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

Cats are known for not being huge fans of being in the water. This can make bathing them a difficult and stressful task. In this post, our Baltimore vets share how often you should bathe your cat, and offer some tips on how to do so.

Cats & Bathing

Cats like to be clean and do an excellent job at cleaning themselves. Thankfully, this means that your four-legged friend won't need to be bathed nearly as often as a dog. 

A cat's rough tongue is covered with tiny, curved barbs that spread saliva across the animal's fur. Their tongue allows them to effectively clean their fur and skin without human intervention.

That being said, your cat will still need to be bathed every once in a while to provide a deep clean that their tongues just can't offer. Bathing your cat will also help prevent fur loss and can reduce the amount of hairballs your cat will have. 

How often should you bathe a cat?

Your kitten or cat will need a bath if they've come into contact with a substance that can be harmful. For example, if they've ingested or gotten covered in something they shouldn't have such as gasoline, antifreeze, paint, motor oil, or anything that can get on their fur and be harmful, they will need to be bathed right away.

For some cats, baths can also provide the benefit of soothing skin conditions like seborrhea, a disorder that results in flakey, itchy, red skin. If your cat has a skin condition, your vet can suggest a medicated shampoo to help treat the condition and ease your cat's discomfort. 

Obese or senior cats often aren't able to groom themselves as efficiently, making regular baths a must. Long-haired cats should be bathed every couple of months to reduce the risk of their fur becoming matted. Hairless breeds such as the Sphynx will likely require weekly baths since the oily residue on their skin can be left behind on fabrics in your home. 

Bathing Your Cat

Think of how you would prepare to bathe a baby. You want to have everything you need within arm's reach before you start. Here are some items you'll want to have close by when bathing your cat: 

  • 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 designed for people. They contain different pH levels than the types suited for cats and could damage your kitty's skin or fur. 

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

Hold your cat in place by their scruff, or use a harness if you think they will be difficult to keep in the tub. Wash your cat using gentle, confident strokes. Cats are very intuitive at picking up stress, so if you seem stressed, they will begin to get stressed and are far more likely to lash out.

How to Bathe a Cat That Hates Water

Cats are typically known for their aversion to water, which can make bath time difficult, to say the least. However, here are some tips on how to bath your cat as stress-free as possible for you and your cat if they hate water:

  • Choose the right location: It's important to pick a warm, quiet, and enclosed space for the bath, such as a bathroom or laundry room. Place a non-slip mat in the tub or sink to prevent your cat from slipping.
  • Gather the necessary supplies: You will need a cat-friendly shampoo, a container for pouring water, a washcloth, and a towel. Ensure the shampoo is specifically formulated for cats and avoid using human shampoos, which can irritate their skin.
  • Brush your cat: Before the bath, brush your cat's coat to remove any tangles or mats. This will make the bathing process more comfortable for your cat.
  • Gradually introduce water: Start by wetting a washcloth and gently wiping your cat's fur. Gradually introduce small amounts of water, pouring it over your cat's back and avoiding the face and ears. Use a cup or pitcher to pour the water gently to avoid startling your cat.
  • Use the shampoo: Apply a small amount of cat-friendly shampoo to your cat's coat and lather gently. Rinse thoroughly, making sure to remove all the shampoo. 
  • Dry your cat: After the bath, gently pat dry your cat in a towel. Use a hairdryer on a low setting if your cat tolerates it. Avoid using a high setting, as this can be too hot and distressing for your cat.
  • Reward your cat: After the bath, give your cat a treat or extra attention to reinforce positive behavior and help them associate the experience with positive feelings.

It's important to note that some cats may never enjoy the water or tolerate a full bath. In these cases, you can consider alternative methods such as using cat wipes or scheduling a professional grooming appointment. Always consult with your veterinarian before bathing your cat, especially if they have any skin conditions or allergies.

How to Bathe a Cat Without Getting Scratched

Avoiding scratches isn't always easy when bathing your cat, especially if they hate being in water. Some cats will tolerate baths, but others will simply have none of it. When a bath is inevitable, staying calm will be beneficial for you and your feline friend. Here are a few tips to help make bath time as stress-free and relaxing as possible, so you can avoid all of those scratch marks:

  • 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

Grooming Services at Falls Road Animal Hospital

At the end of the day, not everyone is equipped to bathe a cat, and sometimes it's just not worth the hassle. If that's the case for you, you're in luck. Our Baltimore veterinary office is happy to take the burden off your hands. Our grooming services mean you can drop your kitty off with us, and pick them up smelling and looking their best!

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.

Are you looking to have your cat professionally groomed? Contact our Baltimore vets to book a grooming appointment for your furry friend!

Caring for Pets in Baltimore

Falls Road Animal Hospital accepts new clients to our specialty services and 24/7 emergency services.

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Contact (410) 825-9100