I usually avoid bathing very young kittens if at all possible. The mother cat is perfectly capable of handling the hygiene issues and the risk of hypothermia isn’t worth it.
Kittens aren’t able to keep themselves warm for the first few weeks of life and getting soaking wet is not a good idea.
That said, it is sometimes necessary. An ill kitten that has soiled itself or a rescue covered in fleas will have to be bathed, momma cat or no.
Any kitten that is so dirty its momma cannot clean it – or whose momma isn’t present to try – has to be bathed for the obvious reasons – being filthy isn’t good for them.
Step One: Gather all the materials you will need. A kitchen sink or lavatory will work best for a ‘tub’ (I prefer the lavatory since it’s more shallow).
You will need a warm towel (throw it in the dryer for a few minutes while getting prepared), a wash cloth, mild soap* (baby shampoo and dish liquid both work fine – remember you don’t need much!), rubbing alcohol (white vinegar can be substituted in a pinch but does not work as well), a flea comb if you have one (don’t worry if you don’t – it’s not always very effective on the tiny ones anyway) and a heating pad on low with a dry towel over it (place this where ever the kitten will be staying while drying – and do not leave it unattended if the kitten cannot get off the pad under its own power).
Step Two: let the water run until it is warm. Be careful not to allow it to get too hot – scalding kitty is bad!!! If you can’t stand it, neither can the kitten.
If it is causing steam, it’s way too hot! It should feel warm on the inside of your wrist (yep, just like testing baby bottles).
The stream should be light to moderate – you want it gentle for the baby.
Step Three: Holding the kitten carefully so that it is facing you (you need to see its face to be certain you aren’t getting water on it), place the kitten in the water.
Screeching and clawing may commence, but they may not.
Wriggling will commence regardless so hang on tight. If the kitten is fighting hard, try holding the scruff, which you can safely hold tighter than the body.
Give it a moment – most kittens will calm down if they can’t get away and the water isn’t in their face.
Once the fuss is over, take the kitten out of the stream but not out of the lavatory.
Step Four: put a few drops of soap on the kitten and work it in all over the body.
Gently and VERY carefully, use your fingertip to wash the little face. Work quickly and watch for fleas. If you see a flea, rinse it off and let the drain take care of it.
Once the kitten is completely soaped, place it back in the stream (don’t shut off the water or you’ll have to check the temp each time you cut it on).
Gently get all the soap off (use your fingers to work the face and the wash cloth if need be).
Keep an eye out for fleas and be sure to rinse them off the kitten or you (they aren’t likely to jump once soapy but you may see them on your hands).
Remove the kitten from the stream once the soap is off.
Step Five: (skip this step if fleas are not an issue) If possible, leave the water running (recheck the temp later if you have to turn it off now).
CAREFULLY, pour the alcohol over the kitten’s body. Kitty will NOT enjoy this – and neither will the fleas.
Again using a fingertip apply the alcohol to the kitten’s head, starting with the ears and the area in front of them.
Fleas will crawl into the ears if they aren’t protected – and fleas will not willingly cross alcohol (or white vinegar).
Most fleas will be immobilized by the alcohol which attacks their outer ‘shell’ but just rinse off the few moving ones.
Very quickly, dislodge as many as possible (use the flea comb – it will be most effective on the body) and rinse them down the drain.
Do not immediately rinse the kitten – give the alcohol a moment or two to work. Alcohol is cold and evaporates fast which will make the kitten cold.
Cup the kitten in your hands as much as possible without getting alcohol in its eyes to help keep it warm.
After two minutes, (less if the kitten starts shivering), rinse the kitten in the warm water stream (recheck the temp if you have to cut the water back on now!).
Step Six: Keeping the kitten in the water, try to dislodge all the fleas you can.
Step Seven: Repeat Step Four and bathe the kitten in soap again. This will dislodge remaining fleas and get any remaining alcohol out of its fur. Rinse very well.
Step Eight: Once the kitten is thoroughly rinsed, turn off the water.
Rub the kitten’s body gently to get off the excess water then quickly transfer the kitten to the warm towel and towel dry.
Once dry, place the kitten on the heating pad and cover lightly with part of the towel.
Let the kitten decide when it has had enough (unless very ill, a kitten will move to a cooler section when it needs to).
Step Nine: Wash the towels in hot water immediately to get any stowaway survivor fleas.
Run hot water down the drain for a minute to kill any fleas that might have latched on to the drain pipe.
*Do NOT use cat flea shampoo or cat shampoo unless specified by your vet. Medicated shampoos may be too strong for very young cats.
Annnnd… that’s it! Let us know in the comments if you had any difficulties, and thanks for reading 🙂