how to bathe a cat with fleas

Cats may like to play with water. Some cats even like to swim. However, most cats will loathe having a bath because they hate to get soaked.

Baths are a great way to help quickly eliminate biting fleas on a cat. It is an essential part of a flea elimination strategy.

The best way to bathe a flea-ridden cat is to plan beforehand so the bath can be as short and as stress-free as possible for both human and cat. If this is the first time the human has bathed a cat, it is best to get a helper if possible.

When is the Best Time to Give the Cat a Bath? 

According to the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals The ASPCA, it is best to have a bath around when the cat usually naps or after a vigorous play session. It is also good to have the bath long before or after the cat’s meals, so the cat is not upset from hunger.

To control fleas and ticks, VetStreetInfo recommends that cats be bathed once a month. The first bath is often the hardest. If the cat or kitten is heavily infested, then ask a vet to find out if the pet needs bathing more frequently.

What if the Cat is Wild? 

Many well-meaning people take in strays that have rarely or never been handled. Trying to bathe them is dangerous for both people and cats. However, even thoroughly domesticated cats may suddenly turn into wild fur demons when placed in a tub of water.

For these times, it is best to forget about bathing the cat at home. The animal needs professional help from vets or groomers used to working with such frantic animals every day. Fortunately, many cats and most kittens are cooperative enough for a quick bath.

To Sedate or Not to Sedate – That is the Question

For owners of cats that become highly dangerous when bathed, sedation from a veterinarian is a practical solution. Boston Street Vet recommends an injection of gabapentin delivered by a vet or vet tech about three hours before the bath.

Beware of well-meaning but possibly deadly advice on how to give human medications like Benadryl to cats to sedate them. Cats can faint and drown or have adverse reactions to these drugs. Always have a vet or vet tech give the sedative.

How to Get a Cat Ready for a Bath 

Cats should have their claws clipped before a bath to prevent inflicting serious wounds on their bathers. This can be done right before a bath or hours, even a whole day before. This can help busy cat owners.

Before the bath, the cat should be brushed and combed with a flea comb if possible. Some cats will not tolerate a comb but even brushing is better than nothing. It helps eliminate loose hair and tangles, giving the shampoo and water their best chance to work.

What About Cotton In the Cat’s Ears? 

Cats can easily get ear infections from getting water and shampoo in their ears. It’s best to keep them as dry as possible. The ASPCA recommends placing cotton balls in the cat’s ears to keep them dry.

However, many cats will not tolerate anything in their ears, including cotton balls. They will shake their heads furiously, dislodging the balls.

The only way to see how a particular cat behaves is to place a cotton ball in the ear, give a special treat and see what happens.

How to Get the Bather Ready for a Cat Bath 

Get dressed in clothes that you do not mind getting soaked or scratched. Even a small kitten can produce mighty splashes. Make sure long hair is tied back and out of the way. Make sure to use the toilet beforehand to eliminate bodily distractions.

Garden gloves or work gloves help protect hands from scratches and bites. Place them on and see how flexible they are. Use the thinnest gloves possible in order to retain enough flexibility to lather up the cat and rinse him or her off.

How to Get the Bathroom Ready for a Cat Bath 

Get the shampoo, towels a tweezer, and a washcloth into the bathroom or whatever room that will be used to bathe the cat. Place these within easy reach if a helper is not there. Make sure the bottom of the tub has a mat to keep the cat from slipping. Even a small soaked towel can do in a pinch.

Does the sink or tub have a flexible spray nozzle? If not, get pitchers of lukewarm water to help with the final rinse. Use an empty cup to give the cat a thorough rinsing before putting on shampoo or mild dish detergent.

What Kind of Shampoo to Use?

It is best to use a shampoo especially to kill fleas on cats. However, these are not good for young kittens under two months old. Check the bottle instructions or ask a vet if a particular medicated shampoo is safe for such young kittens.

In a pinch, Dawn dish detergent or any kind of cat shampoo can be used. Even this will help to kill adult fleas. Never use adult human shampoo as that can irritate or dry out the cat’s skin. However, baby human shampoo is gentle enough for kittens.

How Deep Should the Tub Be Filled?

The tub, sink or basin only needs a couple of inches of lukewarm water to be effective. If bathing kittens, use only an inch. This is only is a spray nozzle cannot be used. If one is used, then the plug can be left open and no filling before the bath is necessary.

