Do cats need Baths? Everything you need to know

Posted by Dec 31, 2016 |

Cats do need baths

Author Amira

Hi there!

I’m Amira, founder and editor at Cattention.

This website is dedicated to share useful but entertaining information and help You understand Your cat’s actions, behavior and needs.

Welcome to my Cat World!

Cats are generally clean creatures, obsessed about their hygiene and do not like to be dirty. Since they see it as their duty to be clean, they spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and they are pretty good at it. For this very reason, you may not think about bathing your cat.

Also, it is a well-known fact that cats typically hate water and will do whatever they can to avoid getting wet.

So, given that your cat cleans herself and most probably hates water, you may be wondering if it is really necessary to bathe cats. Do cats need baths? And if they do, why and how often? Let’s find these things out.

Do cats need baths? – The answer

While one of the most common myths about cats is that they do not need baths because they groom themselves, the fact is: they often do.

So the straightforward answer to the question: Do cats need baths? is yes. Sometimes, cats do need baths.

Cats usually take care of themselves when it comes to cleaning. However, there are occasions when they do need their owners’ help. Usually, it is not an absolute necessity like feeding or cleaning the litter box, but bathing a cat definitely has certain benefits.

Cats groom themselves

Being independent animals, cats by nature are able to look after themselves. It is in their nature to keep themselves clean, so they take care of their own hygiene needs. And, it is not a secret that they are very good at doing it efficiently.

With their natural grooming tools (tongue, teeth, saliva, paws and claws), they are able to keep themselves meticulously clean. They lick themselves from head to tail, and do not miss a spot out as their flexibility enables them to reach every part of their body.

Apart from 16 hours of sleep they happily spend more than half of their waking hours (5 hours) maintaining their coat and cleaning themselves to perfection. While it might sound weird for you, this constant grooming is a normal part of a cat’s life.

They really know how to keep themselves clean and no doubt, they are amazingly good at it.

Sometimes, cats do need baths

Looking at such an amazing cleaning process and extreme hygiene, most people don’t even think that cats might require baths.

But, sometimes even the cleanest cat will need some assistance to keep her fur in top shape. Despite being remarkably clean, there are occasions when bathing a cat is absolutely necessary.

There are plenty of circumstances in which cats do need baths. It mostly depends on their age, their health condition, and the type of their coat. There are also different situations when a cat’s grooming tools are not as efficient as a bath is.

While indoor short haired domestic cats need less or no baths, the outdoor and long haired ones definitely do need a bath every now and then.

Sometimes, their age or their health condition make it impossible to groom themselves properly so there is no option but giving those cat a bath.

And there are times when they get into something sticky or dangerous, and in this case, bathing will be safer than self-grooming.

There are also special issues like dandruff, fleas or medical cases when bathing the cat is the only option.

The answer in a nutshell

Cats are extremely clean creatures and fantastic self-groomers, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need baths.

While they are well-equipped to clean their coat properly and their cleaning procedure seems to be perfect, it does not eliminate dandruff, remove mats, or get rid of odor, not to mention the sticky, dangerous substances that can be stuck in the fur.

In addition, there are other certain occasions when cats cannot groom themselves properly due to their age or health condition.

So when it comes to the question: Do cats need baths? the answer is they definitely often do to keep their coat and skin stay healthy and clean.

Why and when do cats need baths? – Reasons and circumstances

As mentioned earlier…

Cats clean themselves but…They do need baths

Cats can do an amazing job cleaning themselves with the almost constant grooming using their natural built-in grooming tools. However, there are different circumstances outside of the cat’s control that make it impossible for her to stay clean. These situations will require you to give your cat a bath.

Even though most people tend to think that cats do not need baths at all, you might be surprised to find out that there are several reasons and occasions for bathing a cat. Here are some of them:

Reasons and circumstances for bathing a cat

General circumstances to bathe a cat

There are general, natural situations, when cats need baths. They do not only need our help because they are dirty and stinky, but as cats age they also have trouble keeping themselves clean.

