Do Cats Really Need Baths: If so, How often?

Cat being showered and washed

Folks who are new to kitty guardianship often ask if bathing a cat is necessary, and if so, how often should they be bathed?

In this writer’s opinion, since cats come equipped with perfect grooming tools – teeth and a rough tongue – their instinctual drive to keep their coats clean and shiny, makes bathing a cat necessary only when they have gotten into something that’s really sticky or smelly.

This said there are a few feline breeds that require bathing on a regular basis. For example, the Sphynx lacks a sufficient hair coat to absorb the oils on their skin. These kitties need to be bathed at least once a week to prevent their pores from being clogged which can lead to major skin irritations.

Some feline experts recommend that Persians should be groomed daily, and should be bathed fairly regularly to keep them clean and sweet-smelling Additionally, to keep their coats in top condition, show cats are often bathed prior to competition.

In case the situation arises where a kitty is in need of a bath, what are some of the steps a feline guardian can take to make bath-time a lot easier and less stressful for both the kitty and for themselves?

Timing is everything: The best time to give a cat a bath is when the kitty is feeling relaxed and mellow. Some people recommend playing with their cats before bathing them to tire them. Purrsonally I disagree. Even though a cat can get off a lot of excess energy during an intense interactive play session, sometimes they can actually get over-stimulated; preferring to continue the game.

Trimming kitty’s nails before bathing them is extremely wise. Brushing their coat, thoroughly to remove any excessive hair or mats is also helpful. To prevent kitty from getting water into their sensitive ears (only if they willingly accept this step without becoming agitated) gently place a cotton ball into their ears.

To prevent kitty from slipping and to give her security and extra confidence, place a rubber mat in the bottom of the tub or sink where kitty will be bathed. Fill the tub or sink with only three or four inches of lukewarm water. Using a hand-held spray hose, or an unbreakable cup or plastic pitcher, gently and methodically wet the kitty down; taking extra care not to get water into the cat’s nose, ears or eyes.

Only use a shampoo made for cats since human shampoo may be too harsh, drying out kitty’s skin. Start gently massaging the soap into the fur, working down from the head to the tail – in the same direction that the hair is growing. Be very careful not to get any lather into the kitty’s nose, eyes and ears. To clean the cat’s face, gently use a washcloth dampened with clean lukewarm water. Be sure to gently wash kitty’s nail-beds to remove any greasy grime.

Using the hose spray, pitcher or cup, carefully rinse kitty off with lukewarm water. Be sure that any traces of shampoo are rinsed away. Have a soft, (preferably cotton) towel ready in which to wrap up the cat. Some cats struggle energetically to get out of the towel. Work gently but quickly to get kitty as dry as possible. Some cats may even tolerate being blown dry with a hairdryer set on the lowest heat setting. With long-haired kitties check for any matted fur. Use a wide-tooth comb to carefully untangle any knots.

Following the bath be sure to keep kitty in a warm, draft-free area until she is thoroughly dry. To make bathing a more pleasant experience, reward her with her favorite treat. Using positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to help turn something that some cats may initially consider a negative experience into something that is no big deal.

Some cats take to bathing like a fish takes to water. In the video uploaded to YouTube by RitaTheCornishRex, apparently after some minor protestations, Rita ultimately does get into the “swim” of things!

When do you give your cat a bath? How does your cat react to bathing? Tell us about it in a comment.


Photo credit: Flickr User Finn Frode — Finn used to be a regular contributor to PoC. Come back Finn! This is one of his posts.

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Do Cats Really Need Baths: If so, How often? — 59 Comments

  1. It’s hard – I mean I agree there must be times when its right to bathe a cat but basically cats living without humans would never bathe how we do. It’s completely unnatural to cover a cat in water and clean them with soap or whatever.

    Having said that now that humans have invented unhealthy breeds that can’t even clean themselves it’s hard to say it’s outright wrong to bathe a cat unless it’s a danger – dunked in oil or something.

    I know it’s a bit cynical and negative but I have seen some awful awful youtube videos or poor wretched cats being bathed and it’s torture just to watch it being done.

    There’s a time and place for bathing a normal cat and realistically I suspect that time and place doesn’t even come up once in the average cat’s lifetime.

    As for abnormal pure bred cats – humans have made a disgusting mess of all that and there are actually cats that need bathing and grooming to stay healthy. This is so wrong is so many ways. My cats smell like flowers or nothing much short of fresh air.

    I would be willing to bathe one of them if they got on them or some dangerous chemical. I can understand the need to there.

