Most cats do a great job with general hygiene maintenance, with their careful and thorough daily routine of self-bathing using their tongues and paws. Their rough tongues are effective at getting most of the day-to-day detritus that works into their coats, and frequent brushing by a doting pet parent is not only a pleasant bonding moment for most, it can also help them maintain their cleanliness with fewer hairballs to clean up in various nooks and crannies of your home. However, The National Cat Groomers Institute of America recommends that you bathe your feline friend with water and shampoo about once every four to six weeks, to get to the dirt and grime that can build up deeper under the surface and lead to skin irritation or unpleasant smells.
Anyone who has actually attempted to bathe a cat knows that this can be a harrowing experience for both human and feline alike. Here are some tips on how often to undertake the mighty endeavor, and how to reduce the likelihood of your cat murdering you in cold blood alongside your bathtub.
Frequency of Bathing
Unless you notice that your furry friend is smelling not-so-fresh, or there’s an unpleasant litter box or vomit incident requiring immediate care, it’s fine to set a four- to six-week schedule and stick to that routine.
You’ll probably need to do it more often if:
- Your kitty is an indoor/outdoor cat. – Any cat who goes outside even infrequently is exposed to more actual dirt and grime, and they also need to be regularly checked for creepy crawly critters that live out in nature. This is both for them and for the humans who share the home!
- They have an unusually luxurious/thick coat. – It’s tougher for them to really get themselves as clean as they’d like, and their vigorous efforts can lead to more furballs to clean up.
- They have a skin condition under the coat. – You’ll want to work with your veterinarian to make sure you have the right shampoo for any condition and follow the vet’s advice on how to do the job without causing pain or discomfort.
You can get away with less-frequent bathing if:
- Your kitty is an indoor-only cat. – They might sit looking yearningly out the window part of the day, but they are exposed to far fewer of the particulate irritants and tiny insects that can plague cats who get to go outside to play.
- Your kitty is a fur-free cat. – If your cat is naturally fur-free, their daily routine will go a whole lot farther for them than a cat with a thick coat. You can aim closer to the six-week period, or consult with a vet to see if you can possibly do it every two months or so.
How to reduce your chances of dying while bathing your cat:
- Time the bath to a time when the cat is tired out. This way their energy is used up on play rather than resisting the necessary care you need to give them.
- Keep their nails trimmed/filed (if an indoor cat), and unless you’re very skillful at this it’s best to use a professional groomer to avoid cutting too close and causing a minor injury.
- Just as you don’t like to feel yourself slipping in the shower, the floor of a bathtub can feel unfamiliar, scary, and slippery to a cat. Before you bring your cat into the room, fill the tub with an inch or two of warm water and place a towel on the bottom of the tub. That wet towel will provide their paws with a soft, firm place to stand and will be less scary to them.
- Try to avoid splashing water in the face, as cats generally hate having their face wet. If you need to get in there, use your fingers or a damp washcloth.
- Have a “human helper” that the cat knows and trusts and can assist you in handling your feline friend with care and comfort. This can help everyone involved escape with less trauma and bother.
While the actual process of bathing a cat can be a tough one, both you and your cat will enjoy the cleanliness that comes after!
Final note: if you end up with some scratches in the process, which can definitely happen, make sure to properly clean and disinfect your own “coat”, so you don’t get an infection.