How to Give Your Cat a Bath—Plus, How Often You Actually Need to Do It

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

Ask any cat owner and they'll tell you the same: Most cats don't like getting wet. But what should you do if your feline friend gets dirty? Your first instinct might be to give them a bath—or at least a partial one.

Keep in mind, however, that not all cats need a regular soak, notes Vanessa Spano, associate veterinarian at Behavior Vets of NYC. "Domestic felines do not need to be bathed," says Spano. "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."

Of course, there are some instances where a bath is necessary—but you should always check with your veterinarian first. Felines' agile bodies and sandpaper-like tongues make them excellent self-groomers, says Hannah Shaw, a Royal Canin cat expert and founder of Kitten Lady, so you can skip the dip unless your pet develops a skin condition, like ringworm (consult your vet about using a medicated soap), or gets especially dirty.

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 if they truly do require one.

close-Up Of Cat
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What to Know Before You Bathe Your Cat

Brush Your Cat Regularly

The best way to keep your cat clean outside of bath time? Brush them regularly, says Serena Juma, a cat behaviorist at Purina. "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 Bathe 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."

Buy the Right Shampoo

According to Juma, it is necessary to buy shampoo made specifically for cats. "Shampoos made for humans or dogs, especially flea shampoos, can be toxic to felines," she says. "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."

Or you can forgo the bath entirely and opt for something like Vet's Best Waterless Cat Bath Dry Shampoo.

Trim Nails

Before you draw the bath, trim your cat's nails (if needed) to avoid accidentally being scratched. It's also important to recruit a family member to help. "This will allow one person to focus attention on interacting with the cat while the other cleans the cat," says Juma.

How to Give Your Cat a Bath

What You'll Need

Prepare everything that's needed for the bath ahead of time. That involves having the following supplies at the ready:

Brush Your Cat

"Brush the cat thoroughly to remove any tangled or matted fur," Juma says. "Just like for humans, a cat's hair will become more tangled or matted when wet."

Bathe Your Cat

  1. "Fill a sink or bathtub with a few inches of tepid or lukewarm water," Juma says.
  2. 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.
  3. Use a washcloth when cleaning the face area. Use a washcloth or soft brush to apply cat-safe shampoo.
  4. Wrap her in a towel, and dry vigorously. "You can also back-comb her fur to help it aerate more quickly," adds Shaw.
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