  • When your cat is getting old

Even in old age, cats continue to groom, however, as they are getting older, their fur often gets greasier and their joints becomes weaker. While this is a natural process, it causes difficulties for elderly cats in reaching certain parts of their body (especially their back end).

Some cats even stop grooming altogether. So their coat becomes smelly and gets very dirty and matted.

If you have a senior cat in this kind of situation, she certainly needs you to groom and bathe her frequently to keep her clean and healthy.

  • When your cat is smelling

Some cats smell weird after coming into contact with something stinky or rolling in something, being skunked or recovering from an illness.

If you notice that your cat has a strange odor or smells foul, it is definitely time to give her a bath.

  • When your cat is dirty

Because of their curiosity, it is quite a frequent occasion that cats find themselves in situations that make their fur unusually dirty, especially if they go out.

If your cat has visible dirt on her fur regardless of what it is (like dust, fine sugar, makeup powder or any other thing), and it is beyond her grooming means, then bathing your cat is an absolutely good idea.

  • When your cat has something sticky on her fur

It is a common fact that cats like to rub themselves against every available object resulting in a sticky substance on their beautiful coat or paws.

When something gets stuck on your cat’s fur and your cat is unable to clean it by herself, it is time for you to give her a bath. A nice warm bath will loosen up the sticky substance enabling you to remove it from your beloved cat’s fur.

  • When your cat has something poisonous on her fur

Cats have plenty of opportunities to come in contact with dangerous or poisonous substances inside or outside the house. If this kind of product gets into their coat, they should not clean it by themselves.

Since it is dangerous for your cat to clean a potential poisonous product off of herself and you do not want her to become sick, you have to remove it yourself by giving her a bath.

In this case, it is also recommended to contact the nearest veterinarian for further advice.

Reasons for bathing different types of cats

Bathing a cat might be beneficial for different types of cats, be it long-haired, hairless, show cat or cats that go outdoors.

  • When your cat has long hair

Some cat breeds that have longer fur (like Ragdoll or Himalayan) need help to remove the unwanted hair. Sometimes, their coat also becomes quite oily.

If you have a long-haired cat, you will need to bathe her regularly.

  • When your cat is hairless

There are hairless cat breeds (the Sphynx or the recent Peterbald) that have no hair to soak up the oil on their skin so they will need regular bath to wash it way.

If you are lucky to have one, you will be well-practiced in bathing a cat.

  • When your cat is a show cat

Show cats are basically cats that are competing in various cat shows and are judged after the ideal breed standard.

If you have a show cat, you will want to make sure to represent her at her very best in front of the judges. So giving her bath will not be an option but a mandatory task regularly for your cat’s perfect presentation.

  • When your cat goes outdoors

Cat baths may benefit outdoor cats even more than any other ones. Cats can become very dirty adventuring outside the house; they can roll in something, covering themselves in dirt or mud and can even pick up remains from different plant and lawn chemicals. Not to mention being sprayed by a skunk or getting fleas or ticks.

If your cat goes outdoors, make sure to give her a bath before she licks and ingests all these different, potentially dangerous substances from her fur.

Bathing a cat because of skin or fur problems

When a cat has matted coat, dandruff, fleas, ringworm or shedding heavily, giving her a bath is definitely worth a try.

  • When your cat’s coat is matted

Depending on the cats’ length of hair and ability to clean themselves, their coat can get matted if not cleaned and handled properly.

It is not only uncomfortable and painful for cats, but also can be hazardous to their health. It can create sores and skin irritation. Heavy matting can even lead to fungus or bacterial infection.

If you notice your cat’s hair started matting or forming dreadlocks, try to brush her as soon as possible and give her a bath.

  • When your cat is shedding

Most cats shed. Although during the shedding season cats take care of their fur exceptionally carefully trying to remove all the unwanted hairs, it is more beneficial for them to get a bath than swallow their fur and get into a hairball problem.

When you notice your cat is shedding, brush her coat completely and give her a bath. Bathing accelerates the shedding process and helps to get rid of the loose fur.

