- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
My cat, Floyd, is an odd bird who loves the water. It’s not unusual to find him pawing at it, splashing in it, and getting himself (and my entire house) completely drenched in the process.
Bathtime, thankfully, isn’t a major issue in our household.
I know this isn’t the norm. For the vast majority of cat owners, bathtime is the stuff nightmares are made of. Luckily, it’s a nightmare you won’t need to deal with very often, if at all, according to the ASPCA. Cats are meticulous self-groomers, equipped with a scratchy tongue and astonishing flexibility to get the job done.
There will be times, however, when only a bath will do. But don’t panic! We’ve got the lowdown on everything from tricks of the trade to products that will make the process less painful.
When is it necessary to bathe your cat?
This topic may have you scratching your puzzled head. Don’t cats groom themselves? Do they even need baths to stay clean?
For the most part, your cat can keep himself clean without your help. His tongue is lined with tiny bumps that remove dirt and excess hair. But there are still a few scenarios that call for a sudsy soak. Preventive Vet lays out several instances where a cat bath is necessary, including:
1. Ringworm—Despite its name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s actually a fungal infection that can be treated with a vet-prescribed medicated bath.
2. Fleas—Most flea medications will be administered directly onto your cat’s fur and won’t require a full bath. If the flea infestation is bad enough, though, your vet may encourage you to bathe your furry friend. If you have a kitten, they may be too young for standard flea treatments, making bathtime a necessity.
3. Arthritic or obese cats—Have you ever watched a cat struggle to reach his back with his tongue? A cat suffering from obesity or arthritis may not have the mobility necessary to groom himself properly.
4. Sphynx or hairless cats—According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association, hairless cats require periodic bathing to remove excess oil that accumulates on their skin.
5. Your cat is actually filthy—Maybe he’s been skunked. Maybe your kid decided his coat would look ravishing with a few scoops of strawberry yogurt. Maybe you’ve adopted a recent rescue whose hygiene has been neglected. When your cat needs something removed from his coat, sometimes a bath is the only solution.
Where should you bathe your cat?
Most cats enjoy the security and comfort of smaller, enclosed spaces. So a sink is usually a better option than the bathtub. Plus, your back will thank you.
Alternatively, you could place a smaller container inside the tub. A rubber tote or a toddler bathtub are both good options.
A word of caution: if you go with the sink, make sure it doesn’t have a garbage disposal or place a mat that won’t move over the opening. Even if it’s off, your cat’s paws could be hurt by the blades.
As a rule, most domestic cats aren’t fond of water. So if you’re reluctant to deal with an angry, wet feline, a baby or paw wipe may do the trick. Pet stores carry special cleansing cloths you can use to clean your cat. Dry shampoos are another option to freshen up your cat, although the National Cat Groomers Association does not consider them the best alternative to bathing.
What tools do you need to give your cat a bath?
Make sure you have the following on hand:
- Cat-specific shampoo (human shampoo will dry out your cat’s skin)
- Pitchers for pouring water or a detachable shower head
- Rubbermaid tote or a toddler bathtub (if you’re using the tub instead of a sink)
- Non-slip mat for traction (a towel or part of an old yoga mat will also work)
- Lots of towels
- Cat comb or brush
- Cotton balls—the ASPCA suggests gently placing cotton balls in your cat’s ears to keep water out
- Optional: Pheromone diffuser to keep your cat calm or a gentle cat conditioner to help condition kitty’s coat
How to bathe a cat
1. Prepare your station by gathering supplies. Wear clothing you don’t mind getting wet. Place a couple of towels on the floor. Close the bathroom door to keep your cat from escaping.
2. Fill the sink or a smaller container in the tub with a few inches of warm water. Test the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot.
3. Gently, but firmly, hold your cat’s head by the scruff, which is the loose skin around his neck.
4. Using the pitcher or shower head, saturate your cat’s coat with water. Be careful not to pour water over his head.
5. Lather your cat up with shampoo made specifically for cats. The ASPCA suggests diluting the shampoo with water (5 parts shampoo to 1 part water) and PetMD recommends avoiding the face. You can use a wipe, a wet washcloth, or just plain water to clean this area.
6. Rinse your cat thoroughly. Leftover shampoo residue can irritate his skin or create mats, according to WebMD. Again, check the temperature so you don’t scald your cat, and use a low flow rate so you don’t scare him.
7. Using several towels, dry your cat. Don’t use a hairdryer unless he’s already used to it.
8. If your cat has long hair, comb it. Long, wet hair is prone to matting.
9. Reward your kitty with a treat! This will help him maintain a positive association with bathtime.
Extra tips to make bathtime easier
- You might want to consider trimming your cat’s nails before bathtime to protect yourself from scratches.
- Acclimate your cat to the bath gradually to minimize his fear. Try placing him in the sink or tub beforehand to get him used to this foreign environment. If you have a kitten, giving him a bath early on will help him adapt to bathtime.
- Brush your cat beforehand to prevent matting and tangles.
- Enlist the help of a willing friend.
- The ASPCA recommends a pre-bath play session to ensure a happy, mellow cat. Schedule your cat’s bath when he’s most content—after a meal is a good choice.
Giving your cat a bath doesn’t need to be a stressful task. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the job, please don’t forget—a professional groomer is always an option.