How To Bathe A Cat Or Dog

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It happens. Fido decides to roll in something stinky, or Fluffy comes home with motor oil on her fur. It’s time for your canine or feline friend to have a bath. Though you might be tempted to take your pet to the local groomer, you can save money and bathe your animal friend yourself.

Dogs and especially cats don’t require baths on a frequent basis, but there are times they really need a good shampooing. Common reasons to bathe a pet include:

  • The animal is very dirty or muddy.
  • There is oil or something sticky on their fur.
  • Your dog rolled in something smelly.
  • Your pet has fleas or skin conditions such as dandruff.
  • Your pooch has doggy odor.

Whatever the reason, when it’s time for Fido or Fluffy to have their bath, you want to make the experience as bearable as possible for all of you.


What You Will Need:

  • A sink, tub or basin large enough to comfortably contain your pet. Large dogs can be washed in a plastic kiddy wading pool in the yard.
  • Warm water
  • Plenty of old towels
  • Two washcloths
  • Grooming brush
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo specifically formulated for pets. Do not use human shampoo, as your pet’s skin has a different pH than yours, and can become dry and irritated from your shampoo. If using a medicated shampoo for fleas on a cat, be sure it is safe for feline use.
  • Pitcher, bucket or sprayer for rinsing your pet

Get Ready

  • Before you start the bath, brush your pet thoroughly to remove loose hair.
  • Clip your pet’s nails. Cats and dogs have blood vessels and nerves in their nails, which will hurt and bleed if snipped. Only remove the tips of the nails. Few pets enjoy having their nails clipped, so hold the animal firmly, but be gentle.
  • Assemble all your supplies around the tub or sink where your pet will be bathed.
  • Put a nonskid mat or towel on the bottom of the tub so your pet won’t slip.
  • Fill the tub with 2 to 3 inches of warm water for a cat. Being placed in a tub full of water will likely terrify them, making the bathing process nearly impossible. Instead, you'll need to pour water over them. If bathing a dog, fill the tub with enough water to come halfway up the dog’s legs. You don’t want too much water, which can panic the animal.
  • Fill your rinsing pitcher or bucket with warm water, and set near the tub.

Bath Time

  • Once you have everything ready, it’s time for your pet to go into the tub. Cats are likely to struggle, so hold the cat firmly with your arm positioned to pin her legs, and lower Fluffy into the water. Keep one hand on the cat at all times so she cannot escape. You can put a small dog into the basin the same way, but a large dog might require two people if you are lifting him into a bathtub.
  • Once your pet is in the tub, use a small pitcher to gently pour water over the animal’s back, side and legs. Avoid the face for now, as that may frighten your pet, and will cause your dog to do the infamous wet dog shake. Continue to gently wet your pet until all the fur is soaked through.
  • Pour a little shampoo into your hand, then massage it into the pet’s fur. Focus on any oily or muddy spots, and work the lather down the back, sides, chest, belly and legs. Don’t forget your pet’s tail!
  • Once your pet is completely shampooed, it’s time to rinse. Pull the bath or sink plug, and let the dirty water drain out. Keep a hold on your pet so they don’t try to escape.
  • Use your prefilled pitchers of water to rinse your pet. If you need more water, and you are washing a cat, ask someone else to refill the pitcher at another sink, as Fluffy might panic if you turn on the faucet right near her.
  • Rinse thoroughly, being sure no shampoo remains on the animal’s skin. A lack of thorough rinsing can cause dry, irritated skin or dandruff.
  • Wet one of the washcloths, and add a drop or two of shampoo. Use this to clean your pet’s face, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Once done, use the other washcloth with fresh water to rinse your pet’s face.

Finish Up

  • Once all the shampoo is rinsed from your cat or dog, lift it out of the tub, and set the animal on a dry towel or mat. Now it’s time to dry.
  • Your dog is going to want to shake, so be prepared to get wet. Catch most of the spray by holding a towel loosely over Fido while he does the doggy water dance.
  • Wrap your pet with a towel, and rub briskly, starting at the head. Work your way down your pet’s body, and don’t forget the legs and belly.
  • Once you have removed as much water as possible with the towel, you may be able to use a blow dryer to finish drying your dog. Some dogs will be okay with this, but some may struggle or panic. Almost every cat will panic, so just stick with towels for Fluffy.
  • Brush your pet once more to remove hair loosened by the bath, then let Fluffy or Fido rest in a warm spot to finish drying. Your cat will probably spend the next hour or so licking her fur to restore the familiar smell and feel.
  • Make sure to give your pet a treat, and remind them of what a good friend they are.

Giving your pet a bath can make quite a mess, but you’ll be glad once your furry friend is clean and fresh. Curl up on the couch with your freshly washed cat or dog, and spend some quality time with your good-smelling pet.

Last Updated: November 18, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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