    Having said all that I think this article is a great help and resource to those needing to bathe a cat for whatever reason. Jo, you write so well 🙂

  2. We have never in 40 years of having the pleasure of cats in our lives, bathed a single one. As you say Jo they come with the equipment to keep themselves clean and should only be bathed if they are too dirty to clean themselves.
    Bathing takes the natural oils from a cat’s fur and don’t get me started on show cats and how much the poor creatures are bathed and titivated up for showing.
    Before Barbara’s late husband John rescued Popsy, the people who had her bathed her every week, because she ‘smelled of cat’
    What do people expect?
    Why don’t people just let cats be cats instead of pretending they are babies!

    • Awwww Ruth!

      Cat smell?? Unless they have rolled in something extraordinarily nasty.. aroma de chat is a delight.

      At least there are many folks who take pleasure in “sniffing” them and can appreciate their. I feel so sorry for the kitty you wrote about.

      • ‘Parfum du chat’
        I never wear perfume because of our cats, but if I did that would be my favourite.
        Yes poor little Popsy, they also used to put food down and leave it until she ate it, no matter how long that was.
        So very cruel!
        I’m convinced her bad start in life was why she died at only almost 6 years old, but at least she had some happy years with Babz and John and then with Babz and me after he died.

  3. For me, this is an interesting topic. I think a lot like Marc and in the same way I see that on occasions there will be times when it is necessary to bathe a cat. Thank you very much by the way for your detailed description of how to go about it.

    Just once, in all the time that I have cared for a cat, have I had the need to put her into a bath.

    This occurred when my cat, Missie, fell into a container of paint. It was that hard paint that comes in a block. She fell on her side onto it. She immediately ran out and deposited paw prints all over the carpet and hid herself behind the bed, as I recall.

    I chased after her, filled the sink with water (lukewarm) kept the tap running and immersed her in it. She struggled a little bit, but was accepting of it.

    Once all the paint was removed (it was water washable paint) I dried her thoroughly and her brother promptly hissed at her believing that she was a stranger because she had lost her body odour.

    She groomed herself fastidiously for the next 20 mins and gradually over the next couple of hours her brother accepted her again, once her smell had returned.

    Cat breeders seem to be the people who most often wash their cats, as you say. They do it before competitions to enhance their cat’s appearance. Sometimes they dust their cat with talcum powder to make ’em look better too!

  4. Older cats sometimes need a helping hand when it comes to grooming. I’ve found that a warm damp wash cloth has a nice scratchy feel like a cat tongue. With gentle stroking of the fur, in a matter of a few strokes the fur feels soft and fluffy. Bigfoot loves it. His fur gets matted, and he doesn’t wash as well as he used to. He loves a washcloth rub. I think it brings back long lost memories of being washed by mama cat.

    Marvin came home muddy and dirty (and pleased with himself I might add). I gave him a good brushing which he loves. I tried a wet cloth on him just for fun and he loved it. It isn’t as intrusive as a whole bath, and just washes the surface fur. Try it. It makes the coat shiny and soft in just a few strokes.

    I have never submerged a cat in water. I would if I had to. But only for a reason similar to Michael’s paint story.

    • DW, this is an excellent comment because you raise a subject that I had forgotten which is really an intermediate stage between not washing your cat at all and washing him in a bath or shower. And I totally agree that wiping down your cat in the same way that a cat’s tongue would do it is particularly useful for older cats, as you say, because they are unable to reach part of their coat that a younger cat can and they become, like people, a little dishevelled in old age. Thank you DW for your input on this.

  5. I remember once when we were looking after our ex-neighbour’s multitude of cats one, Larry, got his bum all yucky with diarrhoea and we had to put some water in the sink and hold his bum and tail in the water to get it off, but his body never went in the water, just the mucky bits at the business end. He was NOT impressed and it was the only time we ever saw him hiss. As a rule I would never dream of bathing a cat unless for a reason like that, or paint. The person who had Popsy before us should never have had a cat for many reasons and bathing her weekly was one of them.

    • I think that one factor why the domestic cat resists so vehemently this sort of treatment is because they are so independent. They like to do it their way in their time. That is in addition to the fact that in general cats do not like being washed in this way.

  6. I never bathed Nicky, nor any of the cats for that matter. My mom was upset when my sister bathed her cat. I know cats can get stinky due to things they get themselves into. Then they would need a bath. I do see how a Persian may need some help with bathing. I’m not against it, but I think we do the bathing to suit ourselves and not for the cat’s needs in most cases.

