How To Bathe Your Cat (And How Often You Should Actually Do It)

Without her trying to kill you 🙀

As if it isn’t obvious, most cats aren’t trying to take a bath anytime soon. But sometimes, bath time is inevitable.

If you find yourself in a situation where your cat may be in need of a bath, then you’ll want to approach the task carefully, gently and with your supplies at the ready. And luckily, you’ll have the advice of a few experts to help you get through the process and hopefully come out the other side with less scratches and an undamaged relationship with your cat.

The Dodo talked to Dr. Catherine Lenox, a veterinarian and regulatory veterinary manager at Royal Canin, and Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago and Royal Canin partner, who explained the step-by-step process of bathing your cat and if you even need to do it in the first place.

Do I need to bathe my cat?

The short answer is, no. Not really.

“Don’t bathe your cat unless you absolutely need to do it,” Dr. Lenox told The Dodo.

Most cats hate water, so bath time can be a truly stressful experience for them. And because your cat spends a lot of time grooming herself, she doesn’t need to be bathed regularly, if at all.

“In most instances, cats don’t truly need baths,” Dr. Marks told The Dodo. “They have barbed tongues and are usually fastidious groomers, and they take care of their coats incredibly well.”

How often to bathe a cat

However, even though cats don’t need regular baths, there are certain situations that require bathing. Some of the reasons your cat might need a bath include:

  • She got into something sticky or toxic that she can’t/shouldn’t lick herself clean of.
  • She has trouble grooming herself.
  • She got dirty outside.
  • She soiled herself.
  • She has a skin condition that requires a medicated bath.

Unless your cat has a skin condition diagnosed by your vet that requires fairly frequent bathing, you don’t have to worry about bathing your cat on a regular basis.

Cath bath supplies

If and when bath time needs to happen, you’ll want to have all your supplies within reach. You don’t want to have to step away from a furious, soaking-wet cat sitting in the sink.
Here’s what you’ll need on standby:

Cat treats

“If they do need [a bath], have all your supplies ready to go, including your cat’s favorite treats and a cat-safe shampoo recommended by your vet,” Dr. Lenox said.

Cat-safe shampoo

And no, you can’t use your dog’s shampoo. Your vet may even recommend a medicated or specialized shampoo, which is why it’s important to check with your vet first before bathing. Dr. Lenox likes Douxo S3 Calm Shampoo ($20.99). “This one can be used for cats with allergic skin problems and/or to soothe and hydrate the skin,” she said.

Towel

You’ll want to make sure you get most of the water off your cat after she’s done in the bath. She’ll want to be dry ASAP, so bundling her in a soft towel will be appreciated.

Calming spray

Dr. Marks suggested spraying a calming solution around the bath and towel you’ll be using to create a more relaxed environment. CEVA Animal Health makes one ($13.99) that pet parents seem to like.

Cat wipes

Avoid getting shampoo near your cat’s face, and use cat wipes, like these Earthbath Green Tea & Awapuhi Pet Grooming Wipes ($29.99), instead.

Cat brush or comb

“They’ll need a good combing or brushing after you dry them off too, to help keep them from getting tangles and mats.” Dr. Lenox said. The Dodo found some of the best cat brushes that groomers love.

How to give a cat a bath, step by step

Here’s how to effectively bathe your cat without making her too stressed out.

Gather all your supplies.

Again, make sure everything’s in one place that’s within reach so you don’t have to prolong the experience. This is a great time to prep your towels and bath area with calming spray, too.

Decide where is best to do the bathing.

“The best option is a sink because of the smaller size versus a tub, and the water should be very shallow to help minimize anxiety about the water,” Dr. Lenox said.

“Some cats are more tolerant of the shower with a flexible nozzle for more control, while other cats prefer being in the kitchen sink, where warm water is gently poured on them from a cup,” Dr. Marks added.

You can also line the bottom of your sink or shower with a non-skid pad to help her feel more comfortable and in control.

Introduce your cat to water slowly.

Either begin trickling water onto her using your hand or a cup, or stop up the drain and introduce her feet-first. Just make sure you’re taking it slow and not drenching her all at once.

And it’s important not to submerge your cat in deep water — because she’s probably already stressed out enough just having to TOUCH water to begin with.

In fact, Dr. Lenox said, “If only one area of the cat is soiled, focus on that area during the bath only.” There may not be a need to get her fully wet.

Keep the water temperature, pressure and level comfortable.

“Make sure the temperature is at the same lukewarm level, comparable to bathing a baby,” Dr. Marks recommended. “You can check on the back of your wrist or even with a thermometer.”

“You don’t want to make the experience bad with cold water, and you don’t want to cause pain with hot water,” Dr. Lenox advised. “Filling the sink too high or using cold or hot water could make the experience negative, which is difficult when most cats don’t really like baths or water that much to begin with.”

As for the water pressure, gentle running water is best. And try your best to keep water away from your cat’s face.

Massage shampoo into her fur, focusing on the affected area.

Again, you may not need to shampoo her entire body if she only has dirt or grime in one area. Gently work the shampoo to a lather and then rinse completely, making sure no shampoo is left behind.

Dry her off with a towel (or maybe a blow-dryer).

Dr. Lenox recommends drying your cat off with a towel to remove any excess water.

“If you have a long-haired cat (or a short-haired cat, but it’s more important for cats with longer hair) and they will tolerate a blow-dry on the coolest setting, that can be helpful,” Dr. Lenox recommended. Obviously, if she’s not a fan of loud noises, skip the blow-dryer and let her air-dry.

Reward her with treats.

Let her know she did awesome by giving her some tasty treats.

“If your cat won’t take treats, you can also massage your cat or brush intermittently if your cat prefers,” Dr. Marks suggested.

Brush her after she’s dry.

To make sure your cat feels great after her bath, give her a good brushing to help remove tangles and get her hair back into place.

Bath time doesn’t have to be a nightmare for you and your cat. With the right tools and steps, it can actually be a breeze.

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