So, you're ready to give your cat a bath. That's great, because the sooner you start to bathe your pet, the sooner he'll learn to tolerate it. It's especially important to expose cats to water at a young age because of their natural aversion to wetness. However, be prepared to get wet.

Bath Schedule

Cats clean themselves naturally by continuous grooming. But that doesn't mean your cat will never need a bath. There is no set schedule for bathing a cat. How often you bathe your cat will depend on his coat type and how well he keeps himself clean. Unless your cat is a show cat, he'll need a bath only on occasion. How can you tell if he needs a bath? If his coat is discolored, smelly or oily despite a thorough brushing, then it's time for a dip in the suds.

Space to Bathe

Your bathtub is obviously a good place to bathe your cat, but very small cats or kittens may feel more secure in the sink or a small tub. Whichever location you choose, be sure to give your cat secure footing with a nonslip mat or towel.

What You'll Need

You'll need shampoo, towels and a pail of warm water for wetting and rinsing. Place all of your supplies near the sink or tub before you get started. If you want to fill the tub with four or five inches of warm water, that's okay. Just remember to drain the soapy water before you rinse your cat.

Use a spray hose only if it won't frighten your cat. After all, you want your pet to tolerate bathing, so keep the experience as soothing as possible.

Use a shampoo made specifically for cats or, in a pinch, a mild baby shampoo. Cats' skin is more delicate than humans' skin, and a harsh shampoo can make it dry and cause flaking and itching.

Conditioners and detanglers work well if your pet has a medium to long coat. Your veterinarian or groomer can recommend a brand.

Brush Before Washing

Don't be tempted to skip this step. A thorough brushing removes dust and other particles and loosens tangles, a step which is especially important if you have a longhaired cat. Wet tangles are much worse to comb out than dry ones. You'll also want to make sure your cat doesn't have any mats because matted fur can trap soapy residue next to his skin and cause itchy, flaky patches.

Be sure to clip your cat's nails before bathing. That way you're less likely to get scratched and he won't get his nails caught, which would increase his bath time distress.

Also consider placing cotton in his ears and a drop of mineral oil or eye ointment in each eye to avoid irritating these sensitive areas. If your cat objects to having cotton in his ears, you can skip this step and just dry his ears with a cotton ball after bathing.

Getting Wet

Now you're ready for the main event. Close the door to the bathroom to prevent a great escape. Gently place your pet in the tub or sink while talking to him in soothing, encouraging tones. Because cats can overheat easily, keep the water lukewarm or slightly cooler but never hot.

You may need to hold your cat gently by his scruff. If he has front claws, keep his back to you so you're out of striking range.

While you stroke your cat with one hand, begin wetting his neck and head with water. Try to keep water and soap out of his eyes through the whole process. Continue wetting over the back, legs and hind end until he's completely wet.

Next, work the shampoo into his coat, but don't just lather your kitty's back and sides. His neck, chest, belly, tail, legs and paws all need attention too. You can use a damp washcloth to clean his face.

Now it's time to rinse. And rinse. And rinse. Keep rinsing until the soap is completely gone. Any leftover residue will irritate your cat's skin. Be especially thorough when rinsing if your cat has a long, thick coat.

Drying Time

Towel-dry your cat from head to toe. Use the towel to absorb as much water as possible. The more water you soak up, the less wet you and your surroundings will get when your kitty gets the urge to shake.

The hot setting on your hair dryer is too hot for your cat's sensitive skin. Use your own hair dryer only if it has a warm setting and if it doesn't scare him. Last but not least, shower your freshly bathed cat with praise and give him a treat. Why? You want to give him fond memories to tap into when the next bath time rolls around.

Stinky Situation

If your cat has the misfortune to encounter a wayward skunk, try to get him into a bath before the skunk spray dries. Otherwise, the odor may linger for some time. Some people recommend soaking a cat in tomato juice before shampooing. This works if you happen to have gallons of tomato juice available at the exact moment your pet needs it. A safer approach is to keep a "deskunking" product on hand if your cat spends a lot of time outdoors.

Don't worry if your first sudsy experience together is a bit rocky. Your cute kitty will soon learn to tolerate regular baths, and you'll enjoy petting, playing with and pampering your sweet-smelling pet.