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How to bathe a cat

Johnatan from Miami asked us:

Hello Jimmie and Hepper.com team!

Could you please share any tips on bathing cats? Can cats take baths and do they require it? How to properly wash a cat? Are there alternatives? Why do cats hate water?


Do cats need a bath?

Cats are considered fastidious groomers; therefore, they very rarely require bathing. In general, healthy cats only need to be bathed under infrequent circumstances, such as when they have foul-smelling odors or debris in their coat. Further, healthy cats will typically groom themselves as needed even under these circumstances. Additionally, certain medical conditions such as obesity and dermatological conditions may predispose a cat to require more frequent bathing. Older cats may also be unable to groom certain areas due to decreased mobility and arthritic changes.

How to wash a cat in a bath?

Bathing a cat requires consideration to both the comfort of the cat as well as the technique used. Every cat is an individual and his personality, temperament, and tolerance all vary based on a number of factors.

Some cats will not tolerate grooming or bathing of any kind and may require a sedated medical grooming at a veterinary clinic. Introduction to bathing should be gradual and with consideration to the cat’s response. For the safety of the human and the cat, under no circumstances should a cat ever be forced into a bath.

If your pet does not demonstrate an aversion to water, the first step in cat bathing is to wet the coat using warm water.

Some cats respond better when dipping into a container filled with water as opposed to being placed under a nozzle of running water. The cat can be shampooed outside of the tub or container. Only cat-specific shampoo should be used, preferably under the direction of a veterinarian.

Further, the cat should be lathered with the shampoo for 10 minutes and then rinsed thoroughly. This can be done using a nozzle with running water, or by dipping the cat into a tub or container a few times, until all soap residue is removed. Rinsing thoroughly is extremely important since cats tend to groom orally after being bathed. Further, if the cat will tolerate it, he can be towel dried and brushed.

Bathing cats safely

If your cat is reacting by trying to run away, growling, hissing, biting, or scratching, at any time during the process, he is already at a high level of arousal due to stress, fear, or anxiety. It is important to stop the cat bath at this time to avoid injury to yourself, the cat, and behavioral injury (mental, emotional, and/or psychological harm).

The goal is to notice the signs of fear, anxiety, and stress that indicate that the process is moving too fast for the cat prior to the cat reacting so that the fear can be mitigated to facilitate positive learning in contrast to further emotional distress surrounding bathing. Also, please read about the best grooming tubs for cats as these will significantly ease the whole process.

Why do cats hate water?

The exact reason it is common for cats to have an aversion to water is not fully understood. However, from a phylogenetic perspective (using evolution to understand behavior), bathing is not natural to a feline. Further, since cats do not normally require bathing, they are not typically introduced to being bathed during critical development periods and can develop fears and phobias to it later on in life. Additionally, if the cat has had a negative experience around bathing or being wet (i.e. using water in a spray bottle as punishment, etc.), the cat may already have a negative association with water in a bathing context.

Alternatives to bathing cats

As opposed to a traditional water bath, owners may also use dry shampoos, wipes, and odor-eliminating sprays that are specifically formulated for cats/animals, especially if the reason that the cat needs to be bathed is due to an odor.

Have your own question?

Submit your own question about proper cat nutrition, behavior, or training and a veterinarian will give you an answer during the next 24 hours.

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