If the idea of bathing your cat makes you flinch, you’re not alone! There are many myths surrounding cats and baths, leaving cat parents wondering how to separate fact from fiction. Should you bathe your cat? Do all cats hate baths? Let’s break it down and learn not only how to bathe a cat, but how to do so without any added stress.
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Do Cats Need Baths?
With many cats disliking water or getting wet, you may find yourself wondering, do cats need baths? Why would I put my cat (and myself) through this torture? It’s true that most cats don’t require regular bathing like a dog would. But that doesn’t mean that bathing is off the table entirely.
A healthy adult cat should, in most cases, be able to keep up with their grooming needs. Cats have little barbs on their tongues that reach down into their fur, removing dirt, grime, and loose hair. As a cat parent, you can help maintain these grooming needs bath-free by brushing your cat regularly to prevent their fur from matting and tangling. However, there are some exceptions.
Cats with long coats like Persians or Maine Coons may struggle to keep up with the higher level of maintenance that their coat requires. If left too long without a bath, your cat’s fur can appear oily or greasy. As the parent of a long-haired cat, you should be prepared to brush your cat daily and give them a bath every few weeks. This will not only remove the oils, but it will also help to remove the dirt and grime that can easily become trapped underneath the fur.
On the other end of the spectrum, hairless cats like the Sphynx need regular baths due to their lack of fur. The natural oils that are created on your cat’s body are usually absorbed by the fur, an important part of a healthy, shiny coat. With minimal fur to absorb these oils, Sphynx cats can become dirty and oily if they aren’t bathed regularly. They should be bathed every 1-2 weeks.
Elderly cats or those with mobility issues may struggle to keep up with their usual grooming routine. This means that a cat that never required a bath as a young, spry cat might need some extra help when they get older.
You may also need to draw your cat a bath if they get into something that they shouldn’t, making a mess of their otherwise well-groomed coat. Our oldest cat Pippen is an overly mischievous cat, constantly exploring anything and everything. These explorations often end in the bathtub, such as the day that she decided to play with (and chew on) a new bottle of honey that she found in the pantry.
Accidents happen! That’s why it’s so important to learn how to bathe a cat, even if you’ve never had a reason to do it before.
13 Tips for How to Bathe a Cat
Now that we’ve established when your cat may need a bath, let’s look at how to bathe a cat with as little stress and hassle as possible for everyone involved!
If this is your first time bathing a cat, you may be feeling a little anxious about the situation. Your cat can pick up on your energy. This is only going to make the situation more stressful for your kitty. Instead, take a deep breath and tap into that inner peace first. The calmer you are throughout the process, the calmer your cat will be.
Start with Playtime
Before scooping your cat up and carrying them over to the tub, try to burn any excess energy. A little playtime with your cat’s favorite wand toy or teaser toy can help to tire them out. A tired cat is less likely to fight back during bath time.
This is also a great way to make the bathroom a positive place. Occasionally play with your cat in the room, without following it up with a bath. That way, on bath day, it will help to minimize your cat’s stress levels.
Trim Your Cat’s Nails First
Cat scratches are no laughing matter, as any cat parent can attest. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to try to minimize the damage to your hands and arms if your cat does get upset at some point during the process. Always trim your cat’s nails before bath time. Better yet, do this a day before so that the ends of your cat’s nails have had a chance to wear down slightly.
Brush Your Cat and Do a Quick Body Scan
Take a moment to brush your cat’s coat, removing any loose hair or mats that could be made worse by getting them wet. This is also an ideal time to do a quick body scan, checking your cat’s body for any signs of lumps, bumps, scrapes, cuts, or other areas of concern.
If you notice that your cat does have any cuts or abrasions, you may need to hold off on bath time until they can be addressed. Just as shampoo and soap can sting any open cuts on our bodies, the same is true for our cats. Any pain or discomfort during your cat’s bath could create a negative connection with bath time, making it harder to get your cat on board next time.
