Cat lovers know that our kitties love to keep clean. Cats can spend up to 50 per cent of their time awake grooming, keeping their coats silky and smooth. But do cat owners need to help their pets stay clean by giving them baths? And if so, what’s the best way to do it? Cat in a Flat finds out.

Towel drying a cat after a bath
Towel drying a cat after a bath

Do we need to bath our cats?

The simple answer to this question is no. Healthy cats do not need humans to bath them. In fact, forcing cats to take baths can lead to both health and behavioural problems.  

Cats are fastidious groomers and spend a considerable amount of time of each day washing. Rough barbs coat kitty tongues, making them ideal for combing fur to remove dirt and parasites. A cat’s scent is also crucial to its identity and way of communicating. Grooming spreads a cat’s scent across its body, making sure Mr Whiskers communicates who he is to himself and other cats. Self-grooming in cats is also essential for several health reasons. 

  • Grooming helps smooth the fur and remove loose hairs. In turn, this helps the coat stay insulated and keeps kitties warm. Or in summer, helps remove moulted hairs to keep cats from overheating. 
  • In summer, grooming also helps cats stay cool by spreading saliva across the coat that then evaporates, taking heat away from the skin.
  • Grooming also helps a cat keep their coat waterproof as it spreads oils from the skin over the fur. 
  • The process of licking the fur helps spread sebum from the skin across the coat. Sebum produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and cats then ingest this when grooming. Cats don’t absorb vitamin D from the sun through their skin, as humans do, so this process is essential for their health. 

Bathing a cat can interfere with all of these health benefits and a cat’s scent profile. Plus, most cats hate water and will find the process of being bathed traumatic. 

Find out more about why cats hate water by reading Cat in a Flat’s blog.

Some cat breeds like the Maine Coon enjoy water and baths more than others
Some cat breeds, such as Maine Coons, enjoy baths more than others

There are exceptions to the rule

There are some reasons, however, that a cat would need a bath. If your cat gets covered in something sticky, dangerous or disgusting, and can’t safely or effectively wash it off, you might need to intervene. If possible, wash just the affected area rather than bathing your cat. 

Some skin conditions, such as ringworm, require medicated baths. And cats with parasite infestations or who are allergic to flea bites can also be prescribed baths by a vet. 

Elderly and obese cats and kitties with limited movement or arthritis might also need help keeping clean. Some long-haired cats need baths if their fur gets matted. Very fluffy cats can find it impossible to keep all that fur in good condition. Regular combing should help long-haired kitties, but an occasional bath might be required. 

Important: If your cat gets covered in a toxic substance, please take them to the vets to make sure they are ok. 

Some cat breeds need (or like) baths

Some breeds of cats need regular baths because of the way their skin and fur behaves. Hairless Sphynx cats produce an excess of oil and sweat so need weekly baths to stay clean. Persians can find it hard to wash their very long, thick coats so can need baths alongside regular combing. 

Some breeds might not need a bath but enjoy water enough that they will want to join you in the tub. Maine Coons and their cousins, Norwegian Forest cats, are known for their love of water and might enjoy an occasional dip. Other cats that like water include Bengals, Abyssinians and Bobtails but all cats are individuals so never put your kitty in the bath without carefully testing the waters first. Even if your cat enjoys playing in or around water, it is still best to not bath your cat unless they need one. 

An extra pair of hands can be helpful if you have to bath your cat
An extra pair of hands can be helpful if you have to bath your cat

How to give your cat a bath

If you have to bath your kitty, then there several things you can do to make you and your cat’s experience as relaxed as possible. You know your cat better than anyone so adapt their bath time to suit their temperament.  

  • If you need to use soap, then use one specifically made for cats. It is essential to use unscented shampoo or soap; anything with a smell will offend your cat’s sensitive nose.
  • If possible, recruit a partner to help you bath your cat. Two sets of hands will make things so much easier. 
  • Get everything together that you need before the bath. Leaving the room to fetch anything while trying to handle an unhappy cat won’t be an option. 
  • Choose a time when your cat is relaxed. You want Mr Whiskers to be as tranquil as possible before you start. You could even try wearing your cat out with a play session before bathtime.
  • Have some treats ready to bribe your cat into compliance and to forge positive associations in their mind between baths and snacks. 
  • Run the water before bringing your cat into the bathroom as the sound can put cats on edge. 
  • Fill your sink or bath with a few inches of warm water. Test the water to make sure it isn’t too hot.
  • If you are using a bath to wash your cat, try and get a non-slip surface for them to stand on. Sliding all over the bath will only make things more stressful for your cat and harder for you. 
  • Cats don’t like water on their face, so clean use a damp washcloth around their eyes, ears, whiskers and mouth.
  • Once your cat is in the water, take things slow and steady to keep the experience as calm as possible. 
  • Wash your cat’s body from head to tail with the shampoo: lather and rinse thoroughly. If you are using a showerhead, be very careful to avoid getting water in your cat’s eyes, ears or nose and keep the flow on a light setting. 
  • Have lots of towels on hand and once Mr Whiskers is clean, wrap him in a towel and dry his fur by gently rubbing. You might want to transfer him from one towel to another to make the drying process as quick as possible. 
  • Some cats will tolerate a hairdryer, and they can be useful in drying long-haired cats in particular. However, the noise is terrifying for most kitties so don’t try using a hairdryer unless you’re confident Mr Whiskers will put up with it. 
  • If your cat becomes distressed or starts to panic at any point in the process, then stop and leave them to calm down. 
  • If you and your cat find the process too difficult, then you could consider booking a professional groomer to help. 

Remember to share with your cat sitter any kitty grooming requirements before you leave for a trip! 

Cat baths might prove stressful, but read this Cat in a Flat blog to find out how cats can benefit your mental health.