  • When your cat has dandruff

As cats grow older, it is not uncommon for them to develop dandruff which is made up of dead skin cells. Unfortunately, no matter how much cats lick themselves, it won’t go away. But, bathing the cat properly is a good treatment to deal with this issue.

If your cat has excessive dandruff, you can give her a bath with special dander control shampoo that will remove the dander and minimize human allergy symptoms by eliminating the problem that triggers the allergic reactions.

  • When your cat has fleas or ticks

Fleas are active little parasites that feed on blood of cats, causing irritation, itching and inflammation. Having fleas or ticks makes the cat’s life absolutely miserable and can often find their way to humans. Therefore it requires immediate attention.

If you discover fleas or flea eggs on your cat, it is vastly important to act immediately and get rid of the fleas on the spot by bathing your cat using a specifically formulated shampoo that kills fleas.

  • When your cat has ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection in cats that invades the skin, hair, and nails. Cats that are infected with ringworm have flaky patches of hair loss that look like dandruff.

Bathing your cat twice a week with antifungal cat shampoo will treat ringworm; it kills the fungus, washes away their dead cells, and gives a soothing relief of symptoms of fungal infections.

  • When your cat has other different skin and fur problems

Different cats have different skin and fur problems. While the previous ones are the most common ones, there are times when cats have to combat more serious skin infections, like seborrhea, sores, scabs or hotspots.

If your cat has a certain skin condition, she might require regular bathing.

Medical, different health issues to bathe a cat

There are different health issues that will hinder your cat from grooming herself properly. Therefore, it is essential to give your cat a bath every now and then.

  • When your cat grooms less or not at all

There are cats that groom less than they should, and there are the other ones that stop cleaning themselves altogether. These cats’ fur become matted if there is no proper grooming care.

If your cat loses interest in grooming herself and doesn’t take care of her coat as she used to, you have no other option but bathing her regularly.

It is also wise to visit the veterinarian and ask for his guidance as this behavior could be a sign of some other health problem.

  • When your cat is overweight

Obese cats may not be able to groom themselves sufficiently and fully as they can’t reach all the places on their body (especially their lower back and rear areas) that would require grooming.

Due to their limited mobility, their coat often becomes matted if there is no proper assistance. Because of the same reason, they are also at a higher risk of urinary tract diseases and other serious health problems.

If your cat is overweight, it is reasonable to bathe her regularly to avoid getting mats and dandruff, and ensure she stays clean and healthy.

  • When your cat has diarrhea

Every once in a while, cats develop diarrhea even if there was no change in their diet. Usually, after diarrhea a lot of feces will be stuck on their fur that they might not be able to clean by themselves.

The minute you find out that your cat has diarrhea, you will need to prepare her for a bath. It is also important to consult your veterinarian to investigate the reason of this health problem.

  • When your cat is sick or has a chronic illness

Sometimes a cat can become sick or paralyzed. Depending on the severity of the illness the cat will spend less time grooming herself or will stop doing it altogether.

If your cat is in this troublesome situation and it is very difficult or painful for her to clean herself, give her a helping hand and bathe her gently.

  • When your vet prescribes a bath

In some cases, cats can develop such a medical condition (like allergic skin disease or bacterial infection) that the veterinarian will suggest to use a specific shampoo that will help with your cat’s certain issue.

If you find yourself in this situation, please follow your veterinarian’s advice strictly about the prescribed medicated bath and bathe your cat accordingly.

  • When you have allergy

Cats are not the only ones who can benefit from getting baths. There are owners who are allergic to their cat’s fur, saliva or dander. In this case bathing the cat is not an option but a strong recommendation.

If you or one of your family members or friends are allergic, it is recommended to bathe the cat regularly to eliminate the unwanted fur, reduce the dander and wash away the allergens that are likely to cause the allergic reaction.

Cats need baths just because…

  • When your cat love bathing

Despite most of the cats that hate water, there are some cats that just love water and bathing.

If your cat belongs to this rare category, pamper her for your liking with a nice bath. Just be careful with the frequency!