Get Your Supplies Ready in Advance
Gather all the supplies that you are going to need for your cat’s bath and place them all near your tub or sink. You want to have everything within reach so that you can keep your focus on your cat from start to finish. This includes the shampoo, a large cup for rinsing, towels for drying, and anything else you feel you might need along the way.
Use the Right Shampoo
Don’t use human shampoo or even dog shampoo on your cat. These products aren’t made for cats and may contain toxic ingredients that could make your cat seriously ill. Instead, purchase a shampoo made specifically for cats. There are many options available, including those specifically for kittens, sensitive skin, hairball control shampoos, and more.
Run the Water in Your Sink or Bath
Before bringing your cat into the bathroom, fill your sink or tub with a few inches of warm water. You don’t want the water to be too hot or too cold as it can shock your cat or make the process uncomfortable. When bathing cats, the ideal bath water is around body temperature.
Create a No-Slip Surface
One of the most frightening and uncomfortable parts of the process for a cat is the insecure footing that comes from trying to stand on a slippery surface. Luckily, this is an easy one to remedy. When giving a cat a bath, make a point of putting a rubber mat or towel in the bottom of the sink or tub for them to stand upon.
Limit the Tub Size
If you don’t have a sink space that’s ideal for bathing your cat, you may have to use the tub. However, the tub is a large area and can be intimidating for your cat. Especially if they are already anxious about the bath experience. Try limiting the size of the tub to create a smaller, more secure area.
An easy way to do this is to place a laundry basket in the tub and bathe the cat inside the laundry basket. The open sides of the basket will allow the water to flow freely in and around your cat. At the same time, it will take this large open space and bring it down to one that’s more manageable for your cat or kitten.
Use a Cup or Handheld Sprayer
When wetting down your cat before adding the shampoo as well as rinsing your cat afterward, you will want to have full control of the water. This is best done using a handheld sprayer or by using a large cup to pour water from the tub onto your cat. Avoid getting water directly into your cat’s eyes, ears, and nose during this process.
You want to do this as quickly as possible to avoid dragging out the experience if your cat dislikes it. At the same time, you want to make sure that you rinse your cat thoroughly, getting all the shampoo out that you can. Not only will this prevent your cat from ingesting the shampoo when cleaning themselves later, but any residue may irritate your cat’s skin.
Offer a Distraction
To keep your cat calm and prevent unnecessary stress, offer a distraction throughout the bathing process. What this will be will depend on your cat’s preferences. For food driven cats, try spreading some canned food onto a LickiMat and allowing them to work away at eating it while you’re bathing them.
If your cat is more interested in toys, you may consider adding a bath toy to the equation. The robotic fish toys that swim in water are a great option as they are interactive. Their movement will help to attract your cat’s attention away from what you’re currently doing.
Clean Your Cat’s Face
When cleaning your cat’s face, use a warm, damp washcloth. This will allow you to remove any dirt oils while still trying to make the experience easy for your cat. In most cases, this can be done with nothing but water. However, if your cat did get into something sticky or dangerous that needs to be washed off, you may use a very diluted shampoo by adding a single drop or two to the washcloth.
Dry Your Cat with a Large Towel
Right after bath time is over, dry your cat off with a large towel. You want to do this as quickly as possible to avoid letting your cat get too cold, especially if the house is cooler. If your cat will tolerate it, you may also choose to use the hairdryer to dry your cat even quicker. This should only be done on the lowest heat setting.
If you have a long-haired cat, this is the ideal time to comb out their fur. Use a wide-toothed comb to separate the clumps of wet cat hair before they have the opportunity to knot or tangle.
Cat bath time may not be your or your cat’s favorite bonding time. However, knowing how to bathe a cat is important, should the need arrive. Just remember to be patient and reward your cat with plenty of treats and praise. The smoother it goes this time, the easier it will be for both of you next time!
Have you ever had to give a cat a bath? If so, what tips and tricks did you find made the experience easier?
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.
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