How Often Should You Bathe A Cat | Tips From A Vet

How Often Should You Bathe A Cat - an orange persian cat in a small blue tub with green washcloth draped over its head, the cat is wet from its batch

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD.

Cats, the ultimate masters of cleanliness! With their unwavering commitment to grooming and impeccable sanitary habits, it’s hard not to wonder “How often should you bathe a cat, really?”

The answer is a bit complex, considering the diverse needs of longhair cats, shorthair cats, hairless breeds, senior cats or cats with health issues, and of course, the varied lifestyles of indoor vs outdoor cats.

Let’s dip our paws into the topic of cat bathing, keeping best practices in mind to ensure our feline friends stay purr-fectly content.

How Often Should You Bathe A Cat: Understanding Your Cat’s Coat

Different types of coats have different grooming needs. Not only that, different lifestyles and health status also play a role in determining the frequency of bathing.

Long-Haired Cats

Owners of beautiful long-haired breeds know that these cats require extra attention to keep their coats clean and tangle-free. Regular baths can help keep their coat free of mats and shining with health.

Professional groomers advise regular baths every 4-6 weeks, in addition to daily brushing sessions. However, this can vary based on the cat’s lifestyle, health, and how well they groom themselves. Bathing them more often can strip their coat of healthy natural oils, leading to dry skin and potential irritation.

In between full baths, long-haired cats benefit from the occasional ‘hygiene clean’. These spot-cleans focus on areas that might not be meticulously self-groomed—such as beneath the tail, around the face, or under the chin.

Use a damp cloth with gentle cat-friendly wipes or a moistened towel with warm water to delicately clean these areas.

Besides keeping their coat clean and shiny, regular bathing and grooming long-haired cats helps them by reducing the amount of loose, dead hair that the cat may ingest when it is grooming itself, which in turn helps prevent the formation of hairballs in the stomach.

Short-Haired Cats

If you have a short-furred breed, you’ll be pleased to know that these cats typically require less frequent bathing. Their short grooming session with their own tongue covered with little spines helps maintain a clean and shiny coat, reducing the need for a full bath.

The bathing process for these cats often becomes more about necessity than routine; they need far less frequent baths than long-haired breeds. Many owners of short-haired cats only bathe them if they are dirty or if substances unsuitable for licking are present on the cat’s fur.

Hairless Cats

Hairless breeds such as the Sphynx are unique in their care. Devoid of fur, the oils that are naturally produced by the skin are not absorbed by hair and instead collect on the skin, giving them a greasy feel.

These oils find their way onto their beds or favorite sleeping places, where they frequently sit, and on their owners’ hands when petting and handling the cat. 

Because of this, most hairless cat owners elect to bathe their cats regularly. But even here, these cats should not be bathed more than once a month to prevent their skin from drying out and becoming irritated.

I have to admit, I have never bathed my own Sphynx cat. She came to me as a rescue, and after almost two years she still won’t let me hold her and I am not about to re-traumatize her just to give her a bath. I just make sure her favorite spots to sit and lay have easily washable covers!

How Often Should You Bathe A Cat - grey cat getting bathed, lather covers its whole body except for the head

Senior Cats and Cats with Health Conditions

At times, medical conditions or age-related health issues prevent a cat from grooming effectively. Arthritis and obesity are two of the most common reasons for decreased ability to self-groom. 

If your cat has trouble reaching certain parts of its body, you may need to step in and help. This could mean either brushing them more often or giving them occasional baths, depending on their specific needs.

Sometimes bathing with medicated shampoo is needed to treat skin conditions like itchy skin or skin infections. Always seek  veterinary medical advice for an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s needs and follow their guidance regarding bathing frequency.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats are exposed to dirt, debris, and potential parasites on a regular basis. This means that they may require more frequent baths than their indoor counterparts. If your cat is an indoor-outdoor cat, you will likely want to give it the occasional bath to minimize the amount of dirt and bugs they could bring into your home.

If your cat is strictly an indoor cat and not exposed to the outdoors, they may require baths less frequently since they are less likely to get dirty and can usually maintain a clean coat through self-grooming. However, they may benefit from occasional hygiene cleans to keep those hard-to-reach areas clean.

