by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
The quick answer is Probably not; there are some reasons for bathing a cat, but most cats keep themselves clean by grooming.
The most usual reasons for bathing a cat is for health and medical issues; fleas, parasites, ringworm, skin allergies, if he has a dangerous, smelly or dirty substance on his coat, or as directed by a vet. Hairless cats and others with a skin infection may need bathing.
Cats do not need to reach our level of super cleanliness to be healthy. Sometimes it may be necessary to bath cats for other reasons. Cats that have been confined indoors for long periods will have an accumulation of toxins from chemicals in the home and longhaired cats may not be able to groom enough to keep up with the fluff. Bathing a new addition to the home will remove any old scents that may cause aggression in the home – although this is not necessarily a good introduction to your home!
There are many more reasons for not bathing your cat. For most cats, a bath is a traumatic and stressful event in which we force them to undergo a procedure against their will. This negative association can cause a breakdown in the relationship between them and you, as well as residual aggression between cats in the household.
The main reason cats dislike water is because their fur absorbs water when wet, making the fur coat heavy which unbalances him. A wet cat is a cold cat, and it can take a lot of grooming to dry his undercoat. Bathing removes his personal scent, making him unrecognisable to the other cats in the home; this can cause aggression.
Water will remove the protective layer of oil that helps to keep him at the right temperature and causes light rain to run off his fur. This oil helps to keep his skin supple; removing it regularly will cause dry and flaky skin, easily torn or broken, and creates an environment for skin diseases.
Bathing to remove dander that causes allergies may be counter-productive; as he attempts to dry himself, he will produce more dander, probably even more than the amount that was removed during the bath.
Bathing to remove matted fur or excessive loose hairs from shedding is not recommended. Since the fur absorbs water, the knots and matts become more entangled, not less. The stress of bathing can cause sensitive cats to shed more after the bath.
Cats can react negatively to the shampoo, conditioner or other products used for bathing. Depending on the level of reaction, this can range from mild to extreme, requiring immediate emergency veterinary treatment.
There are alternatives to bathing for most conditions that may arise. A regular grooming session for all cats, shorthaired as well as longhaired, is the best option to keep skin and fur in good condition. For extreme cases, see an experienced and professional cat groomer. Elderly, obese or ill cats may need daily sessions to help them feel good and clean. These grooming sessions are also a good way to monitor the health of your cat.
In extremely hot weather, wiping him down with a cloth or brush dipped in water may help to reduce his temperature.
A fine-toothed flea comb will remove most of the active fleas, although in serious cases a bath is quicker and easier. Regular use of the flea comb, with other management practices, will reduce the flea population and relieve associated skin issues.
Wet wipes with the correct pH level are available for the small issues, and quick removal of loose hairs. Other wet wipes all have chemicals that are not suitable for cats – even the ones for babies! – are should not be used on cats.
Generally, cats are able to keep themselves clean, it’s our environment and requirements that creates the need for additional assistance in this regard.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org