Everyone knows cats are fastidious groomers--taking any moment or location as an opportunity for a bath. Cats are known as one of the cleanest animals in the animal kingdom, and for good reason! So, is human intervention at bath time really necessary? Read on to learn why you should keep baths to a minimum, when it might be necessary, and how to do it safely if you have to.
Most cats spend up to 50% of their lives grooming themselves and have become quite skilled at it. Their grooming motivations are varied, but this is a learned behavior as kittens from their mothers. Cats may groom themselves to clean injuries, hide their scent from predators, remove fleas, and keep their fur and skin lubricated and dirt-free. Grooming can also be a relaxing behavior that calms a cat's nerves and makes them happy, although over-doing it to the point of compulsion or hair loss should be looked at by a veterinarian. Grooming is also great at helping cats to maintain a comfortable body temperature, improve blood circulation and maintain their soft fur. This grooming behavior is made easier by cats' amazing tongues, which have hook-like barbs called "papillae" that act like efficient combs, removing anything unwanted from the fur. If you have ever been licked by a cat, you know their tongues feel rough like sandpaper, but in reality these papillae are made of a material called "keratin." This is the same material that makes up human nails and hair!
Most cats do a great job cleaning themselves and do not need any extra help from us humans. For most cats, bathing is extremely stressful and causes great anxiety. They are not accustomed to being fully wet, losing their balance on slippery surfaces, and smelling unfamiliar products on their skin. Not to mention, being held captive by their human can be a betraying experience that erodes their trust in you. Of course, there are exceptions and some cats love water and taking baths, but unless you have a good reason, it's probably best to let your cat take care of it's own cleaning. They aren't dogs, after all!
Although most cats do not need to have regular baths, there are a few good reasons and situations when doing so is healthy and appropriate. For example, if you have cats that go outside, a bath might be necessary if they get really dirty because of rolling in muddy grass, catching fleas, or being sprayed by a skunk. Some very short-haired or hairless cat breeds need regular baths because of an excess build-up of bodily oils. Some cats become very nervous while traveling in a carrier and may soil themselves in the small environment, necessitating a good bath at home. Lastly, cats may need a bath if they have difficulty grooming themselves for health reasons, such as obesity, advanced age, injury, or arthritis.
If you find yourself needing to give your cat a good scrub down, definitely do your homework and talk to a vet about the best products to use that will be safe and gentle on your cat's skin and fur. Generally, it is recommended to use unscented products, and make sure you thoroughly rinse out any products used. Many cats are afraid of running water, and the slippery surface of a tub can be disorienting. Try filling a basin of good temperature water with a non-slip mat to keep your cat as comfortable as possible. When done bathing, have several towels on hand to dry your cat thoroughly, making sure to avoid using hair dryers and following up with a good brushing to remove mats and tangles. You may want to have a few of your cat's favorite treats on hand to encourage wanted behavior, and as a prize for getting through the ordeal and building up their trust of you. Don't forget to enlist the aid of a friend, as bathing cats can be tricky and having an extra set of hands can prove very helpful!
Unlike their canine counterparts, cats are great groomers and can typically manage the daily task on their own. However, if you do come across one of the reasons above for needing to bathe your cat, there are many things to consider to maintain your cat's health and safety. Don't forget, there are many professionals who offer grooming services too, so if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, you can always employ the help of a professional.
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