Should I bathe my cats?
January 13, 2007 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Should I regularly bathe my cats?

I have two cats. The only time I've given them a bath was when they were kittens and they shit on themselves. Now, 2+ years later they're pretty normal. They don't stink or anything and I really haven't had any reason to think that they should be given a regular bath.

So, is it ok if I don't give my cats a bath? From what I understand giving a cat a bath is a huge pain in the ass for both owner and pet. Do regular baths have any benefit or should I stop worrying about it?
posted by bob sarabia to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Under normal circumstances, you never need to bathe your cats. Exceptions, via Cat Fanciers:

The cat has got something poisonous on its fur.
It doesn't take care of its coat as normal cats do.
You are allergic and need to bathe it to keep allergens down.
The cat is a show cat and about to be shown.
You are giving it a flea, tick, or lice dip.
It is unusually dirty for some reason (perhaps bad weather).

Scroll down to read it, and further for tips on how to bathe them should the need arise. Anecdotally, I have two cats, 4 and 8. They are in great health and have never been bathed, and unless a can of paint falls on them and they start being chased by amorous skunks, it's going to stay that way.
posted by melissa may at 12:46 AM on January 13, 2007

Not necessary except for unusual skin conditions or the aforementioned shit.
posted by flabdablet at 12:46 AM on January 13, 2007

Yeah, dude, are you serious? Have you ever tried to bathe a cat?

Spoken as a member of a 6-cat household.
posted by rossination at 1:51 AM on January 13, 2007

I have had cats so long, I forgot what it's like to be normal. In that long, long time, I have had to give kitties baths, maybe 20 times.... mostly for flea dips or similar.

It is an event that marks you for life. Depending on the cat, they have reactions ranging from mute acceptance to maniacal escape attempts. No object, be it tender human flesh or not, is immune to being pressed into service as escape route access, for kitties in the latter category.

It IS kinda fun to see what they look like naked, though. The one watching me type this (currently lap resident) looks like a rat.

e.g. kitty pix
posted by FauxScot at 3:52 AM on January 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

We had to give our cat a bath once because there was a soot explosion in the house and we didn't want her cleaning it off her fur with her tongue and getting sick. It was an experience that no one, human or cat, would ever like to repeat. And my cat is extremely docile and didn't even try to HURT anyone. Try to climb up out of the tub via our faces, yes, but she was either too sweet or too stupid to put her claws out and go for blood. Still, it was a two-human operation: one to hold down the cat, the other to lather, rinse, and never ever repeat.

That said, they only sell cat shampoo in GINORMOUS bottles, so I think we're set for life.

(How appropriate that as I've typed this, I've been given the special present of cat vomit at my feet. Oh the joys of pet ownership.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:43 AM on January 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Agree, I've only done it when de-fleaing. And it does terrify them so much (my cats both wet themselves) that it can't be worth it unless absolutely necessary. And there's the clawing of course. If you do have to do it, the best way I found was to take a shower with my cat.

And great photographs, FauxScot and Rhomboid!
posted by paduasoy at 4:44 AM on January 13, 2007

I have one cat who doesn't bathe, guess he thinks it's a waste of time or something. I bathed him once. He hated every second of it but he just sat there looking defeated (and wet) and made occasional half-hearted attempts to leave. (He does really well now as long as I brush him regularly -- I don't plan to make baths the routine. He just needed to get the shelter grime off him.)

My older cat is a giant, friendly but obstinate Maine Coon. When I brought him home from the shelter he needed a flea dip and general wash-up. He was three months old when I got him, but even at that age he was way stronger than me. I think I got up to almost his belly fur before I had to let go for fear of my life. He grooms himself really well, fortunately. When attempting to clip this cat's toenails I've longed for a pair of those gloves that eagle wranglers wear.
posted by loiseau at 5:24 AM on January 13, 2007

Cats bathe themselves. We've never had to stick one of ours in the bath, thank god, but should the need arise I'll bet Pushkin will go for it—he has a weird and uncatlike fascination with water and often climbs into the bathtub after one of us has gotten out and it's still quite wet.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 AM on January 13, 2007

I bathed our last cat about once a month, because he was a long-hair, overly fuzzy, and he didn't groom as much as he should have. We have two new kittens now (short-hair), and as soon as they are healed up from their recent operations, I will be giving them a bath and will probably bathe them once every two months or so. Why? If I ever have need to give them a bath due to getting into stuff, needing flea or skin treatment, or self-pooing, getting a bath won't be some totally alien torture I am imposing on them. They will have experienced it at least a few times before and know I am not trying to kill them.

Of the various cats I have had in my life, the ones I have bathed at least a few times a year handled bathing better when it had to be done as compared to the ones I had never bathed and then found need to do so. Bathing a poo covered cat that had never been totally wet before ranks right up there as one of the worst experiences of my life.