Although it happens rarely, cats have been known to get so upset in a bath that they pass out and drown. Cats with heart problems are especially prone to passing out, according to Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Never leave a cat or kitten in a bath unsupervised.

Time to Rinse, Lather, and Repeat

Bathe the cat as quickly as possible. Make sure the fur is thoroughly wetted (except for the head – leave that alone) and lather up. Rinse off the foam and dead fleas as thoroughly as possible. If the cat is exceptionally wild, skip a repeat shampooing for now.

The ASPCA recommends one part shampoo to five parts water. This is the safest formula for cat and kitten skin A lot of foam is not necessary to clean the cat or get rid of fleas.

Yikes! There are Fleas on My Cat’s Face!

Fleas will beat a hasty retreat from shampoo and water. They will migrate to the cat’s face. If possible, have a helper hold the cat while you remove the fleas with tweezers. With practice, cat owners can catch the critters with their fingernails.

Wipe the cat’s face gently with a wet washcloth to clean it and brush off the fleas. Even if all the fleas cannot be killed this time around, do not worry. Killing some is better than killing none. Even a partial bath is better than none.

How to Dry the Cat

If possible, use the flat of the hand to scrape off excess water from the cat. Place the cat directly into a dry towel. Let the cat shake. Nature has designed the while-body shake to effectively remove plenty of water from fur.

Some cats tolerate being dried with a human blow drier at the lowest setting. If the cat will not even tolerate a towel, make sure the room where he or she is hiding in is well-heated and free of drafts. Each cat is different in how he or she will tolerate the drying process.

How to Comb Fleas Out of a Cat

When the cat is dry, it’s time to comb the hair and any remaining fleas hiding in the now clean coat. Use a flea comb. Get a small dish of soapy water ready to kill any fleas you catch. Dip the comb in the brush when a flea is caught.

Praise the cat and give treats during this time to help the cat enjoy being brushed. Save a special treat only given at grooming time to make the cat more cooperative. If the cat runs away after a few strokes, give up and try again later. Don’t rush it.

Do All Pets In a Home Need to be Bathed?

Do you have more than one cat? Or perhaps you have a dog or other pets. Sorry to say that all the animals in a home need to be bathed once fleas appear – even people. Fleas will just hop off the clean pet and go for another in their attempt to escape a bath.

In an ideal world, all of the pets would be bathed on the same day. This may not be feasible for your home. Try the best you can to get all of the pets done in a few days to lessen the chance of fleas surviving the onslaught of shampoo and water.

Why You Need to Give More Than One Bath

After going through all that, it’s normal to wonder why it has to be done again next month or even sooner, depending on how bad the flea infestation is. This is because bathing only kills adult fleas, not the eggs or larvae.

According to the Montgomery County Humane Society, these can take anywhere from 18 days to 20 months to grow up. Giving more baths in the future helps kills these new adults and hopefully prevent them from breeding.

Bathing is Only One Part of a Flea Control Program

Battling fleas is much easier than it was 30 years ago. Now it only takes a few minutes each month instead of hours of work. Bathing is the hard part – the rest is comparatively easy.

Use topical medications or monthly pills to help prevent fleas. Never use dog flea medication on cats because it can kill cats. Vacuuming and doing laundry regularly are powerful weapons in the war against fleas.

How To Best Use a Vacuum Against Fleas

Fleas do not stay on cats all the time. They like to travel. Vacuum anywhere the cat has been – floors, couches, chairs, and rugs. According to Ohio State University, vacuums are powerful enough to suck up fleas and larvae that jumped off cats.

Be sure to empty the canister or bag immediately after a vacuuming session and place the material in an outside garbage can. Flea eggs have been known to hatch adults that crawl back out of a vacuum. Emptying the vacuum right away prevents this.

Can You Just Vacuum the Cat?

Please do not think baths can be skipped if a cat is vacuumed instead. Do not use a regular vacuum on a cat. This can cause burns and other powerful injuries.

Some cats are fascinated by vacuums and may bat at the hose as if it was a huge piece of string, as this YouTube video shows. Be very careful of curious cats getting hurt or burned by vacuums.

Why Bother Doing All This?

This might seem like an awful lot of work to battle fleas and it is. You may be tempted to surrender. However, it is worth any effort to get rid of cat fleas. Cat fleas not only like cats but any other warm-blooded critter, including dogs and people.

They transmit many pet and people diseases such as tularemia in their bites. Many cats are highly allergic to the flea’s saliva and can scratch their skin open, making them prone to potentially deadly infections.