How Often Should I Wash My Cat?

Bath time for my cats means pulling out the long yellow heavy duty gloves, a blockade, and some ear protection. In the beginning, I thought I needed to bath my cats every month or so, especially as kittens. Turns out, how often giving your cat a bath depends on quite a few things. And it’s not as often as you think.

So, how often should I wash my cat? On average, an indoor only cat needs to be bathed about 3 times a year.  If you have an indoor and outdoor cat those baths would need to be more frequent, especially if they are long haired. With all the grooming they do, they certainly don’t need to be wash daily as humans or dogs would.

siamese cat all wet from taking a bath inside bathtub

Think about this for a moment.

Although they do a lot of licking (grooming) it doesn’t wash away dandruff, grease, remove their mats, or make them smell better.

Professional groomers (The National Pet Groomers Of America) will say to bathe and wash your cat on an ongoing, consistent basis.

They recommend every 4 – 6 weeks to prevent matting or pelting. I’m guessing this means for all cats, whether long hair, short hair, indoor or outdoor.

Honestly, bath your cats as needed.

Do Cats Need Baths?

For one, it’s ok to give a cat a bath. Just not every day. That could strip their oils and they’ll end up with dry skin.

In general, they groom themselves naturally. (hopefully, they aren’t obese and can reach to all those necessary places.)

These cats will need to be bathed more often.  

Their backsides can become very matted, have flaky/itchy skin or even get infected.

But how often they need a bath would depend on some things:

  • Indoor only
  • Outdoor only or both – outdoor would need more frequent bathing.
  • Short hair or Long hair – long hair cats would need more grooming and frequent bathing.
  • Unable to groom – again, if they aren’t effective at grooming, then you’ll need to step in and give regular baths.
  • Highly active cats would need more bathing
  • Health conditions – ticks, fleas or skin problems
  • If you are bathing your cat too much or using the wrong products, you can cause your cats coat to dull and create a flaky itchy skin.

How To Make Bath Time Less Stressful For Your Cat

  1. Type Of Bath:  Know how your cats like to be bathed: using a showerhead, no running water, a bath using a cup, inside a high up sink. They might get stressed by the force of the water coming out. Try to keep the pressure low or use a wet washcloth. Best to try these out to see how best to soothe your cat.
  2. The temperature of Water:  This should be kept at lukewarm. Or better yet, warm enough to give a baby a bath. Use your wrist to test.
  3. Avoid The Face:  Cats don’t like to get their head wet. Wash them from the neck and down. To wash their ears and face, you could use a washcloth.
  4. Use Grip Pad:  Put an anti-skid pad in your tub so they don’t panic when it gets too slippery.
  5. Set The Mood:  You can use quiet, calming music and scented lavender candles to help with stress for you and your cat.
    Like a spa day.
    gray cat wrapped in a towel drying off after a bath
  6. Give Treats:  You could have someone hold a plate of treats while your cat gets a bath. Even before the bath, you could create a ritual of getting treats that they love, then a special reward after the bath.  In most cases, doing this is positive and the bath would be better tolerated.
  7. Go Slowly:  If your cat just doesn’t like the area of the bath, and is generally upset when put in that situation, then you must go slow and do some type of training. Maybe you could put your cat in the bathroom with a plate of treats. 
    Then try running the water while they’re playing or eating treats to get used to the sounds.
    Or put them in the bathtub with treats and play… maybe run the water at a slow stream.  Also, try handling your cat so they’ll be prepared for the bath. Keep the progress at a slow pace so your cat is comfortable and always is enjoying those treats.
  8. Use Alternatives To Water Bathing:  If your cat isn’t a fan of water, running water or anything water… you could use a “grooming foam”. These are more of a thorough cleaning than using the cat wipes. Just note, that those foams work well with short hairs than with long-haired cats. I’ve read that the foam does clump with the longer haired kitties. You’ll have to wash it out.
  9. Be Considerate:  Take note to sensitive areas where you cat does and doesn’t like being touched.
    Get the areas they don’t mind first with your cleaner and maybe use your hands to do their feet.
  10. Make Drying Time, Relaxing Time:  Maybe warm your bathroom up with a space heater so it won’t be cold when you take them out.
    Have your towel ready to wrap them up and rub gently.
    You could use a blow dryer, but understand the sound might freak them out… I would stick to a space heater, it quieter.

