A black and white cat looking confused and surprised after a bath. Photography ©fotoedu | Thinkstock.

Should You Bathe a Cat? What to Know About Cat Baths

Can you bathe a cat and when should you? Let’s take a look at five times you should wash your cat, and how to make cat baths as stress free as possible.
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Most cats aren’t too chill about getting baths. And, honestly, most cats don’t need to be bathed regularly. They’re designed to be self-cleaning, with little barbs on their tongues that pick up extra fur, dirt and fleas. But there are times when cat baths become necessities. Here are a few of them:

1. Your cat is a Sphynx or other hairless breed

A Sphynx or hairless cat.
Sphynx and other hairless cats need to get regular cat baths. Photography ©GlobalP | Thinkstock.

Sphynxes or other hairless cats need cat baths once every week or so in order to get rid of the oils that accumulate on their skin. If they’re not regularly bathed, they can develop cat acne, and the feel of their oily skin may make petting and affection much less enjoyable for you.

2. Your cat has ringworm

This fungal infection requires medicated baths in order to eradicate. Your vet or groomer can teach you how to give these baths in a way that’s safe for you and your cat.

3. Your cat has fleas

Baths aren’t necessarily needed for cats with fleas, but you may need to bathe cats with severe infestations or flea allergies. Also, if your cat is too young for regular flea products, a bath is the only choice to get the fleas, and their eggs, off your cat.

4. Your cat got into something nasty

Sometimes cats get into things they can’t get off their own fur. Or, what they got into may be toxic or smell awful, like skunk spray. In this case, a bath is the best solution.

5. Your cat is arthritic or obese

Cats with arthritis or cats who are very fat have trouble cleaning themselves and may need your assistance to do so. While you’re helping your fat cat get to a normal weight, cleaning him in order to avoid urine scald and other problems will be a huge help. Arthritic cats may actually appreciate the warm water.

Alternatives to cat baths

In some cases, you can just clean your cat using unscented, hypoallergenic wipes or dry shampoos rather than giving full-scale cat baths. But keep in mind that some cats won’t like being sprinkled with waterless shampoos any more than they’d like the more traditional cat baths. Make sure the dry shampoos are good for dry or sensitive skin if your cat has either.

When my cat, Siouxsie, was severely arthritic, she appreciated being wiped down in places she was having a hard time reaching.

How to give cat baths

A ginger cat getting a bath.
A ginger cat getting a bath. Photography ©Ulianna | Thinkstock.
  1. Prepare: Get all your tools together: shampoo, towels, a pitcher or detachable shower head, lots of towels and, of course, treats to reward your cat for her patience.
  2. Get your bathing site together: Use your sink or a dish tub in your bathtub. Lay a towel, non-slip bath mat or other surface that your cat can grip onto, in the bottom of your sink or dish tub. Fill with a few inches of warm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot by testing the temperature on the inside of your forearm.
  3. Get the cat: Gently place and hold your cat in the sink, using the pitcher to wet down your cat’s coat. Don’t pour the water over your cat’s head.
  4. Lather up: Use a hypoallergenic, unscented shampoo specifically designed for pets. If your cat has ringworm, your vet may give you a medicated shampoo to use.
  5. Rinse: Thoroughly rinse the shampoo off, using a pitcher or a showerhead. If you’re using a showerhead, use a low flow rate so you don’t scare your cat. If you’re using a sink, use the sprayer. Again, test the water temperature before using the sprayer or showerhead on your cat.
  6. Dry: Use a series of towels to thoroughly dry your cat. Don’t use a blow dryer unless your cat is already familiar with it. Put your cat in a nice, warm place to finish drying off.

Tell us: Have you ever bathed your cat? What’s your advice for giving cat baths?

Thumbnail: Photography ©fotoedu | Thinkstock.

This piece was originally posted in 2017.

About the author

JaneA Kelley is the author of the award-winning cat advice blog Paws and Effect and a contributing writer at Catster.com. She is the board secretary for Diabetic Cats in Need, a nonprofit that helped save her diabetic cat’s life.

