Am I Supposed to Bathe My Cat?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on January 12, 2019
Posted in Grooming
Cats are extremely clean creatures. They spend a large portion of each day licking and grooming themselves to uphold their high standards of cleanliness and are typically very picky about the substances they touch or get into.
Even still, one of the most common cat questions is if and when cats should receive a bath. Many owners are hesitant to bathe their cats, whether it’s because they’re afraid of the feline freak-out when exposed to water or because they’re afraid a bath will hurt their cat.
The answer to this question is not simple. Yes, you can bathe a cat, but it’s not usually necessary. Read on to learn when bathing might be necessary and how to get out of it with as little stress and bathroom chaos as possible.
When do cats need baths?
Cats groom themselves practically all day, every day (which is why they tend to get those dreaded hairballs so often). Their tongues have small barbs that easily pick up dirt and grime. All of this self-cleaning keeps your cat’s body fresh and clean most days without the need for a solid soak in the tub.
Additionally, you should be brushing your cat around once a day. This helps remove excess hair and keep the skin and coat healthy and clean by removing impurities and distributing oils from the skin. A combination of brushing and self-grooming is almost always enough to maintain a top-notch level of cleanliness for your feline friend.
However, sometimes cats get into strange and messy situations. Perhaps they rolled in urine after an accident, they got wet food stuck in their hair or somehow got coated in an unidentifiable powder.
In these cases, a bath is the quickest—but not necessarily the easiest—way to clean your cat off. Other times, your cat may need a medicated bath to soothe skin irritations or infections.
How to bathe your cat
If you find yourself needing to give your cat a bath, you might be wondering how to do it and get out alive. Cats are notorious for hating water, so the thought of giving one a bath might be terrifying.
Bathing your cat doesn’t have to be scary. You just need a little patience and to be prepared before you begin.
The first thing to know about bathing cats is that it’s much easier if you don’t use the bathtub. Tubs are large and give your cat more opportunities to squirm around, run or escape from the bathroom soaking wet. Instead, wash your cat in the kitchen sink.
Also, be aware that it’s much easier to bathe a calm, relaxed cat. It might even be best to wait until your cat is sleepy. If it’s alert, playful or possibly stressed, it will have an even worse reaction to being bathed than normal. Time your baths appropriately for the most mellow response possible.
When it’s time for a bath, fill your sink with a few inches of lukewarm water—you may love your showers or baths scalding hot, but you need to be careful to not hurt your pet with water that’s way too hot. Don a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands and gently place your cat into the water. Don’t rush this step—your cat may need time to get used to it.
Next, rinse your cat’s fur with water, being sure to avoid wetting the face. A dousing of water over the head can freak your cat out, so pay attention to the body and tail end. Then, use specially-formulated pet shampoo to lather its body. Avoid using human shampoos, as they might contain chemicals that can irritate your cat’s skin.
When it’s time to rinse, gently pour or spray water over the cat’s body to get all the suds off. Dampen a washcloth in the water and gently rub it on your cat’s face and head to clean it. Be careful not to get water in your cat’s eyes. Finally, use a cotton ball (never a swab!) to clean just inside your cat’s ears.
When the bath is complete, gently lift your cat out of the sink, wrapping it in a large towel. Gently rub on the towel to soak up the excess water. Then, reward your cat with a treat for good behavior.
A clean cat is a happy cat
Your cat may need some time to decompress after its bath, so give it time and space to relax.
If your cat absolutely refuses to be bathed at home, don’t fight it. You could get hurt if it struggles, and your cat could become very distressed. Instead, consider hiring a groomer to bathe your cat using their expert knowledge.
Additionally, remember to only bathe your cat if it needs it for medical purposes or because it got into a big mess. Over-bathing your cat can dry out its skin and cause itchiness and flaking, which may even lead to infections or other skin problems.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan