You don't often hear the question "do cats need baths?" but it can pose a dilemma for many feline owners.
Cats typically find baths stressful. While many dogs hate baths but generally don't have a strong aversion to water, moggies famously dislike the wet stuff anywhere near their fur. They may be fascinated by the sight of water dripping from a tap and look to play or drink it, but once they've come into contact with it, you're sure to know about it.
Our feline friends often flinch or show distress if they've accidentally fallen into the tub. Most often it's simply a comical flinch but it is a wider indication of the stress felines can feel at the touch of water. So, do cats need baths, even if they look for the nearest exit at any given opportunity?
This guide will explore common questions you may have around bathing your cat, including do cats need baths in the first place, and outlining any circumstances where you may need to aid your kitty's cleanliness. Plus, how to bathe a cat if the need does arise.
Do cats need baths?
The short answer to the question, 'do cats need baths?' is no, cats don't need baths. Cats already have a pretty good way to keep themselves clean: they lick themselves and are naturally equipped with all the tools they need to groom themselves. This includes paws they moisten with saliva, teeth that dig out debris and a rough tongue that smooths out any unruly fur.
For cats, grooming is a natural behavior that is learned around 4 weeks of age. It's common to see a mother licking her kittens, or even kittens grooming one another.
If your cat has come in contact with a skunk, has significant dirt on them, they're struggling to remove something they've rolled in, or their long hair is prone to matting, a bath is a viable option.
Elderly or obese cats may also require a little extra help in the cleaning department, but generally a frequent brushing should be enough to help untangle any significant tangling issues.
Some pet owners with allergies may also choose to give their feline a bath to help reduce cat dander.
Another exception to the rule is hairless cats. Due to the lack of fur, sphynx cats experience oily and sweaty skin, and require frequent baths.
Is it OK to never bathe a cat?
Yes, if you've never given your cat a bath before, there's no need to worry. Short-haired cats are generally self-sufficient in the cleaning department, and don't require regular bathing.
A great alternative to a cat bath is simply to use a damp cloth to remove any nasties trapped in the fur. Regular brushing can also be a sufficient way to deal with any matted fur that may occur, particularly in longer-haired cats.
Hairless cats, however, will require a frequent bath to help them, but you don't need to groom them is the upside!
How often should I bathe my cat?
Do cats need baths on a frequent basis? Fortunately for feline owners, regular bathtimes are not a necessity for most cats.
Pet owners, on the other hand, may choose to bathe their kitty on a weekly basis to help reduce cat dander. If you have a hairless cat in the family, it's also advised to bathe them once a week to reduce oils on their skin using warm water and a hypoallergenic pet shampoo.
If you do choose to give your cat a bath, opt for no more often than every 4-6 weeks, as bathing can dry out the skin.
Should you give a kitten a bath?
If you have a very young kitten and the mother cat isn't around, you'll need to help keep your cat well-groomed. Kittens can be very messy - they're messy eaters, they often walk in their food or stick their heads in their bowls, they play in their litterboxes and walk through their poo, or they have accidents while they're learning to go to the bathroom on their own. Without a mother cat around, you'll need to help keep them clean - especially in the hard-to-reach areas where mama cat would usually help clean them up.
Keeping a kitten clean is very important for their overall health, as "dirt, bacteria, and leftover food residue can cause skin infections in young kittens called pyoderma," according to the Animal Humane Society. They recommended using fragrance-free, hypoallergenic wet wipes as a means of keeping your kitten clean in terms of spot-cleaning, but your kitten will occasionally need a full bath. When that time comes, get a friend or family member to help you, as extra hands make light work. Make sure you keep the bathwater and the room you are bathing them in warm (but not too hot), as kittens under eight weeks old can't regular their own body temperatures.
Use fragrance-free shampoos like baby shampoo or fragrance-free dish detergent, and avoid their eyes and inside of their ears. If you're looking to buy a specialized shampoo, check out our best cat shampoos - but make sure they're kitten safe first. The easiest way to hold a kitten while bathing them is by scruffing them, which is holding the skin on the back of their neck. As soon as you're done washing your kitten, warp them in a clean towel and give them some serious cuddles as you dry them to ensure they stay warm.
Bathing your kittens can be an adorable and enjoyable experience, and it's one that helps ensure the health and happiness of your furbaby. It may also help get them acclimated to baths in the future, should you ever need to give them one when they're an adult cat.
How to bathe a cat
If you do need to bathe your cat for whatever reason, you could opt to take your feline along to an experienced groomer, particularly if they require special attention to skin and coat.
For felines that are having a tough time removing dirt or debris on their coat, however, you can choose to bathe them at home. Here are a few recommended steps to keep them calm come bath time...
1. Prepare your cat
For a mellow cat come bath time, scheduling a bath after playtime can help tire them out. If you have time on your hands, you could also get them used to the tub by placing them in the sink or tub and provide them with a treat a couple of days before.
The ASPCA recommends trimming your cat's claws before the bath, and giving them a good brush beforehand. Placing cotton in your cat's ears helps keep the water out.
2. Have everything you need to hand
Assemble everything you need before you bring in the cat. You'll need plenty of towels, a shampoo specifically made for cats, a comb or brush for longer-haired cats, a jug or a handheld spray hose for rinsing and a rubber mat or towel.
You can also keep a ball to hand, like a ping pong ball, to distract your kitty during bath time. Floating it in the water may encourage your kitty to fish it out, rather than fear the water.
3. Create a calming environment
We don't mean light the candles and put on some soothing music! To help a cat adjust to the bath, it's advisable to pre-fill the tub while they're in another room.
Ensure the temperature is warm but not uncomfortable; it should be around human body temperature.
You may feel most comfortable bathing your cat in the sink so look to remove any breakables that surround it such as toothbrush holders. Avoid strong scents and remove any mirrors that could potentially scare your cat.
Adding a towel or a placemat to the bottom of the sink will help stabilize your cat and be sure to close the bathroom door behind you.
Never scold your cat during the process, as this is more likely to cause more harm than good. You want to praise them as much as possible, and provide treats as a reward at the end of the bathing session.
4. Wet and lather
You can use either a handheld spray hose on a low setting or a plastic pitcher to wet your cat, making ensure you avoid the face.
If your cat finds running water particularly scary, you may also choose to use a ladle to gently spoon the water across their body. Gently massage the cat shampoo into their fur, and rinse off again, ensuring all residue has been removed. For the face, use a soft cloth to wipe off any dirt.
Once bath time is complete, wrap your cat in a clean towel, and use it to blot away any excess water.
The noise of blow dryer may scare some cats, but for other felines who don't mind the experience, opt for a low setting to ensure it's not too hot on their skin.
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Ashleigh is Digital Editor on PetsRadar. With over 8 years of experience in print and digital media, she has acted as an editorial lead on a variety of projects, with animal themes a keen interest. As an avid animal lover, you can often find Ashleigh checking out the newest trends in animal care or looking at cute cat videos on TikTok.