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Is Bathing a Cat Necessary: Or is it Just a Myth?

gray cat newly bathe
Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Ashley Bates

All feline owners are familiar with dreaded bath days. It’s hard to say who enjoys it less—you or your cat? Most felines do not tolerate water well and can do some serious damage if they feel insecure. Those claws are no joke!

It might be such a hassle that you wonder if it’s really worth all the fuss. So, is cat-bathing overhyped or does it serve a real benefit? The truth is, despite all of the self-cleaning cats do, they still benefit from a bath every 4-6 weeks—but no more than that. Let’s discuss the importance of kitty hygiene.

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Do Cats Like Baths?

Some cats really like water, others are curious about it—and then there are those classic felines who absolutely despise being anywhere near water. It’s as if your cat is the Wicked Witch of the West, melting into a puddle each time they get close to it.

Even when you expose cats to water at an early age, they might hate it all their life. That makes it really hard when it comes to bath time. Acclimating a young kitty has much higher success rates with bath tolerance, but each cat will respond based on their individual personality.

Unless you have a special case, you can almost guarantee your cat won’t be crazy about bath time. They are wet, cold, and helpless—and we all know how our cats hate feeling dependent.

How Often to Bathe Your Cat

According to recommended guidelines, you should bathe your indoor cats every 4 to 6 weeks. If you have a constantly self-grooming cat, you might be able to wait a little longer in some scenarios. Once you find what works best for your cat, you can create a grooming schedule.

Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Benefits to Cat Bathing

  • Bathing removes any dirt or debris in the fur
  • Bathing leaves your cat’s coat soft and refreshed
  • It reduces the likelihood of matting or tangling
  • It keeps your furniture and fabrics clean
  • It gets any litter box leftovers from their paws

Why You Shouldn’t Over-Bathe Your Cat

Cats are very good at grooming themselves naturally. Plus, their skin excretes oils to protect their fur and keep it nice and shiny. If you strip the oils too often, it can make the coat dim or lackluster.

The overuse of shampoo might even cause hair loss or skin irritation.  Use only cat-safe, proven shampoo brands that match your feline’s pH levels.

Other Times to Bathe Your Cat

Of course, cats might have a different plan when it comes to getting dirty. Sometimes, you will have to bathe your cat sooner than the schedule says.

Some reasons might be:

  • If your cat is filthy with dirt
  • If they have something sticky in their fur
  • If they have something potentially harmful on their coat
  • If they have excessive tangles
bathing cat
Image Credit: ilmarinfoto, Shutterstock

If any of these situations occur, it’s okay to bathe your cat. But try to stretch out bath time when you can.

Cat-Friendly Shampoo Options

When you buy shampoo, it should always be specifically formulated for felines. These shampoos have the right ingredients and pH levels to appropriately clean your cat.

However, not all shampoos are created equal in the pet supply world. Cat shampoo should have soothing, all-natural properties.

Always make sure to choose a shampoo that is free of:

  • Harsh or toxic chemicals
  • Parabens and sulfates
  • Alcohol and other drying agents
  • Essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus

*Tip: Never use human or dog shampoo on your cats.

How to Bathe Your Cat

Bathing styles can vary depending on your cat’s temperament. When it’s time for a bath, you can give your cat royal treatment. Use this as an opportunity to take care of other basic hygiene, like nail clipping, teeth brushing, and fur detangling.

