Health & Care

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.

JaneA Kelley  |  Mar 5th 2019

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 She is the board secretary for Diabetic Cats in Need, a nonprofit that helped save her diabetic cat’s life.

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