In a few words

No matter what the reason is, there are plenty of reasons and circumstances when cats do need our help in grooming and why cats do need baths.

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When to start giving a cat bath?

From the previous section, we already know that…

Even though cats groom themselves almost continuously, they do need to get baths because of different circumstances and reasons. However, most cats despise water and will do everything to avoid getting wet.

So giving a cat a bath seem to be a quite hard task. As you might expect, the cat will panic, you will get scratched, so for sure it won’t go easily for the first time.

But, since kittens adapt to changes easier than older cats, it makes perfect sense to start bathing your cat as early as possible. The younger the cat when you start to bathe her, the more likely she will enjoy to get an occasional bath. Also, the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to bathe your cat for the first time. So the earlier, the better.

How early?

While it is wise to start bathing a kitten as soon as possible, we cannot just start it as soon as they are born.

In the early days and weeks of a kitten’s life, mother cat stays with her litter almost all the times and handles the young ones’ grooming needs.

However, there might be times when you have to lend a hand and help to clean. At this age, bathing is not a suitable idea, instead, use cotton balls or a hygienic moistened soft cloth.

When a kitten reaches the age of two months, she is ready to get a gentle bath using strictly only kitten shampoo.

Benefits of starting early

Grooming a cat from her younger years has several benefits:

  • Your kitten can get used to the process.
  • It reduces the cat’s fear and anxiety.
  • Your cat will tolerate her bath well in the long run.
  • She might even enjoy getting baths in the future.
  • It will prevent scratching.
  • It will be easier for you to bathe your cat from the first time forth.
  • Cat bath will become normal part of her and your routine.
  • It allows you to build a strong relationship and trust between you and your cat from the beginning.

What about older cats?

If you have just adopted an older cat, you might have a harder time getting her used to bath time. It might take some more convincing than to kittens, but it can definitely be done.

However, if your cat will become too stressed about getting her first bath, do not panic, you still have two options. Either take your veterinarian’s advice and follow it, or you can still take your cat to a professional groomer.

How often to bathe a cat?

Even though cats can groom themselves, you should still give your cat a bath every once in a while. While bathing a cat is not an everyday task, it indeed needs to be done.

The frequency, how often to bathe your cat will depend on several different things, like the breed and coat of your cat, the type of her lifestyle, and her tolerance level, but mostly on the reason why you bathe your cat in the first place.

Breed and coat of your cat

  • Shorthair

Short-haired cats, that are capable of cleaning themselves properly, rarely need a bath and can actually go months without it unless they get unusually dirty or smelly. However, a brief brush every week and one bath every month is recommended to eliminate dead hair, moisturize the skin and get rid of odor.

  • Longhair

Long-haired cats will require more grooming maintenance than cats with shorter fur. These cats need more frequent brushing and bathing. If your cat has long fur, you should brush her every day or at least couple of times a week, and bathe her regularly but not more than once a week to avoid matting and to keep her coat clean and healthy.

  • Hairless

Hairless cats like Sphynx or Peterbald can develop oily skin. Therefore a regular weekly bath is absolutely essential for this type of cats.

  • Show cat

Show-quality cats that are prepared for a cat show will definitely require regular baths to keep their fur in top condition at all times. They are also usually bathed before every cat show.

Type of your cat’s lifestyle

  • Indoor

Since indoor cats are not exposed to a dirty environment, they have different grooming schedules than outdoor cats. Although they do not get dirty so quickly, their fur can still become oily and matted over time. So bathing an indoor cat can be done fewer times but it is absolutely essential.

  • Outdoor

Cats can become very dirty and smelly adventuring outside, and can even pick up remains from lawn chemicals. Therefore, they require bath more frequently. If your cat is an outdoor type, give her a bath before she licks all potentially dangerous substances from her fur, and do not forget to check for fleas and ticks during her bath time.

  • Activity level

There are cats with very high activity level. Due to their agility they get very dirty easily and quickly, therefore, they require more frequent bathing compared to other quieter cats.

