Cats are very clean creatures, but even they need a little help bathing once in a while. Sooner or later your cat is bound to require a bath. Here, our White Hall vets explain how often you should bathe your cat and the best steps in doing so.
Do Cats Need to Be Bathed?
Short answer: yes.
Cats like to be clean and they're generally very good at grooming themselves. The rough barbs on their tongue transfer saliva across the fur and allow them to spread healthy natural oils across their coat and skin. This process also helps detangle the fur.
Despite the effectiveness of this process, all cats will need to be bathed every once in a while to help them get the occasional deep cleaning and remove any external debris that they could not get off themselves.
That being said, routine bathing either at home or with our experienced groomers can help reduce the amount of hair that is lost and prevent hairballs.
How Often Should You Bathe a Cat?
There are certain situations where your cat requires a bath, such as if they got into a substance like oil or grease. In short, anything that could be harmful to their fur or skin should be washed off right away.
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 may also recommend medicated baths with special shampoo, like flea or ringworm treatment baths. Cats who are older or overweight may not be able to effectively groom themselves and therefore need a little extra help.
Aside from these special circumstances, in general, most cats need to be bathed by their humans every 4-6 weeks. Cats with longer hair should be regularly brushed and possibly bathed closer to every 4 weeks in order to minimize dirt buildup and matting. Hairless breeds, like the Sphynx, should be bathed about once a week as they don't have any fur to protect their skin from dirt and oil.
If you have a cat that you only plan on bathing once every few months, you may also consider booking a professional grooming appointment to sidestep the mess at home altogether.
What Are The Steps for Bathing a Cat?
First off, get your equipment in order. For your cat's bath, you should have:
- A shower or bath with a handheld showerhead.
- Several towels to clean them off and dry them.
- Shampoo and conditioner formulated for cats.
You should never use human shampoo or conditioner as it is far too abrasive and could irritate your cat's skin and eyes. Consult your veterinarian if you'd like a good shampoo recommendation for your kitty.
Before you put your cat in the bath, gently brush out any dirt or tangles. Then, set the water temperature to a gentle warm at a medium-level spray (not too weak as you want the water to be able to get through the fur).
If your cat has an aversion to loud noises or water, you can start by taking them into the bathroom with you while the water runs. Let them walk around the bathroom (but not jump into the tub, this might scare them if they don't realize the water is there) and grow accustomed to the noise. Then, you can proceed to the next step in getting them into the bath.
Talk to your cat, offering treats and praise. Then you can gently place them in the bath. It will probably be less alarming to your cat if you place them in an empty tub rather than a few inches of water; just have the overhead shower going.
Hold your cat in place by their scruff, or use a harness if you think they are going to be tricky to control. Begin washing them with gentle but confident strokes. Cats pick up on stress very quickly; if you seem overwhelmed or scrambled, they will become more anxious and maybe try to jump out.
Only apply a small amount of shampoo – your cat is likely not as dirty as you think! Gently massage the shampoo into your cat's fur, then rinse your cat's fur thoroughly to get all of the shampoo and dirt out. Repeat the process with conditioner if required. Take care to avoid your cat's eyes and nose.
Your cat is now out of the bath: it's time to towel dry!
If your kitty isn’t afraid of the sound and feel of a hairdryer, you could consider blow-drying your cat with the hair dryer set to low heat and low speed, but you need to start with a thorough towel dry first to soak up all the water their fur has absorbed.
Alternatively, simply keep your cat indoors and warm until their coat is completely dry. Do not allow your cat to go outdoors with a wet coat. 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 Without Getting Scratched
Here are a few steps you can take to make the bathing process as stress-free as possible for you and your feline companion:
- Choose a time after your cat has eaten or played when they are more likely to be relaxed
- If possible, trim your kitty's nails before the bath, filing the ends as well after they're clipped to dull them
- Plan for a short grooming session to make handling her fur much easier
- Recruit a friend to help so one of you can hold the cat while the other does the washing
- Minimize running water, the sound causes many cats to panic, and the last thing you want is to grab a slippery, sharp cat
- Alternatively, fill a sink with a few inches of warm water and wash only the parts of your cat that you need to, then rinse thoroughly
- Use a washcloth around the face and ears, never spraying the cat directly in the face
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.