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Emma gives her cat a bath when she gets outside or when she feels dirty. But should you bathe your cat? And if so, how often?

Should you bathe your cat? Truthfully, very few cats actually need to be bathed. Photo by Dan Wayman on Unsplash

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.)

~ Emma

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!