Ask any cat owner – “Do cats need baths?” – and you’ll get a different answer every time. Some people are heavily for it, while others are heavily against it, so what gives? Who’s telling the truth?
To be honest, they all are.
The truth is every cat is different. Some may never need a bath, while others require frequent baths to stay clean and healthy. Don’t worry – I’ll help you determine which end of the spectrum your cat falls on and how you can take action today.
Cats Groom Themselves Naturally & Regularly
Did you know cats spend nearly half their day licking and grooming themselves? Believe it or not, they do it to keep their fur coat healthy, fluffy, and shiny – that’s why they look so clean!
The tiny spines on the surface of their tongue, known as filiform papillae, act like sandpaper against their fur – almost like a comb! Their saliva adds a dampened essence to their grooming, while their teeth gnaw through the fur to draw out debris and foreign objects.
For those places their tongue can’t reach, such as their face, ears, and back of the head, your cat licks their forepaw and uses it as a washcloth – as if it were made for it!
When Is Bathing a Cat Necessary?
Cats who groom themselves regularly, stay indoors, and avoid messes may never need a bath from their owner. With that said, there are various instances when a cat bath is necessary.
Messy cats. If your cat rolls around in something that could harm them if they start licking it, bathe them right away.
Hairless cats. Some hairless breeds, such as the Peterbald, Donskoy, and Sphynx, require frequent bathing due to their oily skin.
Outdoor cats. If your cat spends most of their time outside, they could benefit from a bath every once in a while – the same goes for rescues and strays.
Older cats. Some cats start grooming themselves less frequently as they age, which could call for a bath from their owner.
Obese cats. Some cats have difficulty cleaning themselves effectively due to their mobility restrictions or inflexibility.
I always recommend speaking with your cat’s veterinarian before introducing any new grooming habits into your cat care routine.
How to Give a Cat a Bath
Bathing a cat might be one of the most challenging aspects of owning a cat. It’s a battle that takes patience and willpower, but anyone who loves their cat can overcome it – even if you don’t know how to bathe a cat.
Before diving into the process, let’s review some basic ground rules.
First – always make sure you choose a time when your cat is mellow, tired, and relaxed. If you know today is bath day, grab their favorite toy and help them burn some energy before taking them to the tub.
Second – brush your cat’s fur coat to remove any foreign objects, debris, dead skin, and loose hair. It’s also a great way to calm your cat down before revealing your true intentions – the calm before the storm.
Third – if you need to trim your cat’s nails, I recommend doing that before you bathe them. You’ll not only reduce the damage when/if they scratch you during the bath, but it’s also easier on your cat.
Getting Your Bathing Stating Ready
My best piece of advice when bathing your cat is to have your bathing station prepped, equipped, and ready before you begin the process. You might miss your opportunity if you stop halfway through to grab something.
The sink is the most practical place to bathe your cat – so migrate everything there.
You’ll need some cotton balls (to prevent water from getting in the ear), cat-friendly shampoo (never use human shampoo), a small pitcher or measuring cup (to help rinse their body), a washcloth, and several towels.
Non-slip surfaces work best, so place a rubber mat or towel in the sink to prevent them from slipping – which also helps reduce their instinct to fight back.
Lastly, I recommend filling the tub or sink with a couple of inches of lukewarm water before bathing your feline friend – especially if your cat hates the sound of running water.
Bathing Your Cat Without Getting Scratched
It’s time – the moment you’ve both been trying to avoid.
The first step is getting your cat acclimated and familiar with the water. While offering reassurance, gently dip your cat's paws in the water and slowly work your way up their leg with the water. Avoid using the handheld sprayer to get their body wet – instead, use the measuring cup or washcloth.
Once your cat is wet, gently apply a small amount of shampoo to their fur and massage it into their coat. Use the measuring cup to rinse the shampoo off their body, but avoid getting water in your cat’s eyes, ears, or nose.
To wash their face, use a damp washcloth and gently wipe their cheeks, forehead, and behind the ear. If you haven't already, this is also a good opportunity to remove any eye discharge.
Throughout this process, do your best to avoid any loud noises or anything that might spook your cat.
Drying Your Cat and Setting Them Free
Don’t worry – you’re almost done, but not quite.
Before setting your cat free, make sure they’re as dry as possible by wrapping them in a cozy towel and giving them a good massage. You can also use a hairdryer if your cat isn’t scared of it, but only use the lowest settings (heat and speed).
Not drying your cat could result in low body temperature if exposed to a chilly environment (like an air-conditioned room. Of course, it also results in discomfort – let’s not forget that most cats hate being wet. The quicker you dry them, the faster they can forget this whole experience.
Once dry, give your little buddy their favorite treat, a pat on the head, and let them be by themselves for a little while – they probably want a little privacy after all that commotion!
Don’t worry – you did good, cat mama (or papa)!