Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I’ve given my cat three baths before, only when she’s been outside and gets dirty and starts to itch herself or feels oily when I pet her. I recently just gave her a bath, using Dawn (which is what I’ve always used) and I normally blow dry her right after. Today I had used a different blow dryer so I couldn’t get her fully dry. I don’t know if that’s what it is or not but she’s very playful and is non stop licking her self, she also is rubbing herself against every little thing. Almost like how a dog is all crazy after a bath. Could she be stressed? I don’t know she’s never acted this way after a bath. I didn’t get to dry her fully so maybe it’s cause she was still a little wet. ( I’m writing as she is still sort of drying off.)
Thomas: Ah, the age-old question: Should you bathe your cat, and if so, how often?
Bella: Truthfully, Emma, we cats are really good self-groomers. We spend up to 50 percent of our time keeping ourselves clean. Our incisors (which Mama calls “our little nibble-teeth”) were perfectly designed to pluck messes and occasional fleas out of our fur. We clean our fur with our tongues and by wetting our front paws and wiping them across places we can’t reach with our tongues.
Tara: This is an evolutionary adaptation. You don’t often see dogs grooming as much as cats do. We’re hard-wired to do this very thorough grooming because of our history as obligate carnivores. When we eat meat, we can get all sorts of blood and ick on our fur, and in order to keep us from being preyed on ourselves, we had to learn to wipe off every last bit of dirt and grime on our fur.
Thomas: We also get our own scent on us when we groom, and when you bathe us, you remove all the scents that make us recognizable to ourselves and our feline family members.
Bella: And by bathing a cat, you’re also removing the natural oils that protect our skin and fur from damage–especially if you’re using a grease-cutting detergent like Dawn.
Tara: Sure, dogs need regular baths, and because of that some people assume that cats need regular baths, too. But that’s just not the case.
Thomas: So, should you bathe your cat? Only if your cat is really dirty or if she has fleas. Bathing might also help if there’s someone in your home that has an allergy to cats.
Bella: Jackson Galaxy, one of our favorite cat experts, has actually written about bathing cats, and his answer to the “should you bathe your cat” question is never, unless one of the following circumstances is true:
- Your cat has been skunked, soiled himself, or gotten into something really nasty.
- Your cat is a hairless breed like a Sphynx. Because hairless cats produce the same amount of skin oils as cats with a full fur coat, they can get really dirty and greasy. Hairless cats need baths once a week so they don’t leave grease stains everywhere.
- You’ve just rescued a cat and they’re filthy and/or covered with fleas.
- Your cat is elderly or obese and can’t effectively clean themselves as a result.
Tara: Even for elderly or fat cats, you can use wipes specifically designed for cleaning cats. These wipes have gentle cleaners that don’t destroy the cat’s fur oils and the scent that identifies them.
Thomas: We recommend Earthbath Hypo-Allergenic Grooming Wipes. Mama used them to help Siouxsie groom herself when her arthritis made it too hard for her to reach some parts to groom them.
Bella: If you must bathe your cat, please don’t use harsh grease-cutting detergents like Dawn unless she’s gotten into something oily and nasty. Instead, use unscented, gentle soaps that are made explicitly for bathing cats. Don’t use dog-bathing soaps, either, because they may contain ingredients that are safe for dogs but not for cats.
Tara: We’re willing to bet that your cat was freaking out after her most recent bath because of the scent of the detergent and the lack of her own scent on her fur. Also, if you weren’t able to thoroughly rinse it off, the remaining detergent might have irritated her skin.
Thomas: Most cat shampoos are unscented and contain oatmeal and other natural products like lanolin to soothe the skin. Here’s a list of some of the best cat shampoos on the market.
Bella: So, the answer to your question of “how often should I bathe my cat?” is never. Your cat’s fur may get oily after you stop bathing her but that’s because of a reaction to the bathing. Your cat has had to produce excess skin oils to cope with the harsh detergent removing those protective oils. But don’t worry; once you’re no longer bathing her, her fur and skin will return to their natural equilibrium and not be so oily.
Tara: If you’re trying to keep allergies at bay, use grooming wipes to get the allergens in cat saliva off the surface of their fur.
Thomas: And, of course, if you must bathe your cat, make sure you get her nice and dry with a towel and then put her in a warm place to dry off and groom herself. Blow dryers are terrifying to most cats. However, some cats that get groomed regularly for shows (such as Persians) are accustomed to the noise and heat because they’ve been bathed since they were kittens.
Bella: That said, Persians have a very hard time grooming themselves because their fur is so long and fine and because their faces are all smooshed in.
Tara: Long story short: unless your cat is a Persian or a hairless breed, she does not need regular baths. In fact, regular bathing for a cat does more harm than good because it removes the skin’s protective oil barrier.
Thomas: What about you other readers? Have you ever bathed a cat? If so, why, and what products did you use? Let us know in the comments!
I have rescued over 40 cats over the years and have never bathed them. I value my own life too much. since they are dump cats, strays or feral, they would resent very much being bathed. lack of baths has not seemed to hurt any of them. with the exception of 3 (1 with hyper thyroid 2 who were kittens with FELV) all died of old age at ages from 18 – 21 years.
Well as a cat groomer I bathe cats regularly. I also show a Persian and a Maine Coon and they get bathed before each show. Last week I had the pleasure to groom a 14 year old cat with arthritis. After clipping off some mats I washed her. She’d never been bathed before. She loved her bath. I think the warm water was soothing for her. And she was so happy to be clean and comfortable. Her mama sent me pictures of her practically smiling. She’s social and affectionate instead of grouchy and hiding. That’s what I usually hear.
