While cats are mostly self-sufficient at cleaning themselves, there are some situations in which your cat may require a bath. Our Mandeville vets are here to explain how often you should bathe your cat and how to do it.
Do cats need to be bathed?
Cats are very good at cleaning themselves, so thankfully for us, our feline friends won't need to be bathed very often.
A cat’s rough tongue is covered with tiny curved barbs that transfer saliva across their fur. When they groom themselves, they spread healthy, natural oils across their coat and skin. Those little spines work as natural detanglers, too, which is why you’ll often see your kitty licking and biting at fur clumps until they smooth everything out.
That being said, there are some situations in which it might be beneficial to bathe your cat. For example, long-haired cats may benefit from routine bathing at home, or with our experienced groomers can help reduce the amount of hair they are ingesting and prevent hairballs.
Your cat may also need a bath if they have allergies or have gotten into something that's made them excessively dirty.
How often should you bathe a cat?
Certain circumstances require you to give a cat or kitten a bath. If they've gotten into something they shouldn’t ingest, such as motor oil, antifreeze, gasoline, or paint they should be bathed immediately. Similarly, if they're covered in a non-toxic substance such as mud, they may also benefit from a bath as it will be difficult to get themselves completely clean on their own.
Some cats can develop skin conditions that are soothed with bathing, such as seborrhea, a disorder that causes flakey, red, and itchy skin. Your veterinarian might also recommend medicated baths for treating other health conditions, such as severe flea allergies or ringworm.
Cats who are old or obese often can't groom themselves effectively could benefit from regular baths. Cats with long hair should be bathed every couple of months or so to minimize fur matting. Hairless breeds, like the Sphynx, need frequent bathing as they have an oily residue that gets on fabrics.
How do you bathe a cat?
Just like bathing a baby; bathing a cat requires everything that you need to be within arm’s reach. You should have:
- A shower or bath with a handheld showerhead
- Several towels to clean to help clean and dry your cat
- Special cat shampoo and conditioner
You should never use human shampoo or conditioner as it has a different PH level to the sort suitable for cats and could damage your pet’s hair or skin.
Before you start you should brush your cat to remove any knots or tangles, particularly if they are a long-furred breed.
Set the water temperature to warm and have it running through the showerhead at a medium level spray
While talking to your cat and offering lots of reassurance and praise, gently place them into the shower tray or bath.
Hold your cat in place by her scruff, or use a harness if you know they aren't a fan of water. Begin washing her gently using soft confident strokes. Cats are very intuitive at picking up stress, so if you seem stressed they will be on edge too, and far more likely to lash out or try to make a run for it!
Apply small amounts of shampoo – just enough to create a gentle lather. Make sure you rinse clean and then repeat with the conditioner. Take care to avoid their eyes and nose.
Once she is clean you should towel-dry your cat as much as possible. Some cats are petrified of hairdryers but if your feline friend isn’t then you could consider using a hairdryer at a low heat and speed. You may need to confine your cat to a carrier in order to do this. Alternatively, you could leave your cat in the warm bathroom until their coat is totally dry. The important thing is to ensure that they are thoroughly dried before going into other parts of the house. Damp cats can easily become chilled which can make them unwell, or in the case of kittens, particularly low body temperatures can be life-threatening.
How to Bathe a Cat that Hates Water
It's no secret that cats hate water. Some cats will tolerate baths, but others simply won't. When a bath is inevitable, staying calm will help you both, here are a few tips that can help ease stress so your cat is less likely to try to scratch and claw their way to freedom:
- Choose a time after they've eaten or played, as they'll be more mellow
- If possible, trim their nails before the bath, filing the ends as well after they're clipped to dull them (to minimize your risk of being scratched)
- Recruit a friend to help so one of you can hold the cat while the other bathes them
- Minimize running water, the sound causes many cats to panic, and the last thing you want is to grab a slippery, sharp cat
- Fill a sink with a few inches of warm water and wash only the parts you need to, then rinse thoroughly
- Use a washcloth around the face and ears
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.