Cats are fastidious creatures, often to be found licking and preening themselves. Grooming is an important natural behaviour for cats, and this will often be sufficient to keep them clean. Regular bathing is rarely required – and will likely not be appreciated by most cats! However, there may be certain scenarios in which a bath might be required. Water and cats don’t often mix well (although some cats are most definitely the exception to the rule!). So here are some tips for when and how to bathe a cat.

When might I need to bathe my cat?

Outdoor cats can frequently get muddy – or worse! Most dirt can be removed by the cat themselves, or by their owner using a brush or comb. However, if they have rolled in something noxiously smelly, you may want to consider a bath. Other concerns include oil or grease which can be toxic to cats if ingested whilst grooming themselves and so are better removed with some help from their owner. 

Some cats find it difficult to groom themselves and start to get matted and dirty fur, especially around their back ends. A check up with a vet is advisable if this is the case as some conditions such as arthritis and obesity can be a root cause, but these cats may need some help keeping themselves clean and tidy.

Certain skin conditions may need the use of a medicated shampoo. Some cats will tolerate this better than others, but your vet may suggest it as an option for certain conditions. 

Does my cat need a full bath?

If your cat has a patch of dirt or oil on them, they may not need a full immersive bath, especially if they might find this procedure stressful. You may be able to thoroughly wet the area with soapy water, gently rub the substance away and then rinse. This also applies to some skin conditions that need medicated shampoo: if the area is small your cat may not need a full bath and might find wetting and applying medicated shampoo to the isolated area more acceptable.

How do I bathe my cat?

If your feline friend does indeed need a full bath then here are some tips. Use your normal bath, or a small tub, with a non-slip surface or mat. Use warm water, but don’t fill the bath very deep: your cat will likely panic if placed into deep water. Aim to have the water reach most of the way up their legs towards their belly. Use a jug to gently pour water over your cat until they are completely wet. Cats will likely be sensitive around the faces, so use a flannel to carefully wet their face. 

Use a cat-specific shampoo. Baby shampoos are actually not very good for cat skin due to the difference in pH between cat and baby skin. Put shampoo on your hands and then gently rub it in over the affected areas. If you need to wash their face, be careful to avoid the eyes and mouth. Some medicated shampoos do not lather, so use the directed amount and apply to the right area but don’t be concerned if no lather forms. Some medicated shampoos need to be left on for a certain amount of time, so check this before you rinse. 

Use fresh water and a jug or a gentle setting on a shower head to gently rinse the shampoo. Dry using a towel, if tolerated, and then let your cat rest in a warm place. Hairdryers are often not tolerated due to the noise, and can be too hot for your cat; so use a towel only. They will likely want to take themselves off to groom themselves after the bath so make sure the shampoo was well rinsed off.  

When do I NOT need to bathe my cat?

Routine bathing is not generally required for most cats, their own grooming regime should be sufficient. Older cats may need help with grooming but generally brushing will suffice rather than a full bath. 

Flea shampoos are still available, but are mostly ineffective and can be a very stressful way to try and deal with unwanted critters! Your vet will be able to offer plenty of more effective, and easier, options to control parasites.

What can I do if my cat is dirty but won’t tolerate a bath?

Cats that get dirty, usually those outdoor a lot or who struggle to groom themselves, may just need a good brush rather than a bath. A brush, followed up with a fine-tooth comb, should be able to remove most dirt and dust particles from your cat’s coat. Matts in the coat can also be removed this way. It is a good idea to get your cat used to being brushed right from the start as a kitten or young cat. Begin with very small, gentle brushing for short periods, alongside some tasty treats, so that your cat gets used to this being a positive experience. Repeat regularly for small amounts of time so that your cat gets accustomed to it.

My cats fight after they have a bath, is this normal?

You may have noticed that your cats seem to have some scuffles after one or both of them are bathed. This is very common, and is thought to be due to the fact that the bathed cat will suddenly smell very differently. Cats are very sensitive to smell and use it as a primary sense to recognise friend from foe. If you notice some conflict after bathing, separate the cats temporarily until they have dried and groomed themselves, and then give them both a gentle rub with the same towel. This will re-disperse their natural scents and should bring back calm. 

Cats and water don’t generally mix well, and many cats would find regular bathing to be a stressful experience. Routine bathing is therefore not recommended. If your cat does need a bath, either for medical reasons or to remove a noxious substance, hopefully the techniques and tips in this article will smooth the way!

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