  7. Of course there are those cats who LOVE being in water. Many years ago I had the pleasure of being owned by a Burmese kitten, named Frodo. Frodo would literally jump into MY bath and sit on my tummy. He loved being in water- and he would also somehow sneak into the shower, and just sit there under the warm water-enjoying it running over his body.

    But did you ever see a cat fall into a tub filled with an inch of water? We once had a cat that loved hanging out in the bathtub-dragged her toys into the tub and played with them there.

    But on that fateful day (for her) she didn’t notice that the tub had not quite emptied completely, and jumped into the water. I will never forget her startled facial expression or that she rose out of the water straight up like a helicopter and did a 45 degree turn in the air-running under the bed like the devil himself was chasing her.

    It took me almost 20 minutes to convince her to come out so I could thoroughly towel dry her. She was a tad more reluctuant to use the tub as a playground for several weeks.

    • It is certainly impossible to generalise about whether a domestic cat likes water or not. Some cats as you say do like water and some don’t. In general, they tend not to like water or jumping into a bath for example. The wild cat hybrids tend to like water because the wild cat likes water as there are animals to feed on in and around water.

  8. Very interesting question? I had to corral one of my semi-feral cats, Momma Kitty, and have her taken in for a bath and removal of some really bad mats. It was a HUGE ordeal for me, the vet and Momma Kitty. She wouldn’t speak to me for three days!

    • LOL!
      It really is a huge undertaking, Tim. But, I’m sure all is forgiven now.
      In all of my years, I have only had to give a full bath once. She was domesticated but fought me tooth and nail.
      We had a year that was overrun with toads and frogs one late spring. She went into the middle of the road and rolled over and over on dead, flat frogs.
      She was so disgusting that I had to bathe her.
      I really hope that I never have to do it again.


    • Thanks Nancy. You make another good point in that sometimes cats for medical reasons require a bath. I have read many instances, on the Internet, when stray or feral cats that are on the road to domestication had been given a good bath at the outset. Thanks for the comment.

    • Nancy, this was exactly what I was going to add. A cat or kitten who is found in such a weak, sickly condition that doesn’t make it possible for them to groom any longer. And, in fact, are so ill from desperately trying to groom, ingesting the toxin, and cannot even attempt to groom any longer, due to the to the toxicity in that little tummy and other organs, and the blood. And, like you mentioned, those flea-infested kittens who are so weak that they are about to die. Bath, syringes of water and pureed food, and then a vet treatment for fleas ASAP! This should be obvious. A situation that is not so obvious is a chemical on the fur that has dried, yet is highly toxic.
      It is so good to hear that you were not only able to save the oil-coated fellow, but have him live out his life with you! 🙂

  10. Unless our cats have gotten into something they shouldn’t I leave the bathing to them. They are all mixed breed rescues and well capable of cleaning and grooming themselves. I do have one long haired rescue that gets spot washed sometimes. If she does not get her bottom shaved short she has problems and doesn’t smell nice so she occasionally gets a mini bath. My sister’s cats used to get bathed often. She raised Maine Coons and they went to shows. The cats were really mellow about bathing but you have to know that they started bathing the cats as tiny kittens. That makes a big difference.
    I enjoyed this article a lot. Keep them coming Jo.

  11. Some years ago, I adopted a kitten through a Pennysaver ad who lovedwater. She’d jump into the bathtub with me or the kitchen sink.I started researching the trait and soon realized that my long-haired little Roux was a Turkish cat. Now I’ve bathed cats due to them truly needing it and they always hated it. Roux loved being in water.

  12. hi the only time i ever have to either wet them but would never give them a bath is when they need help cleaning esp with fluffy cats when their behind needs cleaning othwise i dont think its a good idea. They all hate water esp when its been raining. i do know ozzie esp loves drinking water out of the bath dont know if that is a new things or not. Hope everyone likes my new kitty avator. 🙂

  13. Whenever I attempt to rescue, I will give a bath in baking soda and vinegar, just a couple of T. per gallon of body temp water. It has always been the case where I have experienced the water turning red from flea frass. Usually the kitten, or even cat, is too ill to tolerate a flea product like Advantage II at proper dose, without taking in adequate amounts of water. Actually the poor thing needs to be taken to your vet or emergency vet ASAP! But sometimes you don’t have this option. My home remedy is not the best solution, but I have used it to save neglected kittens that have been brought to my attention. And then I call the emergency vet service.