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

Read more about cat health care on Catster.com:

40 thoughts on “Should You Bathe a Cat? What to Know About Cat Baths”

  1. If you have a cat you have to clean your cat when you noticed that need to take bath. There are many cat shampoo for cats are available in the market, so you don't need them for effort. Because of these products bathing a cat is very easy.

  2. Great reading about take care of cat baths. Its funny and sometime difficult at the same time to take bath to our cat. Thank you for sharing this article.

  3. So many people are not aware that shampoos that grow your hair fast (of course with no sulfates, no parabens, no DEA) are even a thing. Individuals are now able to achieve longer hair and possess more alternatives. Certainly worth investigating.

    When you’re studying hair loss, hair damage, avoiding scalp disorders, hair growth, hair and scalp health generally, the same rules become relevant.

    In general, you should try to stay away from hair products and treatments that use chemicals like parabens, DEA or sulfates.

    What is good for your hair is good for your skin also.

    Clearly your content on this page is spot on for so many reasons. It steers away from the usual traps and errors too many fall into- utilizing ineffective alternatives. Thank you!

  4. Barbie Sue Friend

    My female Siamese likes to get in the tub with me…bath or shower. The male is completely against anything wet. Through the years I have shared my life with several cats and each one has had a distinct and lovely personality. I have learned that indoor cats usually do better in pairs especially if they must be left alone regularly.

  5. Do you think it would be okay to bathe your cat who has heart disease? I’ve had my guy since he was 3 months and now he’ just turned 2 years but I’ve never given him a bath. I’ve used waterless shampoo for him tho every so often since he’s a house cat not an outdoor one. I’m afraid if I take him to a salon for a bath he’ll freak out or have a stroke. Do you think I should just stick to the waterless shampoo?

    1. Why do you feel he needs a bath? If he can reach most of his body w his tongue, at two years old, and he’s indoor only, he should be able to bathe/groom himself and doesn’t need additional cleaning. Trim his hair around his backside if that is a problem or around his face, to keep it clean from food particles. Otherwise he doesn’t need a bath.

  6. Jennifer Petree

    I was told not to wash my cat in the sink that was wrong is it really wrong if u clean the area before and after u wash

  7. Pingback: Ought to You Bathe a Cat? What to Know About Cat Baths

  8. Another CRITICAL time to bathe: if you find your cat reacting badly to TOPICAL FLEA TREATMENT. This happened with a new adult kitty in our household of 8 other cats — he became extremely lethargic and wouldn’t eat. I called the product manufacturer and my vet: bathe him in DAWN dish soap, lather up twice to get the oily product off his skin. Basho did pretty well in the bath and rapidly improved. His bad reaction may be due to being compromised by polycystic kidney disease, so I never used topical treatment on him again!!!

    I use a deep cargo tub for bathing.
    THANKS everyone for all the great tips!

  9. I only bathe tomo twice a year when it’s warm. She has long hair and my top was getting her used it it when she was tiny. I found her in a repair shop at a month so she was oily lol. She had a few baths to get the oil out. Lol.

    1. Awww… great story! One morning my Himalayan managed to run through a pan of used motor oil. Out came the Dawn. 10 minutes later, my pure white DSH ran through the same pan! I was a little late for work that day…

  10. Constance Wheeler

    We’ve had to bathe several of our cats over the years. One thing that you really must think about is protecting their little ears (inside). If it gets wet inside & stays moist, kitty can get a nasty infection, fungal or otherwise from scratching their itchy or sore ears.

    When I worked in a pet salon years ago, I was taught me to use cotton balls, small to large depending on the size of the animals you’re bathing, in their ears before bathing. They don’t like it but most times does protect the ears. The cotton will get wet but will prevent more water into the ear interior than if not used. Just make sure you give quick baths and try to be careful to not get close to the ears if possible.

