do.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the kitten is mad and attacts?Jules Owen PoleCommunity AnswerSoothe and calm it with gentle words and its favorite treats, then gently lower it into the warm water. If it attacks, repeat the process.Thanks!
QuestionCan baths hurt or kill a kitten?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, as long as you properly supervise, your kitten will be in no danger from taking a bath.Thanks!
QuestionCan kittens eat shrimp?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, they should not eat food/milk that is not designed for kittens.Thanks!
QuestionCan a 7 week old kitten take a bath?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, as long as you are careful and be sure to keep the water level below its head.Thanks!
QuestionHow should I react if my kitten scratches me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPull your hand away and stop petting or playing with the kitten immediately; they will eventually learn that biting isn't playful. You may have also done something to hurt or startle the kitten, so be careful not to scare it in the future.Thanks!
QuestionWhat happens if shampoo gets in the kitten's eyes?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf shampoo gets into a kitten's eye, you need to flush it out using water or saline. They should be okay if you flush it out really good. You can use baby shampoo which isn't supposed to burn the eyes.Thanks!
- Trimming the kitten’s claws the day before you first decide to add water to the bath is a good idea to prevent any accidental scratching if the kitten does decide to squirm around a lot. Only trim two to three millimeters from the tip to blunt the claw and no more since the quick on kitten claws isn’t very deep.
- Use an ear-cleaning wipe made for pets to clean out the kitten's ears if they are dirty instead of pouring water in your kitten’s ears.
- Keep the amount of water in the tub to just an inch or two, and never leave the kitten unattended in the water.
Things You'll Need
Cup for rinsing
Towels and washcloths
Sources and Citations
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Video: How to give a kitten or cat a bath without drama or stress!
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