Flea Control

Baths can also be an effective way to control fleas, especially for cats who are sensitive to topical flea treatments. Using a gentle, cat-friendly flea shampoo and following up with a flea comb can help remove any pesky fleas and their eggs from your cat’s coat.

Just be sure to use products that are specifically designed for cats, and bathe according to the package directions or instructions from your veterinarian.

The Right Way to Bathe a Cat

Preparations

To turn bath time into a stress-free experience, preparations must be made with a touch of kindness. Before the actual bath, make sure the room is warm to prevent low body temperatures, place a rubber mat in the bottom of the bath to prevent slipping, and gather your supplies within easy reach – cat shampoo, a container for dipping water, and a large towel for a post-bath wrap.

Ease Into It

A bath for a cat is unlike any other bathing routine. Ideally, cats should be introduced to and accustomed to bathing as kittens. Older cats will usually freak out if they are not used to baths and you try to put them in a tub of water.

For cats that are accustomed to bathing, fill their bath with no more than a couple of inches of tepid water.  Slowly lower the cat into the water, allowing it to get its footing.  Keep a firm but gentle grip on the cat to avoid a sudden jump out of fear.

For cats that are new to bathing, things get a little tricky. You might want to start with just a wee bit of water in the tub – not even enough to cover the toes. Have a large container of water that you can use to dip a cup into for water to pour over the cat to wet it, or use a handheld showerhead on very low volume spray.

Even this may prove too much for very nervous cats. If your cat absolutely will not tolerate it, do not force it or you risk both physical and mental trauma for both you and your cat. Instead, take the cat to a professional groomer who has experience with fractious cats, or talk to your veterinarian about sedatives if needed.

The Actual Bath

Start the bathing process by wetting the cat’s fur. Do this by dipping water from the bath with a cup or your hand, and gently pouring it over the cat, or use a medium-level spray from a handheld showerhead.

Once the fur is wet, use the appropriate amount of shampoo for your cat’s size (check the label for guidance) and gently massage it into their coat, making sure to avoid the eyes, ears, and nose. Use a wet washcloth to clean these sensitive areas instead.

Once you have worked up a lather, use the showerhead or a cup of water to rinse your cat’s coat thoroughly. Make sure there is no shampoo residue left as this can cause skin irritation.

How Often Should You Bathe A Cat - headshot of a cat getting bathed, its eyes are closed while the shower gently rains water down on its head

Conditioning Your Cat’s Coat

While most feline grooming needs can be met with a quality shampoo and thorough rinse, some cat owners might wonder about the benefits of using a conditioner.

Generally, cats do not require conditioner the way humans do. Their coats are naturally designed to stay clean and regulate oils without additional products. However, if your cat has a particularly dry or tangled coat, a cat-specific conditioner could help to soften and detangle the fur.

Make sure to choose a product that is expressly formulated for cats, as their pH balance differs from humans and even dogs, and always avoid the face and ears. Keep the experience pleasant and the conditioner use infrequent, and as always, if you’re unsure about the necessity or safety of a new grooming product for your cat, consult your veterinarian for personalized advice.

Drying Off

Now comes the fun part – drying off your cat! Use a large towel to gently blot the excess water from their coat, being cautious not to rub too vigorously or cause discomfort.

Some cats may enjoy being wrapped in a towel like a burrito, while others will prefer to be dried off with a hairdryer on low heat. Hair dryers might be necessary for long-haired cats, but always use low heat and maintain a healthy distance to prevent distress and overheating.

Always take your cue from your cat’s response to the whole process.

Patience and Positivity

Throughout the bathing session provide LOTS  of reassurance during and after bath time using a soothing voice and gentle touch. Complete the session with a thorough brushing to remove any tangles and loose hair. 

The Final Purr

As a general rule of thumb, bathe your cat only when necessary, considering their lifestyle, breed, and personal preferences. Bathing a cat too frequently can result in dry skin or strip the pet’s skin of its oily residue.

If you’re ever in doubt or need additional help, don’t hesitate to consult with professional groomers or seek medical advice from a veterinarian.  With a little patience and positivity, you can make bath time an enjoyable and stress-free experience for both you and your feline friend.

Sources

Purina – Everything You Need To Know About Bathing Cats

Texas A&M – When You Should (and shouldn’t) Give Your Cat A Bath

How Often Should You Bathe A Cat - grey cat getting a bathe in a small white tub

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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