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Healthy Pet Care Tips

How to Bathe a Cat & How Often You Should Do It

Most cats do a reasonably good job of cleaning themselves on a daily basis. That said, sometimes you'll need to bathe your kitty. Our PetVet Care Centers veterinary team discusses bathing your cat. 

Do cats need to be bathed?

Because cats are agile animals who are meticulous with cleaning themselves, it's fortunate that our four-legged friends won't need a bath too frequently. 

Each time your cat licks its fur, it's like they're giving themselves a mini-spa treatment. With each lap of their sandpaper-like tongue, healthy natural oils are spread across his skin and coat. 

These tiny little spines can be likened to natural detanglers, which is why cats often lick at or bite clumps of fur to smooth it out. 

That said, routine at-home bathing sessions for your cat can help cut down on the amount of fur they lose and prevent hairballs from developing. 

How often should you bathe a cat?

If your kitty has gotten themselves into certain situations, they'll require a bath. For example, if they've ingested something they shouldn't have such as antifreeze, gasoline, motor oil, paint or anything that can get stuck in his fur or become harmful, these substances will need to be washed off immediately. 

For some cats with skin conditions, baths can be a great way to soothe issues such as sebhorrea, a disorder that results in itchy, red, flakey skin. Your veterinarian may also recommend medicated baths for treating other health conditions such as ringworm or severe flea allergies. 

Are you a parent to a senior or obese cat? You may have noticed their ability to groom themselves has suffered as they've aged or gained weight. Long-haired cats may also need a bath every couple of months to reduce the risk of matted fur. The Sphynx and other hairless breeds will probably need weekly baths since their oily residue can be left behind on fabrics in your home.  

If you do choose to give your cat a bath for any of the reasons above, aim for no more often than every 4-6 weeks, since bathing can dry out the skin. 

How do you bathe a cat?

When you prepare to bathe a baby, you'd get everything you'd require within arm's reach before you start. Follow the same rule of thumb when bathing your cat. Here are some items to keep close by: 

  • Special cat shampoo and conditioner
  • A bath or shower with a handheld showerhead
  • Numerous towels to clean her off and help keep her dry

Never use shampoo or conditioner intended for humans as it has a different pH level than the type that's suited for cats and could damage your pet's skin or hair. 

Pre-Bath Prep

Brush your cat to remove any tangles or knots before starting to bath him (particularly if he is a long-haired breed). 

Using a medium-level spray, run warm water through the shower head.

The Bath

While talking to your cat and offering lots of reassurance and praise, gently place her into the shower tray or bath. Using a showerhead from above is significantly less stressful for your pet as she is far more likely to be used to being rained on than she is being lowered into 4 inches of tepid water!

Hold your cat in place by her scruff, or use a harness if you think she is going to be tricky to control. Begin washing her gently using soft confident strokes. Cats are very intuitive at picking up stress, so if you seem stressed she will be on edge too, and far more likely to lash out or try to make a run for it!

Apply small amounts of shampoo – she’s probably not as dirty as you think she is! Make sure you rinse clean and then repeat with the conditioner. Take care to avoid her eyes and nose.

Drying Off

Once she is clean you should towel-dry your cat as much as possible. Some cats are petrified of hair dryers. If your feline friend isn’t then you could consider trying to dry her using a low heat and speed.

You may need to confine her to a carrier in order to do this. Alternatively, you could leave your cat in the warm bathroom until her coat is totally dry.

The important thing is to ensure that she is thoroughly dried before going into other parts of the house. Damp cats can easily become chilled which can make them unwell, or in the case of kittens, particularly low body temperatures can be life-threatening.

How to Bathe a Cat Without Getting Scratched

Many an owner has puzzled over the question of how to bathe a cat that hates water, as most cats do. Some cats will tolerate baths, but others simply won't. When a bath is inevitable, staying calm will help you both. Here are a few tips to help ease some stress so your cat is less likely to try to scratch and claw their way to freedom:

  • Choose a time after she’s eaten or played, as she’ll be more mellow
  • If possible, trim her nails before the bath, filing the ends as well after they're clipped to dull them
  • Plan for a short grooming session to make handling her fur much easier
  • Recruit a friend to help so one of you can hold the cat while the other bathes them
  • Minimize running water, the sound causes many cats to panic, and the last thing you want is to grab a slippery, sharp cat
  • Fill a sink with a few inches of warm water and wash only the parts you need to, then rinse thoroughly
  • Use a washcloth around the face and ears

If you'd like more advice on how often and in which situations you should bathe your cat, ask your vet during a routine exam or contact us. Alternatively, you might prefer to avoid the mess and stress of bathing your cat. Feel free to make an appointment with one of our experienced pet groomers. Our professional groomers have the knowledge and experience to groom pets of all coat types and temperaments. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

It will sometimes be necessary to bathe your cat. For advice on how to make the process easier or to schedule an appointment with one of our pet groomers, contact a PetVet Care Center veterinarian hospital near you.

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