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats? What You Must Know! Cats are equipped with all the tools they need to bathe and clean themselves, but there may be times when your cat needs some assistance, possibly after they have walked through or played in something particularly dirty. Besides the fact that your cat will probably hate the experience of being bathed, it is important to remember that regular bathing can cause more harm than good, so it should be reserved solely for emergencies. With that said, there is a good chance that you won’t have cat shampoo laying around in the cupboard. So, can you use human shampoo on your cats? Is it safe? The quick answer is no, you shouldn’t use human shampoo on your cats. We’ll tell you more below. Should You Bathe Your Cat? Your cat has a rough tongue and powerful teeth. He has the tools he requires to effectively keep himself clean most of the time. This is especially true of short-haired cats. As such, it is rare that you will even consider bathing your cats. However, it is also true that cats are incredibly inquisitive. Some might say nosey. They want to investigate every portion of every room. They want to know what you keep grabbing out of the cupboard, and what it is that has such a strong smell in the back of the shed. They rub against things, roll in liquids and substances you don’t want them to, and have a seemingly endless list of ways in which they can cause mischief and end up caked in mud and other nasties. There may, then, be occasion when you feel it is necessary to bathe your cat. Occasional bathing is fine. The same natural oils that help protect your cat’s coat from everyday dirt and grime will recover after a bath. Frequent bathing, though, can strip these oils from the fur. This will leave your cat with dry fur. It can also lead to dry skin, rashes, and other problems that not only leave their fur lacking luster but may actually cause them harm. So, you can bathe your cat, but you should only do so when it is absolutely necessary. If you have ever had to bathe a cat, you likely won’t want to repeat the process too often. It tends to result in a lot of soapy water everywhere except on the cat, and a terrified and angry cat warning you off. It’s a lot of water, claws, and hissing, but not a lot of cleaning. You should make the process quick, be confident, and you should have everything ready before you even consider turning the tap on. Should You Use Human Shampoo? Even the most delicate human shampoo contains chemicals and other ingredients that are harmful to your cat. A lot of shampoos contain perfumes and even essential oils, both of which can prove toxic to your cat. The ingredients are effectively absorbed through the cat’s skin and broken down by the liver, but a cat’s liver is not the same as a human’s and it is not as effective at breaking down the chemicals that are found in human shampoo. Therefore, it is safest to use a shampoo specially designed for cats. Using Specialist Cat Shampoo It is worth having a bottle of cat shampoo in the cupboard, ready for any mud-based emergency. These shampoos are formulated especially for use on cats. They have the right pH balance, so are not usually as acidic as human shampoo, and they do not contain the same essential oils and perfumes as are used in our own shampoo. Cat shampoo won’t dry out your cat’s fur or skin as readily. It will contain some natural odor that will help get rid of the smell of dirt and muck, but it uses natural ingredients that are not damaging to your cat. Is Human Shampoo Safe For Cats? Some human shampoo may prove relatively safe for cats, but the majority of ingredients found in human shampoo can prove dangerous for your filthy feline. Stick to cat shampoo, only bathe when necessary, and be prepared before you grab the cat because the process is likely to get a bit scratchy.
Image Credit: Olleg, Shutterstock

Before you start, you’ll need to grab a few supplies:

  • Towel
  • Cat-friendly shampoo
  • A rinsing cup
  • Gloves
  • A brush

Here’s a painless way to bathe your cat:

  • Ready your cat for bathtime. Round them up and make sure you have anything you need for bath time bribery—like yummy treats.
  • Draw a few inches of lukewarm water in a sink or tub. Make sure the water isn’t too hot or cold for your kitty. You want them to be as comfortable as possible.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary supplies. Don’t start the bath and forget the towel. Double-check to see if all your supplies are on standby.
  • Put on your gloves and any other protective gear. Gloves can help protect your skin from your cat’s claws if they stress out or struggle.
  • Making your cat feel as secure as possible, lower them into the water. If you need a partner for this part, more power to you. Whatever it takes to make your cat feel at ease.
  • Using only water on a rag, clean your cat’s face first. You don’t want to get any soap on the face because of sensitive parts like eyes and ears. With a damp cloth, clean the face first.
  • Lather their bodies with shampoo and gently scrub. You can use about a quarter-sized portion of shampoo to get a nice lather, but you might need more depending on fur length.
  • Rinse thoroughly. You won’t want to leave any shampoo to dry in their fur, as this can irritate.
  • Wrap up your kitty in a towel. Make sure to snuggle them a little extra since you just traumatized them in the tub. Gently rub or dab your kitty until they’re mostly dry before you let them go. You won’t want them shivering.
  • Do any cleanup or aftercare. Now it’s time to do any extras, like brushing, ear cleaning, tooth brushing, and nail clipping. Then, you get to clean up the mess with no help from the cat.

How To Ease Your Cat’s Stress During Bath Time

Persian cat bathing
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Baths can be traumatic for cats, especially if you don’t do it correctly.  Water typically makes them feel very insecure, so making sure that they feel safe is paramount. You don’t want to have a lousy bath experience because it will most certainly lead to others.

To make the experience easier:

  • Learn your cat’s body language
  • Talk to them in a soothing voice
  • Have a partner help you out if needed
  • Learn whether your cat likes to have a bath drawn vs. running water
  • Offer yummy treats
  • Give them lots of snuggles afterward

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Final Thoughts

So, even though your cat might despise bath time, it’s a necessary part of cat care. Some cats might need baths less than others. But overall, the window is 4-6 weeks between cleanings. So, it isn’t a myth—but a professional recommendation.

Your cats might not like it so much, but they will feel better once all is said and done.

Featured Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Shutterstock

About the Author

Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.

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