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To Bathe or Not To Bathe Your Beloved House Cat

You may wonder if your house cat needs a more thorough bath than the diligent daily grooming that most cats do for themselves. Whether or not your cat needs a bath depends on a few factors including how frequently they self-groom, the environment they live in and wander into, presence of other pets, and the quality of their health.

Should I Give My Cat a Bath?

Cats are notoriously well-known for their grooming habits. So much so, in many animated films, a cat’s obsession with cleanliness is usually a character trait emphasized in stark contrast to the dog that always finds itself in a mess of trouble (with a stench to go along with it!).

Though your cat is designed for self-care--keeping her fur clean through specialized cells located in sharp, tiny cones that sit on a cats' tongues--a bath 3-4 times a year may be a good idea for a few reasons:

  1. Your cat doesn’t groom itself often. If your cat isn’t much of a groomer, they will start to give off an unpleasant odor. You might also notice debris in their fur or in the paw pads. If you’ve got a cat that is lazy about grooming, talk with your vet about the grooming schedule that would be best for your kitty.

  2. Your cat’s living environment. Cat’s that live with young children, in small spaces, or that have free access to wander outdoors are more likely to need periodic baths. Kids can get their cat into all sorts of things (from making mud pies to coloring their far with markers, paint, and colored foam…). Obviously, a cat that’s been given a makeover by your child needs a bath. If you have a small space and that cat is strictly indoors, their coat can develop a musty, stale odor. If your cat wanders outdoors frequently, if it’s fur gets matted, then a bath a few times a year is a good idea.

  3. Your cat lives with other pets. If you have other pets at home--dogs, guinea pigs, chickens, whatever it is, your cat can get exposed to their dander or food or nesting material. If that’s the case for your kitty, it’s a good idea to bathe your pet 3-4 times a year.

  4. Your cat has a medical condition. If you cat was recently sick or has a chronic medical condition, special diets and medications can change the quality of their skin and coat as well as its odor. A bathe may be necessary to keep your kitty comfortable and well.

Keep in mind that most short-hair breeds of indoor cats will rarely, if ever, need a bathe. Long-haired breeds may have special grooming needs that need more than your cat’s self-grooming skills.

4 Tips for Bathing Your Cat

Your cat’s personality, comfort level around water, and tendency to bite or scratch when in unfamiliar situations all need to be taken into consideration when you decide to bathe the cat.

If your adult cat has never been bathed, it’s a good idea to bring them to a groomer the first time (or two) to see how they do in the hands of a pro. The groomer can also give you tips on bathing your cat at home in the future. Cats that have been bathed regularly since they were kittens are the most likely to tolerate being bathed as an adult cat, either by you or by a groomer.

When you are ready to take the plunge to bathe your own cat, the following tips can be helpful:

1. Go at the cat’s pace, not yours, during the bath. Make sure you are relaxed, not in a rush when you bathe your cat. Get everything set-up in advance and slowly introduce your cat to the bathing environment. Close the bathroom door to prevent your cat from escaping.

What you will need to bathe your cat:

  • cat friendly shampoo (human shampoo can be toxic or irritating to cats, don’t use it)

  • combs and brushes appropriate for the cat’s coat

  • cups for rinsing the cat with clean water

  • possibly a coat conditioner

  • plenty of towels for drying

  • special treats (food and toys) on hand to reward them throughout the process

  • Use the tub, not an overhead shower (the sound and volume of water jetting out will overwhelm the cat)

  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt to protect yourself from scratches

2. Trim your cat’s claws the day before bathing to decrease the risk for scratching or other damage they might cause if stressed about bathing. If you aren’t familiar with nail trimmer, ask your vet or a groomer to take care of this for you.

3. Brush your kitty before bathing to remove tangles and knots; these tangles can be harder to get out when their coat is wet. If you have a very long haired cat, be sure you are familiar with the proper brushing tools for their coat.

4. Post-bath Rest. Once your cat is clean and dry, allow the time to rest. If they seem agitated, at risk for pouncing all over the house, contain them in a pet-safe carrier or crate for 30 minutes of catnapping.

Relax, have fun, and have a happy cat bath time!


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