  11. One of my cats had bacterial folliculitis once, and I had to bathe him every day for quite awhile. My husband built a thing for him to stand on in the sink. He just made a wooden frame that fit the laundry room sink, and covered it with screen wire. So Freddy could hold onto the screen and not slide around in the sink! He would actually fall asleep while I was bathing him! And I had to keep the shampoo on him for 10 minutes or so before rinsing. Then I used a little ceramic heater and brush to dry him. He seemed to actually enjoy it!

  12. My long haired cats get combed every day and bathed regularly (they go to shows.). They are used to it and none of them care about being washed. My Persian gets depressed if he isn’t properly groomed regularly. They love being clean instead of just licked over.

  13. I had a long haired cat who had allergies. Bathing her every two weeks to get all of the pollen and other allergens out of her fur was the veterinarian’s recommendation.

    I have a walk-in shower with a door and a hand shower attachment. I would get the water warmed up first, drape a towel over the top of the shower enclosure, and then find the cat and enter the shower with her. I allowed her to walk around the shower floor while I wet her down. Her response was invariably meowing with wide eyed astonishment (Mom, I’m wet!!) while I soaped her up and rinsed her off. Once we were done, I’d grab the towel and dry her off before letting her out.

  14. Pingback: 5 Reasons To Give Your Cat A Bath – All Cats Connected

  15. For the exceptionally high strung ones who must have a bath, I’ve used a lingerie bag w/a zipper. It reduces the damage they can do to me while I get the nasty job done. Cat bags are also available, but the velcro will eventually give out. Compared to lingerie bags, they are also more expensive. However, a cat bag is a great tool for pilling the unpillable fur purrson.

  16. No. 1 always cut the cat’s or kitten’s claws first.
    No. 2 speak gently to kittie and be calm.
    No. 3 avoid having anything near the tub kittie can grab onto to escape.
    I have bathed Persian show cats and kittens and my shorthair pets only when
    necessary.
    My now 13 yrs old White Russian is good in the bath BUT she poos at some stage. So I have a scoop and bucket ready to remove the faeces. I was horrified the first time she did this but now I am prepared.
    Also, kittie will try to wash herself dry while she is getting dry!

  17. we have 2 cats & a 6 mth old kitten and as luck would have it our 2 older cats are cross breeds of pure breds that love water crystal is a 6yo ragdoll x birman who has had showers with me since she was a kitten when we bath her we have to trick her that it is a shower by having running water & she loves it as long as the water temp is right for her but she hates the lather of washing
    Puss Puss is a 3yo Bengal cross and loves the water so much he sits in sinks with water running or fights to get INTO the shower with us especially with me cause I’m the mum
    he loves showers and will go to sleep in the base of the shower with water running over him
    our baby boy Simba isn’t so sure about baths/showers but copies Puss Puss & will sit in the sinks & in a shower as long as Puss Puss is with him
    the problem we have with our cats is getting them out of the water as they fight us to stay in the bath or shower & refuse to get out until the water goes cold lol
    when any of us have a shower now we have to close AND lock the door as our clever kitties will open the door & strut in with attitude Now they sit at the door and sulk or meow until they either get let into the shower with us or until we finish
    in our house a soak in a bath or a relaxing peaceful shower never happens unless our cats are asleep!!!!!!!!!

  18. During my sweet boy’s long life (21 yrs), he only had a few baths. A flea bath when he was a teenager, and a few times when he had diarrhea or cliffhangers in his long butt fur. For the butt fur, I didn’t give full baths, just washed his hind end (GENTLY! No one likes to have their privates handled roughly!)

  19. Barbara Bruenning

    We also have a Maine Coon. He sits by the sink when he wants a bath. Loves to let the high faucet run on his head. Will lay on his back in the water. Hair dryer no problem….lots of fluffy towels. Would love a bath almost every day, but doesn’t get that!

