We often get people who ask how to bathe their cats, and usually the answer is, "Don't." Cats are fastidiously clean animals, frequently spending much of their day grooming and bathing themselves. A good part of the time that they are awake is focused on this important task.
There are many good reasons not to bathe cats. Often people notice that their cat has dander and want to give them a bath to help get them clean. Bathing actually removes essential oils on their skin and will dry it out, usually making dander worse. Better options in this circumstance would be frequent brushing, a wet food diet, and perhaps a little fish oil added to their meals.
Cats have a reputation for hating water, and while this isn't true of every cat, a bath can still be a traumatic event causing unnecessary stress. When scared, a cat may scratch or bite, putting you at risk as well. Additionally, even with well-warmed water, cats are small and it can be difficult to maitain their body temperature both while in the bath and afterwards while they are drying off.
There are some circumstances in which a bath may be warranted. If your cat has trouble grooming themselves and gets feces on their body, if your cat gets into something toxic such as oil, or if a hazardous flea treatment is applied, it may become necessary to bathe your cat. In these circumstances, we would recommend using a mild, safe detergent (Dawn is best), keeping the water warm, and just bathing the affected part of your cat. Avoid submerging the entire cat and simply clean away the feces or toxin, then be sure your little one has a warm area to get dry.
But what do you do if your cat is just having a little trouble grooming or if she gets into something mild around the house? The good news is that there are many choices in waterless shampoos these days. Most contain coat conditioners to help keep the skin supple and the fur soft. Stay away from shampoos (waterless or otherwise) that are very fragrant or contain essential oils, but rather, look for brands like Furminator, Earthbath, or Kinec and give your cat a pleasant, water-free bathing experience!
If your cat gets into something and you are concerned that they may need a bath, please contact your veterinarian. They can always advise you on what is going to be best for your little one and yourself.