I found, through massive experimentation, that what works best for me was to do the bathing in the kitchen sink with a sprayer (put it right up against the fur -- not like showering down on them) and making the water warmer than I thought it should be. Some cats like a towel in the bottom of the sink, and some didn't, and always clip their toenails first for self-protection. Also, I hold their front paws together with my non-dominant hand and do all the bathing and rinsing with my other hand. Takes some practice, but once you and the cats get used to it, it isn't nearly as painful as it can be.
posted by Orb at 6:27 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another way to keep allergens and fleas down is to vacuum your cat. Most will not put up with it though.
posted by LarryC at 6:42 AM on January 13, 2007

No need at all to bathe a cat regularly. They don't enjoy it, the owner certainly won't enjoy it, and they are exceptionally clean animals by nature.
posted by fire&wings at 7:04 AM on January 13, 2007

As I said, but my post was deleted (sigh) it is easier to shower them.
posted by A189Nut at 7:04 AM on January 13, 2007

We had a big furry one that we bathed ~once a month but he needed it, as he just couldn't keep up with his fur -- longish AND thick. He got gross really easily. He always, always, always hated it, but not as much as when we had to give him a tomato bath due to an encounter with a skunk.

God, that wasn't pretty. Anyway, unless you want to condition them a la Orb, I wouldn't bother. It's really stressful for everyone.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:29 AM on January 13, 2007

(Hmm, yeah, weird that your shower-comment went away.)

We have rarely bathed our cat, even though my daughter constantly wants to. She either enjoys getting scratched, or will endure the scratches to see a cranky wet cat. We only bathe her when she gets unusually dirty, so maybe one a year at most.

When we do bathe her, Kitty makes a bit of a fuss, then gives up. As long as she is held firmly and we don't make sudden moves which could startle her, she does ok.

I have read that putting a framed screen (like a window screen) in the tub can help, becuase it gives you cat something to grab onto and feel more secure.
posted by The Deej at 7:29 AM on January 13, 2007

My cat keeps herself pretty clean, but every once in a while I'll use a kitty wipe (similar to these) on her, especially if I know that someone allergic is coming to visit. She doesn't seem to mind them.
posted by candyland at 7:40 AM on January 13, 2007

I have to bathe my white cat periodically when he gets dingy. I just dunk him in a lukewarm bath and let him lick himself clean.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 8:03 AM on January 13, 2007

yeah. my vet gave me some allergy shampoo to use on my cat once a week. it's the only thing gentle enough to use so often. and let me tell you, the cat and i hate each other afterwards...other than that you shouldn't bathe cats often. it drys out their skin. on the rare occasions you do have to bathe them, my vet recommended baby shampoo.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:03 AM on January 13, 2007

he has a weird and uncatlike fascination with water and often climbs into the bathtub after one of us has gotten out and it's still quite wet

My cats do this too but it's not what you think. Despite things being wet, they like to hang out on top of warm stuff (like a bathtub surface) for long periods of time, so they do it.

I have two 8 year-old cats that I bathed once or twice when they got into stuff as kittens and never since then. They're fine.
posted by mathowie at 8:15 AM on January 13, 2007

Should I regularly bathe my cats?

Should you enjoy regular lacerations, sure.
posted by Nelson at 8:25 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bathing a cat? I'm too young to die such a painful death. If things get so bad that the cat needs a bath, I'm whipping out the wallet and paying a groomer to do it.

Surprised no one's posted this oldie but goodie:

1. Thoroughly clean the toilet.
2. Add the required amount of shampoo to the toilet water and have both lids lifted.
3. Obtain the cat and soothe him while you carry him towards the bathroom.
4. In one smooth movement, put the cat in the toilet and close both lids (you may need to stand on the lid so that he cannot escape). CAUTION: Do not get any part of your body too close to the edge, as his paws will be reaching out for anything they can find. The cat will self-agitate and make ample suds. Never mind the noises that come from your toilet, the cat is actually enjoying this.
5. Flush the toilet three or four times. This provides a "power wash and rinse" which I found to be quite effective.
6. Have someone open the door to the outside and ensure that there are no people between the toilet and the outside door.
7. Stand behind the toilet as far as you can and quickly lift both lids.
8. The now-clean cat will rocket out of the toilet and run outside where he will dry himself.

The Dog

posted by fuse theorem at 8:44 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

OTOH There are cats that love water. My Mom's sleeps in the sink and won't move until she's ready. Even if you turn on the faucet. The cat also regularly visits my mom in the shower.
posted by Gungho at 9:16 AM on January 13, 2007

And of course there's old Steve Martin line: I gave my cat a bath. I took an hour to get the fur off my tongue.
posted by The Deej at 10:05 AM on January 13, 2007

When attempting to clip this cat's toenails I've longed for a pair of those gloves that eagle wranglers wear.

Glad to hear we aren't the only ones. I occasionally wish aloud that we could put little costumes or a leash on the cat, just for the dignity hit, and my husband always adds, " sure to pick up some falconer's gloves too."

(p.s. we give her whiffs of catnip to get her relaxed enough for toenail clipping, and then right after clipping she gets a full catnip mouse.)

