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How Often Should You Shampoo or Wash a Cat?

By Elle Di Jensen | Updated September 26, 2017

In general, cats are self-cleaning pets who don't require a full shampoo treatment as part of regular grooming. There are occasional times, however, when a bath is called for, such as if Snuggles gets into something especially smelly, is muddy, covered in dirt or has fleas or an allergic skin condition. Even then, you'll have your work cut out for you and should approach the task with preplanning and care.

Occasions for a Feline Bath

Most cats don't like to get dirty on purpose, but they can't entirely avoid it, especially if they frequent the outdoors. Your cat might surprise you by rolling in something he finds delightful smelling but that you find repugnant. Sometimes overweight or elderly kitties have a hard time cleaning themselves thoroughly or properly. Also, cats who have parasites such as fleas develop an allergic skin condition. An actual bath with shampoo and water is the best solution for any of these problems.

Cat Bathing Strategy

Timing is everything, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends scheduling your cat's bath when she's feeling mellow, such as right after a raucous play session. Since claw trimming should be a part of your regular cat-grooming routine, you may want to take care of that task right before bathing your kitty to avoid getting scratched in the process. Also, use a bath mat in the bottom of the tub or sink, so your cat won't slip and slide.

The Actual Bath

Only fill the tub or sink with about 3 inches of lukewarm water, or skip plugging the drain and use running water from a handheld sprayer. Gently place your kitty in the bath, speaking to her in a soothing tone. Thoroughly wet her from the neck down with the sprayer, keeping her face and ears dry, and try to avoid splashing. Dilute the shampoo with water, working it into a lather in your hands before applying it to your cat's fur. Work from her neck down to her tail and rinse with the sprayer until the water runs clear. Use your hands to gently press the excess water from her fur before wrapping her in a towel and rubbing her dry.

Additional Grooming Advice

Even though you won't get your cat's face and head wet in the bath, you can clean those areas with a damp washcloth or pet wipes. Take care around her eyes and ears. In addition to claw trimming, brushing should be a part of regular grooming. Do it right before the bath to remove mats and loose hair.


Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.