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How to Bathe A Cat with Fleas

Fleas make cats miserable. They can even endanger the lives of kittens and older cats. A bath can be an effective way to get rid of fleas, but it’s important to adequately prepare your cat for the experience!

July 13, 2023 4 min read
How to Bathe A Cat with Fleas

Even indoor cats given loving care in clean homes can get fleas.

Almost any animal or inanimate object can bring fleas into your home. Fleas most often hop over to cats from outdoor dogs, but they can also hitch a ride on handbags, backpacks, coats, and sweaters.

You can get rid of fleas with pyrethrin insecticide treatments. But if you don't want to expose your cat to harsh chemical flea poisons, there is a simple process for a more natural and effective flea treatment.

All you have to do is be prepared to give your cat a bath!

Make Sure Your Cat's Nails Have Been Trimmed

As any cat owner knows, your kitty’s claws can bite deep! The first step in getting your cat ready for their flea bath is for your own comfort and protection. Make sure your cat's nails have been trimmed before attempting to introduce your kitty-friend to water. 

Ideally, you should do this step a day or two before giving your cat a bath. With kittens, however, it is usually unnecessary.

Gather Everything You Need for Your Cat’s Flea Bath

Before you give your cat a flea bath, you’ll need a few essentials. Make sure you gather everything you need before you start the process:

  • A flea comb (which you will use before your cat gets wet).
  • Lots of towels.
  • Baby shampoo, diluted with water. You can also use a commercial flea and tick cleansing shampoo labeled for use on cats. Neem is an excellent organic alternative for cats with sensitive skin.
  • A thin harness, if your cat usually wears one. You must be able to rub shampoo into the parts of the coat covered by the harness.
  • A warm water source immediately over the basin in which you will wash your cat.

It is usually easier to bathe larger cats in a bathtub. You may get better results bathing kittens and smaller cats in a tub you place in the sink.

Calming pheromones (products like Feliway) make giving your cat a bath easier. We assume that the first time you give your cat a bath will be because it's a necessity, but you can also train your cat to enjoy getting wet (see How to Turn Bath Time Into Play Time, below).

First, Give Your Cat a Good Combing

You want Kitty to be calm for bathtime.

One of the best ways to make sure cats are ready for bathtime is to comb their coats first.

Place your cat on a clean, dry, flat surface, like your bathtub, where you can rinse fleas down the drain after you brush them out of your cat's coat. You do not want to comb your cat where fleas can escape.

Your cat needs to be in an upright position, not on its back or on its side. Using the flea comb, gently brush your cat's entire body, allowing fleas and debris to fall to the flat surface beneath your cat. Be sure you brush through any mats or tangles in your cat's coat while it is still dry. Untangling wet fur later can hurt.

When you have finished brushing your cat, just wash the fleas away— before they escape.

Next, Carefully Bathe Your Kitty

If you are bathing your cat in the bathtub, close the bathroom door once you and your cat are inside.

Place your cat in the tub and slowly add warm water. You will only want the water to be waist-deep on your cat. Your cat does not need or want to swim!

Spread small amounts of shampoo over your cat's entire body except the eyes, ears, and nose. Work it into a good lather and gently massage it into your cat's coat. Use long, slow strokes, the same way you pet your cat. Hold your cat while the lather works from the fur down into the skin.

After three to five minutes, or no longer than the shampoo instructions tell you, it is time to rinse off your cat. If you are giving your cat a bath in a bathtub, you can allow her to walk around the bathroom while you are replacing the used bathwater, rinsing the tub, and adding new rinse water. If you are giving your cat a bath in a tub in the sink, you will need to hold your cat with one hand while you are cleaning and refilling the tub with the other. Just make sure your cat does not try to lick any of the shampoo off its fur.

Rinse off kitty shampoo by scooping up clean water and pouring it over your cat. Never spray your cat or hold him under running water. After he’s been thoroughly rinsed, swaddle your cat in clean towels so he can stay warm until the coat is dry again.

How to Turn Bath Time into Play Time

The first time you give your cat a bath, it is natural to experience some resistance. You can train your cat to be more comfortable with bath time by allowing her into your bathroom while you are taking a bath. Talk to your cat, acknowledge your cat, but don't get your cat wet.

Make splash time a play time for your cat. During splash time, you won't give your cat a bath. You will put just enough water in the tub or basin for him to get her paws wet. Float a favorite toy in the water. Give your cat treats for staying in the water.

The best time to train your cat to enjoy bathing is when they are kittens, but even older cats can learn to enjoy getting a bath. Bathing your cats to keep them flea-free makes them happier and healthier, and can even extend their lives.

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