Bathing your cat

Do cats need baths? Get the facts, and find out how to bathe your cat successfully, in our essential vet-approved guide.

Cats are famous for their cleanliness – and as a general rule, they don’t need much help from us to maintain it. Your cat is likely to spend anywhere between 10% and 50% of their waking hours washing and grooming themselves, systematically working from head to tail before starting all over again.

Cats’ tongues are covered in tiny barbs called papillae, which do a great job of detangling and removing debris from their fur. As cats lick themselves, they also spread natural oils across their skin and coat, helping keep both in good condition. You’ve probably also seen your cat tackling muddy claws and sticky spots by using their teeth to pull out stubborn dirt.

Because of their great grooming skills, the majority of cats don’t require bathing. What’s more, most cats tend to dislike being immersed in water. In fact, your pet might live out their whole life without ever needing a soak in the tub.

Some cats, however, may need a little extra help with keeping clean. If your cat is elderly, arthritic, obese or has very long fur, they may struggle to wash themselves all over. If this is the case, you may need to help out with brushing, spot-cleaning or bathing. Hairless Sphynx cats also need regular baths – without fur to wick oils away, grease can build up on their skin, making them look grubby and rubbing off on your furniture.

You might also need to give your cat a bath if they get something sticky, greasy or nasty on their coat. Animal droppings, car oil, paint or tree sap can be difficult and unpleasant for a cat to remove by themselves. Meanwhile, some common household substances are poisonous to cats, and the most frequent cause of feline poisoning is ingesting toxic substances from their fur while washing. If you suspect your cat has come into contact with antifreeze, weedkiller, insecticide, bleach, rodent bait, slug killer, essential oils or lily pollen, wash it off immediately and take them to the vet straight away.

So, what happens if your cat does need a helping hand with keeping clean? Although it might be a myth that all cats hate water, most of them don’t enjoy getting soaked and sudsy! So before deciding to give your cat a proper bath, consider whether one of these alternatives might be easier and less stressful:

Brush and comb

If your cat is dusty or muddy, grooming them with a cat brush or fine-toothed comb will remove the grime without the palaver of getting them wet.

Spot cleaning

Don’t bother bathing your cat if you can get away with a spot clean. Specialist pet wet wipes and waterless shampoos can remove sticky patches or wash a cat’s paws, without the need for a full bath. Always choose products labelled safe for cats.

Spot-on flea treatments

Anti-flea shampoos are no longer widely recommended for cats, as they only kill the fleas present on your cat at the time, and don’t stop these pesky parasites coming back. Spot-on flea treatments applied just to the back of the neck are more effective, and don’t involve the hassle of shampooing your cat.

Professional groomer

If your cat definitely needs washing or detangling and you can’t face doing it yourself, consider a professional pet-grooming service. Some will come to your home, which might be easier than taking your cat to a salon.

If there’s no other option than to give your cat a bath, follow our 10 top tips for making bath time as stress-free as possible (for both of you!).

  1. Gather everything you need before you start: a shampoo suitable for cats (not human shampoo); towels; a flannel or sponge; cotton wool and a jug or showerhead.
  2. Bathe your cat with someone else on hand, if possible – one of you to do the washing, and the other to hold the cat still, and provide treats as necessary.
  3. Wear a long-sleeved top and consider rubber gloves as well, to reduce the risk of being scratched or nipped. An apron or large towel will stop your clothes getting splashed.
  4. Relax your cat with treats and perhaps a relaxing pheromone spray or diffuser. Running the water before bringing them into the bathroom also helps reduce stress.
  5. You can bathe a cat in a bath, sink or washing bowl. Whichever you choose, line it with a non-slip mat or towel so your cat doesn’t skid around.
  6. The water should be slightly above lukewarm – but not too hot. Fill the bath, sink or bowl up to the level of the cat’s belly so they can comfortably put their feet down, then lower your cat slowly into the water, paws first.
  7. Washing a cat is best done with a damp sponge or flannel and a specialist cat shampoo, taking care not to get it into the eyes, ears or mouth. Don’t use shampoo for humans or dogs as it could irritate your cat’s skin or be harmful if they lick it.
  8. Wash in the direction that your cat’s fur grows. Use a comb or brush to ease out any stuck dirt, and cotton wool to wipe carefully around the face and ears. Never fully submerge your cat or pour water over their face.
  9. Once clean, gently rinse your cat using warm water from a jug or showerhead.
  10. Wrap your cat in a warm towel and gently pat them dry. Don’t use a hairdryer, as most cats find the noise frightening. Wet cats get cold quickly, so keep your cat in a warm room indoors until they’re fully dry.

There you have it – a complete guide to bathing your cat without getting scratched!

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