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How and when to bathe a cat

You should contact your vet before bathing your cat to make sure there aren’t other causes for their lack of self grooming.

Cats are excellent groomers — when they’re not eating or sleeping, it’s likely you’ll find them bathing themselves, one hind leg pointed straight to the sky as they clean their bellies, or adorably wiping their face and ears with their damp paws. 

Sometimes, cats may groom less than normal, so you should contact your veterinarian if you notice a change in your cat’s grooming habits. If your vet recommends giving your cat a bath, here are some tips to make it easier and safer for both you and your pet

Do cats need baths?

In general, cats don’t need their pet parents to bathe them. You may think training your cat to enjoy baths is cute, but most cats find it stressful, and soapy products can dry out your pet’s skin or irritate their eyes. 

Cats may stop grooming themselves for a variety of reasons. Maybe they’ve become overweight, making it difficult to reach certain areas. Conditions like chronic illness or osteoarthritis could’ve made it too difficult or painful for them to groom. Whatever the reason may be, cats who have stopped grooming could use a little help, and that’s where you — and your vet — step in.

“The areas a cat doesn’t groom themself can become matted, oily, flaky and itchy. This can cause discomfort and predispose them to other skin problems,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, veterinary consultant for Fetch, says. “Medium-and long-haired cats are more likely to develop matted coats without grooming. These mats can become very tightly and painfully adhered to the skin, which may require sedated grooming to remove.”  

To prevent mats, pet parents should brush cats frequently before a bath becomes necessary. It may also help to have long-haired cats trimmed around hard to reach areas to minimize both matting and hairballs. 

If your cat needs a bath, and you don’t feel up to the challenge, you may want to consider taking them to an experienced groomer who knows tricks for keeping cats calm and stress-free during a bath. 

How to bathe a kitten

Kittens may need your help with grooming more than adult cats. As most cat parents know, kittens who are learning to use the litter box often have a harder time keeping clean. 

To make sure your kitten is clean and happy, it helps to wrap them in a warm towel as you use a wet cloth to soap them up and another to rinse. The harsh sound of running water may scare your kitten, so keep the water gentle and warm. Be careful to avoid their head, and dry the kitten thoroughly when you’re finished.  

RELATED: 5 reasons for excessive cat grooming

How to bathe a cat

If your vet gives you the go-ahead to bathe your cat, here are some tips to keep the process easy, safe and stress-free: 

Step 1: Trim your cat’s nails. Even if you don’t plan to give your cat a bath, you should trim their nails every few weeks to maintain their health. When it comes to bath time, shorter nails will protect you and your family from scratches. 

Step 2: Make your bathing site non-slip. You can do this with non-slip padding, but a wet towel at the bottom of the tub or sink does the trick, too. You can also use a sink for smaller cats and kittens.

Step 3: Prepare the necessary tools. If you don’t have a sprayer for rinsing your cat, you can use a pitcher or large cup for rinsing. Run the tap so the water is warm and the noise isn’t as loud before you put your cat in the tub or sink. Have your vet-approved cat shampoo ready. 

Step 4: Enlist a helper to hold your cat while you bathe them. Be prepared to act quickly, as your cat will likely give you a very short window to complete the bath before they’re too stressed.

Step 5: Slowly put your cat in the tub or sink and then carefully wet their body. Avoid getting their head wet, as this is a sure-fire way to send them bolting from the room.

Step 6: Give your cat’s belly, bottom and legs a good rub down with pet shampoo. Remember to skip their face and head. You can wipe that down with a wet cloth after you’ve finished rinsing.

Step 7: Slowly and carefully rinse the shampoo. Be thorough — remaining shampoo can be irritating to the skin and can encourage mats to form. 

Step 8: Dry your cat’s body by gently wiping them with a warm towel.

If at any point, your cat completely freaks out, ditch your bathing effort and call the groomer. You can also speak to your veterinarian about waterless shampoos or calming medication if the bath is necessary.

How often should you bathe a cat

Remember, your cat most likely doesn’t need you to bathe them. If your cat has stopped grooming themselves, you should contact your veterinarian, as their lack of grooming can be because of discomfort from kidney disease, gastroenteritis, an upper respiratory infection, arthritis or a soft tissue injury — so it’s important to diagnose the cause of your cat’s behavior change quickly. 

You should only bath your cat when recommended by a veterinarian or in an emergency to remove a toxic substance from their skin or coat. Your cat’s demeanor and stress level should also be taken into account when deciding if bathing them is appropriate. 

“Cats with skin infections can sometimes benefit from medicated shampoos, in addition to other therapies,” Dr. Singler says. “Cats that are exposed to a toxic substance, like pesticides or even some over the counter flea and tick preventatives, will benefit from a bath to remove the chemicals before they can cause more problems.”

In many cases, brushing your cat can be a less stressful way to help your cat with their grooming needs. You should brush your pet regularly, but leave daily bathing needs to them. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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