    All to often, here in the states, animal control does nothing other than posting a 30-day warning to take care of the problem, and then a followup that is too late and not thorough. 🙁 (Yet those of us who keep Animal Control operating by paying up the wazoo, are fined for being responsible, so to speak.)

    Really, it is all about common sense. You cannot know, other than fleas, for the most part, what these poor dears have gotten in to. Use your intuition. I have rescued kittens when Animal Control did nothing except issue a 30-day warning to the resident. I have had them die in my arms on the way to the emergency vet, due to their weak state. Too many of us have experienced these situations, and it is never a good day, to say the least.

    Guess I’m off on a verbose tangent there, Jo. Sorry 🙁

    • Caroline I think it would be interesting to read an article about your cat rescue, it sounds like you’ve done quite a lot 🙂

      • I have not done really anything, and I know it. (my mistake for having commented.) I would much rather talk about the soil warming up and all, you know? But then, that is not what this site is about, really. 🙂 Still, that is more fun! <3

    • Animal Control did nothing except issue a 30-day warning to the resident

      Sorry, Caroline, I have not followed this thread but could you explain what the above quote means? How many feral cats are there around where you live? Do you bump into them all the time or just very rarely? I ask that because living in London I’ve never seen them. In fact living anywhere in England I have never seen them; just the odd domestic cat sitting on wall or in a communal garden.

      • I’m not talking about the colonies, Michael, but rather about those that seem to live -barely live- under the radar. Animal Control does not seem to give a damn, “A rat’s ass.”

      • Our Cats Protection branch care for some feral colonies Michael and Kays Hill and some farms here have some ferals too, so we do have some up North.

      • Here, here. Totally feel for you there in Florida. Same thing here in Nebraska. Hopefully, we will get some articles posted here on this topic soon…

      • We have The Cat House and Dr. Becky from All-Feline Hospital who take care of our colonies, besides those of us anonymous. Our colonies here in the big town of Lincoln, 300,000 human pop. Thanks to them, our feral colonies are almost gone. <3 What I am talking about -Dee and others know– are those humans [id*ots] who don't care. They exist mainly in the middle classes, no distinction.

    • I can’t add much to the many comments I’ve made in the past about shelters and their puppets, Animal Control.
      They aren’t a helping group. They seem to be on a mission of search and destroy.

      I have only ever received 10 minute warnings from AC ordering me to present evidence of current rabies vaccinations for every cat on my deck. And, NONE had better be seen free roaming. Here, they don’t hesitate to hand out hefty fines, court dates, or confiscate cats.

  14. Since [sigh], you don’t have this problem over in England, I am speaking specifically about the underlying issues we have over here with the populace being undereducated when it comes to allowing their felines to breed in the domestic way. Household. No thought, it seems, to asking, “Maybe I should seek out help, and get my loved cat neutered/spayed… Maybe I should care just a wee bit more about my pet?”

    Personally, I have witnessed far too much complacency in too many households, and the majority of them are not what you would consider “mentally challenged” nor “mentally unstable.”

    • We do have problems here too with un-neutered cats but not on such a large scale as you do because Cats Protection help people on a low income with a voucher, although too many still don’t take advantage of it.

      • heh. I was mainly reminiscing about those in our middle class, who seem to think that they can not be bothered by it. 🙁

    • What galls me the most, Caroline, are the idiots (yes I mean “idiots” that don’t have a clue about the vast overpopulation of kitties here- but MUST let little “Fluffy” have a litter so their darling child can see the “miracle” of birth.

      With all the webcams on the Internet it takes but a few minutes to find one that some breeders upload so people CAN see kittens being born.

      When I become completely frustrated trying to explain to people who insist on letting “Fluffy” have that litter and won’t listen to reason, I suggest they take their child to a shelter to witness the NOT SO MIRACLE of death.

      It just gets me so furious- keeping my cool is extremely hard.

      • Some cat owners believe that a female cat should have one litter before being spayed. I think it is because they believe their character is improved. Something like that. That simple belief results in hundreds of thousands of unwanted cats, annually.

  15. And if they spayed their cats before their first estrus, they would virtually eliminate mammary cancer, and of course uterine and ovarian cancer in their cats.

    It just galls me no end, Michael.

  16. My 2 sphynxes get bathed every 3 weeks. I guess a couple of you that don’t believe cats should be hairless can hate me. I had 2 Siamese before that never needed bathing. All my cats are strictly indoors so they don’t have the opportunity to get dirty (except for their paws but oh well).

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