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Do Cats Need Baths? Does It Help Them?

cat in the bathtub

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Dr. Nia Perkins

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Despite their water-loving cousins, tigers, domestic cats are not known for their love of water. If you’ve ever tried to bathe your cat, you probably have some battle scars to show for it. Do cats need baths? The short answer is no.

Cats typically groom themselves. In fact, most cats are somewhat obsessive about keeping themselves clean, minimizing the work you need to do. Their barbed tongues are adept at cleaning dirt and debris from their coats.

Still, sometimes your cat needs a little help. Whether it’s especially dirty or smelly, suffering from parasites, or struggling with mobility issues, a bath may be the only solution to get your cat clean.

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When Your Cat Needs a Bath

As mentioned, your cat is likely to take care of its own grooming needs. If your cat has long hair, like a Persian, it may need occasional baths to supplement its self-grooming.

Conversely, hairless cats like the Sphynx cat may need occasional baths to remove dirt and oils that can be absorbed in their skin. Of course, frequent bathing can strip the vital oils away, so it’s important to only bathe when needed.

Cats may also need some help with grooming if they suffer from a medical condition. Elderly cats with arthritis or joint problems may struggle to groom themselves, and routine bathing can help them stay clean and comfortable. This is also true of obese cats or cats with mobility issues that limit their range of motion.

Finally, routine bathing can help a family member with a cat allergy. If someone in your household suffers from cat allergies, giving your cat a bath 1-2 times a month, may help reduce dander and the irritants that aggravate allergies.

persian cat bathing
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

How to Bathe Your Cat

Even if your cat is really dirty, sometimes a good brushing with a waterless shampoo or spot cleaning with a damp rag is enough. Consider these options to avoid giving your cat a full bath.

If you must bathe your cat, here’s how you can do it to limit the trauma for both you and your cat:

  • Use a cat-safe shampoo. Formulas for humans and dogs can have ingredients that are dangerous for cats, so make sure your shampoo is specifically designed for them.
  • If possible, trim nails before bathing. This can help you avoid painful scratches and marks if your cat gets upset during baths.
  • Prepare the bath area in advance. Gather your shampoo, washcloth, water pitcher (for rinsing), and a clean, dry towel.
  • Brush your cat before the bath to get dirt, debris, and loose hair off and remove tangles or mats.
  • Fill the sink or bathtub with just a few inches of tepid water, then either wet your cat with the pitcher or a washcloth. Avoid your cat’s eyes, nose, and ears.
  • Apply shampoo directly to your washcloth, then onto your cat to reduce rinsing. You don’t need to scrub your cat vigorously—just lather a bit.
  • Rinse your cat with the pitcher or a clean, wet washcloth.
  • When finished, wrap your cat in a warm, dry towel and rub its fur to help with drying.
  • Once all the heavy water is dried, let your cat run off on its own.

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Conclusion

Most cats can be obsessive about self-grooming and do all the work for you. There are occasions when your cat will be dirty, smelly, or unable to groom itself, and you’ll need to help out with a bath. Hopefully, that won’t be too often!

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Featured Image Credit: Irina Borodovskaya, Shutterstock

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