How To Give A Cat A Bath?

The first thing you want to do is make the event less stressful for your cat.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends following these steps to make bath time for your kitty less stressful (for you and them):

See Here: ASPCA Grooming Tips

Below is a great video of Ellie getting a bath done right!


Below is a video of Dr. Becker giving little Enzo a bath for the first time:


What Can I Use To Wash My Cat?

Your cat should be bathed using a shampoo that’s made for them. It’s specially formulated and developed for your cat’s skin pH levels. This will prevent all that residue from being left on their fur.

Even so…

Palmolive or Dawn dish soap can be used for a one time deal if you ran out of their shampoo or if it’s an emergency to remove heavy soiling, oil or fleas. (don’t bathe your cats for 48hrs after flea treatment.)

If you’re going to go down that route, make sure there are no harsh chemicals or perfumes.

For washing long-haired kitties, you could dilute the shampoo with water first then pour it over your cat to get it into their dense fur.

Should I take my cat to the groomer?

The thought everyone I know has is cats groom themselves. So why would they pay anyone to groom them?

Let’s be honest, a cat’s tongue and saliva can do only so much. Whether indoor, outdoor or both your cats need to be bathed.

Now here’s where the debate starts.

Many average cat owners feel their cats don’t need to be bathed but a couple times a year or ever unless something happens to warrant it.

The pro groomers feel the average cat should be bathed every 4-6 weeks.

Me, personally, haven’t bathed my 4 cats in like 3 years and they are fine.

Am I lucky?

Don’t know, but I also feed them fresh food. Does that help?

Probably but I think I’m going to be bathing my cats more frequently.

They are indoor only and I have 2 short hair and 2 long haired cats.

With that length of time, I’ve decided to give them a bath before the year is up. That’s because I feel it’s time.

This site National Cat Groomers had an article explaining their reasoning for bathing your cat more frequently.

Some believe that bathing a cat is inhumane, particularly if the cat is being disagreeable to the grooming in any way. But I believe that not bathing the cat (unless there are unusual, extenuating circumstances) is the inhumane option. – by Danelle German

I tend to go with an as needed or a few times a year bath for indoor only, short hair. Otherwise, I’d go with regular grooming for cats.

Related Questions:

Is dawn dish soap safe for cats?

Dawn dish soap is relatively safe for cats. It’s best to only use it when there’s nothing else available or in an emergency. Don’t use it on our cat if they have an active skin infection.

Can I use Palmolive to wash my cat?

You can use Palmolive to give your cat a bath but make sure, again, not to use an antibacterial detergent. It’s very important to rinse your cat well so no residue is left behind. Your cat will groom itself after a bath so be careful to rinse thoroughly.

At what age can you bathe a kitten?

You can bathe a kitten at least 8 weeks old.  You can use only kitten shampoo or any organic/herbal types that don’t contain tea tree oil, it can be toxic to them. Just make sure you take special care here with kittens as they can’t regulate their temperatures. You’ll need to keep the area warm and have your towel ready for drying. You don’t want to risk infection or hypothermia.

Is Baby Shampoo safe for cats?

You can use tearless baby shampoo for cats as an alternative. If you need to use an anti-flea shampoo then make sure its cat-specific.

Can I use baby wipes to clean my cat?

If you don’t want to give your cat a bath or if they just won’t let you then you can use unscented, no perfume added type baby wipes.

How often can you bathe a cat with fleas?

You can bathe your cat once for fleas and then give treatment. You should bathe your cat again after 48 hours after treatment.

How to give a cat a bath without getting scratched?

You can give a cat a bath without being scratched by wearing a long sleeve shirt with thick yellow or black cleaner gloves and use a snap-on e-collar if the cat is grouchy.

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