Do you need to bathe your cat?

Cats don’t usually need baths, but there are some exceptional circumstances. If they’re rolled in something that they can’t wash off themselves, or they have long hair which has become matted, a bath might be a good idea.

Most cats really dislike baths and they can find the experience very stressful. If you’re able to, just clean an isolated area, rather than getting their entire body wet.

That said, there are rare occasions when bathing your cat is unavoidable, in which case there are ways to make the experience more comfortable for both of you. However, if your cat needs a bath because they’ve come into contact with toxic substances, take them to the vet first.

Before you bathe your cat

Get everything you need in one place, so that once you’ve started bathing your cat, everything is within easy reach. You’ll need:

  • A large plastic bucket, sink or bath (lined with a non-slip floor mat) to use as a cat bath.
  • Specialist cat or kitten shampoo. Find a mild all-rounder with no harsh chemicals or perfumes. Never use human shampoo, as it’s unsuitable for cat hair and skin due to the difference in pH levels.
  • A cat conditioner if required. Again, don’t use conditioner for human hair.
  • A towel or two
  • A brush to help remove matts and knots

Bathing your cat

Fill the cat bath with just enough warm (not hot) water to wash your cat and lower your cat gently into the water. Don’t overfill, as this will just make your cat more anxious!

Offer plenty of praise and reassurance throughout. Bathing cats can be tricky, but food treats can make a useful distraction, as can another person holding the cat’s head and providing reassurance.

Cat being dried with towel

If your cat is scared, they may try to bite or scratch you. If this happens a lot, stop what you’re doing and consult your vet for advice. They may be able to bathe your cat for you, or recommend an experienced groomer who is good with nervous cats.

Apply a small amount of shampoo and warm water to the contaminated area only. If a full body cat bath is necessary, avoid the head altogether and concentrate on lathering the rest of the body including the tail, underside and neck. You might find it easier for you both if you take your cat out of the water and onto a towel for this part, especially if you’re using medicated shampoo that takes a few minutes to activate.

Don’t put anything inside your cat’s ears to keep them dry – such as cotton wool. Not only could this get stuck, but your cat will get stressed if they cannot hear clearly. It is far better to keep their heads completely dry and if their face also needs a clean, use a damp cloth only, with no shampoo.

When they’re ready to be rinsed, use one hand to operate the shower nozzle or pour a jug of warm, clean water and the other hand to protect their eyes and ears from contamination. Repeat the process if you’re using cat conditioner. It is very important to rinse the shampoo and/or conditioner thoroughly as your cat is likely to lick off any excess water, and you don’t want them to ingest any excess suds! Once you’re happy that they’re fully rinsed, allow your cat to shake off the excess water. Bathing cats is a simple as that!

After your cat’s bath

Generally cats prefer to be towel dried rather than dried with a hair dryer. Unless they’ve been used to a hair dryer from kittenhood, do the best job you can with a towel then leave them in a warm room to dry off naturally. Don’t let them go outside until fully dry, so that they don’t catch a cold.

If you’ve been brave enough to bath more than one cat, or simply have another cat in the household, you might notice some inter-cat conflict after bathing your cat. This will be caused by the change of scent and can be remedied by separating the bathed cats until they’re calm, then rubbing all cats with the same towel to redistribute scents.

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