  20. I am allergic but was having trouble with mice, as is a problem in my neighborhood, near the river. I gave in and got my guy, but had trouble connecting because of the allergies. Our vet told me to dampen papertowels (not dripping…this is important) and wipe him down regularly. This cleans away the dust and dirt and skin debris that in-door cats have. We also brush very regularly and FOR SURE I wipe him down after that. Also, he has black heads or cat acne, under his chin and since he is white, I can see it. We use a smidge of baby shampoo and again, damp papertowels. This takes a several attempts but has been far more successful than antibacterial/fungal wipes. Since I have done this from the beginning, he allows this but, begrudgingly and it helps my allergies!

    1. Hi, regarding the acne on the chin, I had one cat with that problem. Vet said it was possibly due to eating from a plastic dish. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it cleared up after I switched to a metal bowl.

    2. As far as the kitty acne, do you use plastic dishes for cat food or water? One of our cats had kitty acne and we were told that plastic dishes are a cause. We switched to only stainless steel dishes and the kitty acne went away.

  21. bathing a cat, Trim the cats toenails first , It is easier on your back to bathe in the kitchen sink. Close all doors so if the cat gets away at least the cat will be in one room. I have given over 500 baths.

  22. My Siamese got herself wrapped in a fly strip. I couldn’t get the adhesive out of her fur. The vet told me to use Dawn dishwashing detergent. It worked. But now, she obsesses about her fur. She constantly cleans herself, way more than she used to. Now I have fur balls to clean up.

    1. May I suggest you check into feeding your cat an Indoor Formulae, or Hairball formulae? My cats love their new “Snacks”. If you decide to switch, please remember that cats don’t like change, especially when it comes to their food. Try mixing in a small amount of the new food, along with the old brand, and gradually increase the amount of new food (recommended to me years ago by Purina Foods, when my girls usual brand had been discontinued) so their digestive system doesn’t suffer too much shock.

  23. I sprinkle baking soda on my elder cats fur and wipe with a wet cloth. It takes away the door and is non toxic.

  24. I have bathed my 2 indoor cats twice in 15 years. The first time was when they got paint on themselves while I was painting the house, the second was when they had fleas. I find that they are both more willing when only their back legs are in the tub and their front paws hang on to the side of the tub while I am holding them with one hand and washing/rinsing with the other. They usually bury their head in my stomach. They tolerate the water better when as little as possible of their bodies are submerged. This position also allows for good rinsing of the stomach.

  25. We bathe our exotics otherwise their fur gets really greasy and matted. Bathing them isn’t too bad, it’s drying them that is a pain. We have a professional pet dryer and it still takes like 30 – 40 minutes.

  26. I occasionally bathe my cats when I have someone visiting with allergies, or they have fleas (which is rare since they are strictly indoors now). The only thing that I do different from above is that I put a towel on the floor beforehand, when the kitty is ‘done’ I move her to the floor and put a towel over her to dry (including her face, so she doesn’t try to dart out). Once I’ve dried her with that towel, I take a fresh towel to wrap her in and we sit together on a chair for about ten minutes to soak up more water. I enjoy that quiet time rocking with her too.

  27. I had to bathe Baby Boy when he had diarrhea. He’s overweight and couldn’t get clean himself. He loathed it. Preparation is everything. The entire area must be ready and the towels must be right there. That being said, the last time I bathed him it stressed him so badly I was worried he was going to have a heart attack. New plan is baby wipes. I also get antibiotic wipes at the veterinarian’s office. All cats are different and mine are pretty set in their ways.

  28. Long ago, before I knew better, I had a cat disappear outdoors. A week later he showed up on the doorstep caked in mud and exhausted. I let him sleep and eat a bit but knew that night he would have to be bathed. He knew it, too, and was grateful for just enough warm water to dissolve the mud and rinse him clean. A few days after the bath, the fur on his left flank fell out in a perfect tire tread pattern. Out Vet said if it hadn’t been for the mud he would probably be dead. Our cats no longer go outside.

  29. I had to bathe my cats three times a week for a month when they had ring worm. My main tip would be to make sure the tub you bathe them in has very high sides. This stops them from thinking about making a scramble for freedom and the whole process is easier for everyone.

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