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Ask A Vet: What Should I Know About Bathing Cats?

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We as humans bathe or shower every day (and sometimes more in my job) and we wonder about hygiene for our pets. Cats are unique and sensitive creatures by nature and many cats resent the overstimulation required by a bath. There are novel sounds (running water) and different feelings (temperature and water flow). Cats instinctively fear things that are new and different. Our feline friends often tend to begrudge things being forced upon them as well. They feel powerless and helpless when they are restrained and it triggers their desire to flee.

Cats are already fastidious groomers and if they are able, they will keep their skin and coat presentable. All pet cats should be brushed or massaged with a grooming mitt on a regular basis. This allows their caregiver to assess any changes in their coat or skin health, noting changes in hair texture, missing hair, the presence of parasites or skin masses and keeps the hair free of mats.

Even short haired cats should be examined and massaged at least once a month and senior cats more often since close inspection may highlight changes in weight or muscle wasting (which will feel like the cat has become more “boney”). Changes uncovered in these inspections should be mentioned to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Full body baths or dips are seldom required for normal adult cats in my opinion, but it is a good idea to make sure that your cat learns about them and does not fear them in case they are medically necessary during the cat’s lifetime.

Obese cats will be less able to groom themselves (because it is harder physically for them to reach all areas) and may require regular baths. Many don’t need a full bath but benefit from regular clipping of the hair around the rectal area (called a sanitary clip) so that excess urine or feces cannot become trapped there and irritate the skin. Senior cats who suffer from osteoarthritis may also need some special hygiene help. If you have an obese cat, ask your vet about a safe diet for her since obesity will shorten her life and impact her quality of life by worsening osteoarthritis and increasing disease risks and if you think that your cat could be suffering from joint pain or stiffness, mention it as well.

The best thing that you can do is assess your cat frequently. If you think that he requires a full bath when you inspect, make sure that you have trained him to tolerate such handling. If you feel changes in his body condition, hair loss or masses, be sure to ask your vet. Cats that go outdoors or live in a home where other pets go outdoors will need parasite coverage, but the days of the “flea bath” are thankfully gone. There are topical and oral products that you can use for effective parasite control without the need for flea dips and baths.

If you find a lost kitten, however, a flea bath might be unavoidable. In these cases, bathe the kitten in a kitten-safe shampoo and know that the bath will provide no residual protection in the future. Take your new cat friend to a vet as soon as possible to discuss safe parasite options for him to provide lasting and safe protection as he grows.

Routine full bathing is not essential for the health of a normal adult cat, but there are situations in which it will be required. Make life better for you and your cat by examining him often and teaching him not to fear the bath process.

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