Different reasons, health condition of your cat

Frequency of the cat bath will definitely also depend on the issue you are dealing with – be it dandruff, fleas, ringworm, matted fur, an obese or older cat. Meaning, different health conditions and problems will require different frequency, but as a rule of thumb, weekly once cat bath should keep your cat’s fur and skin in good condition.

In addition, if you are dealing with a more serious issue, do not forget to consult your veterinarian about it for further guidance.

Normal average frequency versus excessive cat bath

While there is no hard rule for the frequency of the cat bath, it is generally recommended to give cats a bath every 4 to 6 weeks to avoid their fur getting dirty and matted, keep their skin moisturized, and get rid of odor.

It is also recommended to stick to this cat bath schedule, because the longer you wait between baths, the more likely your cat will forget the routine causing scratch marks on your skin.

Just do it in moderation, and if special circumstances come up, increase the frequency of the cat bath according to the issue you are facing.

However, be very careful not to bathe your cat too excessively. Too frequent cat bath can irritate and dry out the cat’s sensitive skin and by doing this, the protective oil layer will be removed, leaving the cat without her natural protection against infections and diseases.

So in consequence, how often do cats need baths? The answer is actually different for each cat, so always gauge your cat’s bathing needs and when you are in doubt, you can always contact the local veterinarian or groomer for additional advice.


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Benefits and drawbacks of bathing a cat

While you might be thinking that cats do not need to be bathed because of their constant grooming, cat bath is not only useful and essential but beneficial as well in a number of ways.

Here are some of the benefits of the regular cat bath:

  • It overall improves the quality of the cat’s fur: It does not only makes the fur mat-free but also gets rid of the loose and dead fur on the cat’s coat. Bathing a cat will help to reduce the amount of potential hairballs from forming as well. While it removes the excess food and insects that end up on the cats’ fur by mistake, it also makes the fur shiny, soft and healthy.
  • It keeps the cat’s skin in good condition: Bathing the cat will help prevent the cat’s body from becoming a breeding ground for parasites like fleas, ticks or ringworm. During bath dander and the excess oil produced by cat on her skin will be removed, making the cat’s skin cleaner and healthier.
  • It improves the cat’s overall well-being: Cat bath stimulates the cat’s circulation and improves the muscle tone. Doing it regularly will reduce stress and tension. And, while it removes the odor and makes the cat smell nice, it also enables the owner to check for different irregularities on the cat’s body, such as parasites (fleas, ticks or ringworms), rashes, sores or wounds. So, apart from making the cat look great and smell good, a bath will help maintain her good health.
  • It makes the owner’s life easier and happier: Bathing the cat will wash away all the allergens that can trigger the allergic reaction in those who have allergy to cats. Regular cat bath is also a good socialization teaching tool as it helps to teach the cat being handled. While it makes the house cleaner by reducing the amount of hair on clothes and furniture, bathing the cat is also a good opportunity to improve the bond between cat and owner.

While there are several benefits of bathing a cat, it is important to know that there also might be some drawbacks:

  • Excessive bathing can irritate and dry out the cat’s sensitive skin causing more harm than good.
  • Some cats can develop allergies to different chemicals found in shampoos so it is very imperative to use the right kind of cat shampoo.
  • There are cats that are very hard to handle and will scratch and cry during the bath.
  • If you have an outdoor cat you should keep her inside after the bath during the winter season.

Although there are a few disadvantages of bathing a cat, the advantages are much more, and you and your cat will physically, mentally and emotionally benefit from the process. Therefore, it is a win-win situation for both your cat and you.

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Final thoughts on bathing a cat

As your cat goes through life, there are different circumstances and reasons when her built-in grooming tools are not enough and needs your assistance to keep her coat and skin clean and healthy.

Regardless of the reason, a cat bath offers that many benefits (and very less disadvantages) that many people choose to have the cat bathed on a regular basis.

However, be very careful not to bathe your cat too excessively as it can cause more harm than good.

And finally, please note that there are some cats who cannot tolerate getting a bath. If you face this situation, do not panic, contact your veterinarian or take her to a professional groomer.