Should You Bathe a Cat – Can Cats Keep Themselves Clean

If you want to stir up controversy ask a large group of lifetime cat owners the question, “should you bath a cat?” and step back and watch the brawl. There are those who think you should never, under any circumstances, ever bath a cat. There are others who feel that kittens should be bathed at a young age and then routinely bathed throughout their lives to keep them accustomed to bathing. Both of these groups of people are right to an extent, which means the answer must lie in the middle somewhere.

Cats usually don’t need to be bathed on a routine basis. They take care of their grooming pretty much on their own and need little assistance when it comes to keeping themselves clean. A healthy cat spends 10% or more of its time grooming itself and can keep its fur free of dirt and most substances that it gets into throughout the day.

As your cat ages there are going to be things that it used to do but loses the ability or loses interest in that activity. Self-grooming can become difficult for some cats. Often you can brush your cat’s coat and remove the excess debris that your cat is missing. A damp paper towel, wet washcloth or pre-moistened towelette (baby wipe) can be used to wipe off your cat and clean up its fur when it has loose stool that leaves it with “dirty bum” or other conditions that require your assistance to clean. A simple wipe-up is not always enough though.

Occasionally there is something that is either unsafe for your cat to lick off of its fur or smelly enough that you can’t wait for it to clean up the mess. When this happens you need to give your cat a helping hand, and a bath. If your cat is a biter you might want to get a professional groomer to help you at this point instead of risking the loss of appendages that you have grown fond of. If you are brave enough to try this on your own you need to be prepared.

Gather your supplies before attempting to bath your cat.

Before you get started you need to have all of your supplies together. Choose a small area, usually the bathroom if it is a small bathroom, and get the area prepared before bringing your cat to the area. You are going to need:

  • Mild soap, cat shampoo preferably (Dawn original formula dish soap works well too)
  • A stack of warm, dry towels
  • Bathtub or large sink with warm water already ran
  • Rubber bathmat or small towel/cloth to stand the cat on something that it can claw or grasp during the bath
  • Cup or bowl to pour water onto cat
  • Washcloth to wash cat’s face
  • A cat brush or comb (flea comb if fleas are an issue)
  • Blow dryer if you choose to blow dry the cat
  • A helper if there is one available
  • Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment may be handy (optional)

Once you have assembled all of the items you are going to need for your cat’s bath you will need to find your cat. Making sure you have everything ready before getting the cat will help tremendously. The noise or getting a bath ran and the commotion of getting everything ready can cause the cat to become anxious. Waiting for you to have everything ready can also be cause for anxiety in your cat as well.

Ok, I have my supplies; I have my cat, now how do I give my cat a bath?

If your cat is a fighter you aren’t going to have fun. Most cats aren’t going to enjoy getting a bath, some do but they are few and far between. Start by talking to your cat in a firm reassuring tone. Don’t act scared or nervous or your cat will be able to tell something is not right and will react by clawing its way out of there.

Gently sit your cat in the water on a rubber bathmat or a small cloth that they can grip instead of slipping on the bottom of the tub or sink. If you have a helper, have the helper hold on to the body and upper shoulder area. If you don’t have a helper you need to hold onto the cat with one hand and scrub with the other. Ignore the meowing, yowling and protesting that your cat is doing and get your business done as quickly and gently as you can.

Try to keep water away from your cat’s ears and face area. Use a wet cloth to wash this area. After wetting the rest of the cat lather it up with shampoo starting at the neck area and working toward the other end. Always work from clean to dirty so you aren’t bringing anything messy from one area of the cat to another area and making things worse.

Rinse your cat by scooping water up with the cup or bowl that you have available and gently pouring it over the cat. You should still attempt to keep water away from your cat’s face and head. If you do get the head area wet the cat may panic and attempt to get away. This is why it is important to keep the room closed.

After rinsing thoroughly drain the water and wrap the cat up in a fluffy towel. Try to calm the cat. If you have a partner you can play good owner/bad owner and one of you can save the cat from the other at this point and help it to dry off.
A blow dryer can be used to dry the cat’s fur but this is usually more stressful than it is helpful. If the weather permits you should let the cat dry itself after a quick toweling. If not, you can use the blow dryer on its quietest setting while calming the cat.

If you routinely brush/comb your cat you should be able to calm him down by brushing him and talking to him after his bath. If you bath your kittens when they are 7-9 weeks old then routinely bath them afterwards monthly the bathing process won’t be as traumatic. This is not necessary though as cats generally take care of their grooming on their own and most never need to be bathed.

So, should you bath a cat? I would say that there are occasions that cats do need some help but for most cases your cat is going to be able to take care of bathing without your help. When there is something dangerous on your cat, like motor oil or antifreeze, you should wash it up the easiest and least distressful way possible.



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