Two cat behaviorists give us the scoop on keeping your fluffy friend happy and calm.

By Caroline Biggs
January 14, 2020

Ask any cat owner and they'll tell you the same: Most cats don't like getting wet. But what to do if you feel your feline friend is dirty and due for a good old-fashioned soak in the suds? "Domestic felines do not need to be bathed," says Vanessa Spano, associate veterinarian at Behavior Vets of NYC. "Cats, unlike dogs, groom themselves daily—this is a normal species behavior. The majority of cats also may not like being exposed to water, and an unnecessary bath can be very stressful and uncomfortable for those felines unaccustomed to water."

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Of course, Spano says there are some instances where a bath is necessary, but you should always check with your veterinarian first. "In the infrequent circumstance where a cat may need a bath, such as if they are infected with a parasite like fleas or ringworm, or if they come into contact with something toxic or that causes an allergic reaction, seek veterinary care immediately," she says.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your cat needing an actual bath, as well as effective ways to clean them at home, too. We reached out to Serena Juma, a cat behaviorist at Purina, for advice; here's what she to say.

Related: Scruffing a Cat—What Is It, and Why Do Experts Say You Shouldn't Do It?

Brush Your Cat Regularly

The best way to keep your cat clean and clear of bath time? Juma says to brush them regularly. "In general, a healthy adult cat doesn't require bathing unless he or she has gotten into something that has coated the fur and can't be easily removed with brushing," she says. "Cats groom themselves naturally, however their owners should help keep them clean by brushing or combing them regularly."

Only Clean as Necessary

If your cat happens to get dirty enough that you can't just brush them clean, Juma suggests only washing the areas that are soiled. "If a cat does require a bath, I recommend only bathing the area that needs attention," she says.  "Some cats enjoy being in and around water, while many don't like the feeling of being submerged as it causes their coats to become heavier. By only washing areas that need attention, you can help reduce the discomfort that a cat may feel if submerged."

Use the Right Shampoo

"It is critical to buy a shampoo made specifically for cats," Juma says. "Shampoos made for humans or dogs, especially flea shampoos, can be toxic to felines. Most pet stores will have a cat-safe option that clearly states on the packaging that it is feline-friendly. A veterinarian may also recommend a specific shampoo or cleaning method if there is an ongoing health issue that requires the owner to bathe a cat regularly."

Wash Carefully

If a partial bath is in order, Juma says to follow these steps to ensure a successful (and less stressful) cat cleaning. First, before you draw the bath, trim their nails (if needed) to avoid accidentally being scratched. "Recruit a family member to help," she suggests. "This will allow one person to focus attention on interacting with the cat while the other cleans the cat." Prepare everything that's needed for the bath ahead of time; this includes a cat-safe shampoo, a washcloth, a measuring cup for pouring water, and a clean, dry towel. "Brush the cat thoroughly to remove any tangled or matted fur," she says. "Just like for humans, a cat's hair will become more tangled or matted when wet."

"Fill a sink or bathtub with a few inches of tepid or lukewarm water," she says. "Get the area that needs to be cleaned wet by either dipping the cat into the water, pouring water onto her with the measuring cup or using a washcloth to dampen her fur. Avoid getting water in the cat's eyes, nose and ears. Use a wash cloth when cleaning the face area. Use a washcloth or soft brush to apply cat-safe shampoo." Rinse the area, and then dry the cat off with a clean, dry towel. "Brush a final time to smooth hair and remove any hair that may have been loosened during washing," she adds.

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