How to Bathe Your Cat at Home

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
How to Bathe Your Cat at Home

Cats don’t need to be bathed routinely. Most cats groom themselves regularly and do such a great job that we don’t have to worry about bathing them. A cat’s tongue is covered with tiny spikes, called papillae, making it an effective brush to spread saliva across their fur. This helps keep their coat clean and free from visible dirt. The papillae also help untangle fur and debris that gets caught in the cat’s coat. However, despite your cat’s efficiency in keeping themselves clean and well-kempt, there are several situations where you may need to bathe your cat at home. Some situations will require you to bathe your cat once, while others will need a series of baths at certain intervals. Keep reading to learn when and how to bathe your cat at home.

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Common Reasons Why Your Cat May Need a Bath

While it’s generally known that cats and bathing do not mix nicely, there are certain situations where this can’t be avoided. Here are a few circumstances where bathing your cat may be necessary:

1. When your cat gets into something difficult to remove or potentially toxic

While cats are generally efficient in cleaning themselves, there are certain chemicals and materials that cats can’t remove by themselves. Substances like paint, tree sap, and oil will need a full-blown bath to be removed. Some substances may be easy for a cat to clean off but can be toxic to them when licked and/or ingested.

Accidental contact or overapplication of common tick and flea medications like pyrethrins and permethrins can cause neurological symptoms when ingested. Gasoline and ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) can cause severe organ damage when licked or ingested. If any of these materials get onto your cat’s fur, it’s best to bathe them and remove all traces of it before they attempt to lick it off themselves.

2. Presence of external parasites (ticks, fleas, etc.)

Several over-the-counter medications are effective in treating and preventing fleas and other external parasites in cats. However, there are cases where these parasites persist despite treatment. Or cats exhibit allergic reactions to common external parasite medications, and alternative means of managing the condition are needed.

Medicated shampoos with anti-parasitic properties are an effective alternative treatment for fleas, lice, and mites. Giving medicated baths can help directly kill external parasites staying in your cat’s fur and can also penetrate skin layers, eliminating microscopic mites living under the skin or in hair follicles. Always consult your vet to determine which treatment is best for your cat.

3. Superficial bacterial or fungal infections

Cats can develop skin infections either as a primary condition or a complication secondary to an underlying cause. While systemic antibacterials or antifungals are effective in controlling skin infections, long-term use of such medication can have unwanted side effects.

An effective way to control skin infections without risking adverse reactions is through the use of antibacterial and antifungal shampoos. Medicated shampoos are formulated to effectively penetrate skin layers and eliminate any ongoing infection.

4. Cats that are obese or have arthritis

One of the reasons why cats are efficient in keeping themselves well-groomed is their flexibility. They can reach different parts of their body to groom and keep clean. However, some conditions limit a cat’s flexibility and ability to move, restricting the body parts that they can reach and groom.

For cats with such health problems, regular bathing may be needed to keep their skin and fur clean, healthy, and free from visible dirt.

Preparing Your Cat for a Bath

Baths are highly stressful for cats - most don’t enjoy being wet. If you bathe your cat without any sort of preparation, you will stress your cat too much and the entire ordeal may end up being an unpleasant experience for both of you. Preparing your cat, and yourself, before a bath session will help make the job finish faster and decrease stress.

Start by trimming your cat’s nails. When cats get stressed and anxious, they tend to protect themselves by clawing at anything that tries to get in contact with them. Clipping their claws will help minimize injuries should your cat become too defensive during a bath.

Carefully choose the time of the day to bathe your cat. You should be familiar with the specific times where your cat is more mellow and agreeable. Bathing them when they’re more or less cooperative will significantly reduce the risk of them becoming too stressed.

How to Give Your Cat a Stress-Free Bath

Once you think your cat is ready and in the right mood to take a bath, it’s time to get on with the task. Put your cat in a bathtub or an enclosed space during bathing. This will help prevent your cat from running off and escaping during the bath.

Use lukewarm water. Using water that’s too cold or too hot may shock your cat. Avoid submerging or soaking your cat in the water. Try to use the pour-over method instead, as this is less stressful for them. Make sure to control the water pressure when using a handheld spray. Too much pressure can cause pain and discomfort and will make the bath a scary activity for your cat.

Avoid using excessive pressure or movement when lathering up the shampoo to your cat’s body. Gently massaging the shampoo on your cat’s fur will help make your cat feel relaxed during baths. Make sure to follow the shampoo label’s instructions to prevent your cat’s skin from drying up too much. Certain medicated shampoos require that you leave the lather on the cat’s body for a certain period of time before rinsing.

After shampoo, thoroughly rinse your cat’s body with gentle, running water. Make sure to rinse the shampoo thoroughly, as any traces left behind can cause irritation and can make your cat’s skin prone to infection.

Cats hate the sound of a blow dryer and they get too stressed when it’s used to dry them off. As much as possible, use a towel to dry your cat after a bath. Gently rub down the cat’s body with a clean towel to remove all traces of water or moisture. Use a soft-bristled brush if needed to remove any tangled hairs, especially for long-haired breeds.

Lastly, give your cat a few treats during and after each bath, especially if they’ve been cooperative. This positive reinforcement may help make future baths easier the next time around.

Read more:

Grooming Tips and Coat Care for Your Cat

Brushing Your Cat's Teeth: Step-by-Step Instructions

How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails

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Published: 7/1/2021
Last updated: 8/3/2021

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