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Cat Baths 101: The When and How to Bathe a Cat

By Stacy Painter
published: March 10, 2020 - updated: August 6, 2020 • 3 min. read
cat getting a bath

Maintaining a cat’s healthy coat and skin requires sufficient grooming. Though most cats are skilled at self-grooming, it will depend on your cat’s breed and circumstances as to whether or not she needs some extra help to keep clean. 

Does my cat need a bath?

Because of their grooming talents, most cats are able to cover their basic cleaning needs and will not need frequent baths. However, there are a few cases in which your cat does need bathing.

  • After playing outside, exploring the chimney or getting herself into some kind of mess, a dirty cat will need a bath.
  • Cats with long hair, like Persians and Siberians, may have more than they can handle and need bathing as well as frequent brushing.
  • Hairless cats like the Sphynx need more frequent bathing because they don’t have hair to absorb their body oils.
  • Cats with arthritis or extra weight have places they can’t reach during their grooming routine.
  • A flea infestation and other health issues require specific bathing remedies.

How often should I bathe my cat?

Though not a requirement, you may decide to bathe your cat simply to freshen up her coat and skin. An indoor cat that is fastidious with her grooming might need a bath only once or twice a year, while an outdoor cat may need more frequent baths depending on how dirty they get. Outside of the previously mentioned circumstances, whether or not and how frequently you bathe your cat will depend on her personality and tolerance of being bathed. If your cat has a particular hatred of water and doesn’t have any problems grooming herself, then there is nothing wrong with skipping baths altogether.

How to bathe a cat

Before attempting to bathe your cat, make sure you have the proper supplies ready.

  • Shampoo made specifically for cats
  • Towels
  • Treats to make the experience more pleasant for your cat
  • A pitcher or removable shower head for rinsing
  • A towel or non-slip bath mat so your cat doesn’t slip in the tub or sink
  • Optional: a helper to hold the cat and offer treats while you do the washing and rinsing

When you’re ready to embark on the unknown territory that is bathing your cat, place her in the tub. If your cat is stressed about the situation, remain calm and talk to her in a soothing voice. Offer treats to create a positive experience. Using a pitcher or the shower head, get her fur wet with warm (but not too hot) water, avoiding the ears and face. If your cat’s face is dirty, you can wipe it clean with a wet washcloth. Lather her up with shampoo, then thoroughly rinse off all the shampoo. Dry her with towels—never use a blow dryer which can scare her and be too hot for her skin. Once your cat is completely dry, brush or comb out her fur.

Note: Too frequent bathing can cause dry skin, so only give your cat a bath when she really needs it. Consult your veterinarian if you are unsure about how often your cat should get a bath.

Why do cats hate water?

It’s a known fact that most cats don’t like water, which can make bathing anywhere from difficult to impossible. Cats in the wild such as tigers can be found catching fish and even going for a swim or resting in shallow water to cool down on hot days. Some domestic cat breeds tolerate or even enjoy water, but they are certainly in the minority.

So why do most cats have an aversion to water? One theory is that cats don’t enjoy water because most domesticated cat breeds have fur that soaks up water, making it hard for them to quickly dry off. However, like anything that is new and different, water might simply be scary because your cat was never exposed to it during her first few years of life. If your kitty is young, getting her used to baths early will make it easier in the long run. Otherwise, just be patient and understanding. With a little coaxing, you can survive bath time and successfully come out the other side with a clean cat.

Stacy Painter profile
By Stacy Painter

Stacy has always been an animal lover and has worked in the pet industry and pet insurance specifically for over a decade. As a writer since early childhood, content writing for Healthy Paws pet insurance was a natural career path to combine her two passions. She currently lives in Florida with her boyfriend and Taiwanese rescue dog, Kaya.

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