Out of the 12 cats I have had over the years, there has only been one that needed to be bathed regularly. And by regularly I mean maybe once every month or two. He was a big boy and either had trouble or didn’t like to keep his behind clean. He had medium length hair that sometimes I could trim for him. He didn’t really like the bath itself, but he sure did like being clean. He would actually ask for one when he got too dirty. He was very good in the tub and wouldn’t try jumping out until I told him he could.
How in the world have I not found this blog until now?! >^_._^<
So many kitties over so many decades… I can't get enough of the little goofs, no matter how much certain individuals drive me bonkers. As I look at Diva, my elderly curmudgeon who insists upon yelling at the top of Her Royal lungs until Her Blue Majesty receives her lap. Feline jerk. She's old enough to vote, sooo… I give her the lap. LOL
Regarding bathing. Cats don't need it, don' wanna, and will resent the utter heck out of you if you try. And by resentment, I mean a few missing strips of arm, a lot of hissed-off yowling, and a wet, sulking cat GLARING at you from under the kitchen table, their yellow-green eye-lasers tracking your every movement, waiting for just the right target to strike for in revenge–probably your legs.
For myself, I've only bathed cats twice that I remember. If I bathed any at another time, it must've been so traumatic, I've blanked it from memory. LOL Of these two events, one involved a rollicking case of fleas affecting my multi-cat household. The whole Pride had 'em, from oldest on down to the kittens, and EVERYBODY was getting at least a wipe down with cloth-applied flea-meds, if I could get them to sit still long enough.
First, I went after the kittens 'cuz I figured they'd be easiest. They were already almost to weaning-age and happily mobile, so running them all down was fun. :-p
Moving on, I got them all into the bathroom with mama, filled the tub with about two inches of warm water and did a dip-wipe, dip-wipe with a bit of light dish-soap to smother the fleas. Any that got on their faces, I picked off with tweezers. Mama watched from the tub-rail, mrr-ing at them–to keep them calm, I guess? The kittens didn't seem to care. To them this was, "Mew? (What's goin' on?)" "Mew. (I 'unno.)" "Mew? (Play, then?" "MEW! (YUP!)" And so plash-plash in water up to their bellies while I'm trying to corral the little suckers long enough to get the danged fleas off. LOL
Four kittens and five adults. Egad, that was a grueling summer. Not only were the recurring bouts of fleas where I had to treat everyone with Frontline (or whatever the equivalent was at the time–this was in the early 90's) and clean my place down to the boards annoying and expensive as hell, that summer was HOTTER than hell. Basically, that whole summer? I'll just call it hell. Heat and fleas were actually the least of it. Bleh.
But, it was that year's insane heat-wave where the only other time I bathed my cats comes in.
This isn't really bathing, as in soaking your poor, objecting kitty in the tub-type bath. This is much more tolerable, only done because the heat and humidity was so unendurable for man and purring beast. I had never seen my cats PANT before.
Note that cats almost NEVER pant. They will when under stresses such as motion-sickness, fear and other psychologically traumatic situations they can't escape, and illness. Heat where the temperature is so high, coupled with humidity so high you wonder why TF it isn't raining, the dew point becomes a real hazard for both humans and animals. You can't properly shed heat.
Cats can only dump excess heat through the skin of their ears, nose and feet-pads, by licking their forearms and scrubbing them across the bare skin in front of their ears… and rarely, by panting. When you can't lose the extra heat, you risk severe damage to your brain–stroke can kill you. And it can happen to your cat, too.
So that summer we were having a ferocious heat wave matched up with high humidity that can make the effects of the temperature on your body even worse, and my cats were panting. I didn't have air conditioning–I didn't have the money. I had a few cheap fans, which were going, constantly. I put one into a window blowing out, another blowing in for constant air-flow, and a third oscillating fan in whatever room I was in.
I kept damp washcloths around to wipe down with (just water); when I noticed Gremlin panting, then Rascal, and Putza… I started wiping THEM, down, too. Must've felt like a massive cat tongue to be "licked" down with damp terrycloth! But, it seemed to help. They started to hang around the fan after I'd wipe their faces and their ears until their fur was damp… and the panting stopped.
A quick and dirty solution, but it seemed to have worked for all around and I definitely felt better seeing my cats hopefully not suffering in the swelter as much as I was.
I have given my cats baths – but only when I had to. Kitty had diabetes – and toward the end of her life, she wasn’t eating enough for her insulin dose. I cut it down, but she still had a couple of hypoglycemic episodes where I had to pour syrup down her throat to quickly bring up her blood sugar. She didn’t want to be held – so there was a struggle – and she’d end up with more syrup in her fur than her mouth. Within about five minutes, she would soil herself. So I gave her a bath after these episodes were over. Bear has a bad habit of rolling around in nasty stuff when he manages to escape outside. I bathed him once – then used a damp washcloth after the first time did not go well. My first thought is you could try to keep her inside – that should eliminate most of the need for a bath. I’ve used Palmolive on my cats. If you’re giving her very infrequent baths, it should be okay. But your comment about her getting oily – when a cat is brushed – or even petted – oil is released. This is good – it protects the skin. I brush my cats every other day – and sometimes they look oily – but my understanding is that this is normal and even necessary to protect their skin. The next time she looks oily, you might take her to the vet and see if the vet thinks the amount of oil in her fur is abnormal. My suspicion is that perhaps she is grooming as she should and stimulating those oil follicles and then you are bathing her. That would explain the excessive licking and rubbing after the bath – she might’ve been trying to replace the oil you removed because her skin felt dry. A dryer would dry the skin out even more. That said, I believe there are health conditions that DO cause greasy fur – that’s another reason why taking her to the vet might be a good idea.