Re the question: Nth-ing the "no need" and "what Melissa May said," but adding that brushing helps. It pulls out loose fur that has accumulated (which cuts down on hairballs), it stimulates the skin -- all kinds of good things that help the cats bathe themselves more effectively.

If your cats seem skeptical at first, you can leave the brush on the ground, where they'll promptly figure out how scratchy and cool it is, and try to rub themselves on it. At that point, your "assistance" and opposable thumbs will be most appreciated.

I try to brush at least once a week, more in the winter when our indoor cat gets only dry CA/CH air and her skin seems to be dry.
posted by pineapple at 10:25 AM on January 13, 2007

I lived in a house that had a sewer back-up in the bathroom, and one of our cats got in there before we could stop him. He came out literally dripping with filth. It took two people to wash him; the casualties included one tee-shirt (torn), four forearms (well-scratched), and I don't think the shower curtain was ever the same, either.

A few years later, I had the occasion to wash the same cat again. I tried the shower idea, and that works a LOT better, so long as the cat isn't so incredibly filthy that he can't get by without shampoo. Just run the shower (make it pleasantly warm, but not hot), pull the curtain across, toss the cat in around the edge of the curtain, then block its escape for a minute or two. By the time it manages to get past you, it'll be clean.
posted by vorfeed at 12:49 PM on January 13, 2007

Oh, yeah, and as everyone else said, you do not need to bathe them, ever, except if they do manage to run around in raw sewage or something.
posted by vorfeed at 12:51 PM on January 13, 2007

Do you have a fully enclosed shower stall? Can you operate the water from outside? Then go for it?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:33 PM on January 13, 2007

My 11-year-old cat doesn't do a very good job of grooming himself, so he gets a bit smelly after a few months. He hates the bath, but we do it anyway.
Here's a piece of advice, so you don't have to learn the hard way like I did: move the litterbox out of the bathroom and close the door, in case kitty manages to escape the tub. Wet cat + clumping litter = major messy annoyance.
posted by vytae at 2:11 PM on January 13, 2007

I bathed a cat once. She'd somehow locked herself into a very small space just before I went out for 12 hours, and by the time I found her she was covered in pee and shivering. I didn't want her to have to lick herself clean. Only time in many years of cat ownership I've done that.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:56 PM on January 13, 2007

Thanks for the answers and funny stories. I got a good laugh out of this thread and I guess I won't worry about washing the cats anymore.
posted by bob sarabia at 6:16 PM on January 13, 2007

If you ever have to bathe a cat (they are sick or something- I had an injured cat I cared for), just use a washcloth and they don't fight it. It's like being licked.
posted by jb at 7:13 PM on January 13, 2007

Bob, just for your further reference and edification I archived my deleted answer here.
posted by loquacious at 10:54 PM on January 13, 2007

Damn, loquacious, that was one of the most... er... loquacious answers I have ever read. But also among the best, if not the best! And most entertaining. And you did answer the question, so what the heck?

(To the crowd): O people my people! Put down the flags and step away!

Oh damn now this will get deleted. Better get on topic.

Yes, if there is no choice.
No, if there is a choice.
posted by The Deej at 5:56 AM on January 14, 2007

A cat that is so elderly or disabled that they cannot reach parts of themselves to bathe, will need you (or a groomer) to give it a bath. Other cats, leave them to their own devices.
posted by matildaben at 9:11 AM on January 15, 2007

Toots (The Best Cat Ever) had a thing about going under cars when she was young, and I bathed her frequently (for a cat, that could be anything > once). It isn't pleasant. The sound a cat can make when terrified is amazing.

To Bathe a Cat:
1) Put on your heaviest jeans and denim jacket.
2) Fill the tub with warm (not hot) water that is neck-deep to the cat.
3) Fetch the cat.
4) Dip cat in tub to get wet, then place in sink.
5) Fetch shampoo.
6) Coax cat out of suspended ceiling, put in bathroom, close door.
7) Fill tub again, if too cold.
8) Dip cat again.
9) Place in sink again.
10) Apply shampoo, lather.
11) Put cat in tub again, and rub lightly to allow the water to rinse out the shampoo.
12) Wrap naked cat in towel to dry.

Obviously, it works better if you remember to put the shampoo handy by the sink, before mixing a cat and water!

NOTE: Best Practice is to take great effort to keep water from getting into a cat's ears.
posted by Goofyy at 6:08 AM on January 16, 2007

I echo the cat wipes - my new (adopted from shelter) cat headed for my fireplace during The Great Seattle Earthquake of 2001 [joke, in case you're not from Seattle] and when I came home, I immediately thought he'd had a fight with my fax machine, before i remembered that my fax machine didn't use a toner cartridge.

Nowadays, though, I would echo the warm washcloth suggestion.

Thanks to everyone for the laughs. The vacuum cleaner suggestion especially has been circulated widely.
posted by micawber at 1:38 PM on January 16, 2007

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