If you have a normal, healthy cat, you will probably never need to experience the melodrama of a cat bath. Most kitties keep themselves quite clean, and they can lead full, happy lives without ever needing a traditional shampoo and water bath. However, there are times when a cat should be bathed. For example, if something has gotten into her fur that would be toxic if licked off, or if she has stopped grooming and needs some help to stay clean. (Make sure she sees a veterinarian to rule out other health conditions.)
Should the day come that you have to bathe your cat, and she's not one of the rare few that doesn't mind, there are a few important rules to follow to get through it smoothly, and to reduce the trauma.
Clear your calendar. This will take some time.
Find a helper. Preferably someone who loves cats as much as you do.
Clip your cat's nails. This is a safety precaution that is often overlooked. If you have not done this before, ask your veterinarian or groomer to show you the proper method of clipping.
Allow plenty of time for your cat to forgive you for the nail clipping. This could be hours or days depending on your cat, and how much love you lavish upon her afterward.
Brush before bathing. If your cat has long hair, and especially if it's matted, the knots need to be dealt with while dry. (If your cat doesn't like being brushed, you may need to add time afterward for forgiveness as well.)
Prepare the area. Clear everything within a wide radius of the cat bathing area. If you plan to use the tub, make sure the shower curtain is folded up over the rod, and the toilet lid is closed.
Have all cat bath supplies ready. Everything you need to bathe your cat should be in easy reach.
Water first, then the cat. Fill the sink or tub with lukewarm water before you bring the cat into the room. (Even if your cat loves to watch water come out of a faucet, it's a whole different experience to be in there with it.)
Be quick. This is the time and place for maximum efficiency. Rehearse your shampooing, rinsing and wet cat wrangling duties in advance with your helper.
Give a treat. Once the cat bath drama is over and your kitty is wrapped in a warm towel, start making amends by offering her favorite treat.
Let her be. Your cat will need time to get her fur back the way she wants it, and to regain her dignity. She may do all this in an isolated, undisclosed location, but will emerge again, probably at suppertime.
Act like it never happened.
Some experienced cat people have found creative ways to give their cats baths. Bonita reduces the actual "water time" for her cat, Moni, by putting a bucket of water in the tub. She quickly dunks Moni in the bucket to get wet, then shampoos her in the dry tub. She dunks her again to rinse her off. Then she pours fresh water over her cat for a final, clean rinse.
Kim gives her domestic short-haired cat, Hollywood, a bath with a warm, wet towel, wringing it out so it's not soaking wet, and rubs Hollywood down with it. "I think she likes it because she feels like she's being groomed by a giant tongue," Kim says. "It is by far her favorite way to have a bath."
If a watery bath is too much for you and your cat, there are also cat-safe mousses, powders and wipes available for a drier, less dramatic cleansing experience. There's also the option of having a professional groomer deal with the cat bathing, so you never have to be on your cat's bad side.