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Basic cat hygiene tips you need to follow

Ginger cat looking happy

Cats are extremely clean animals, but they still need some help from their humans!

© Shutterstock

We've all seen our kitties meticulously cleaning themselves. Self-grooming is an essential part of any cat's daily routine, and most do an excellent job of keeping themselves in perfect condition. But do our cats still need a helping paw from their favourite humans?

By Dr Holly Graham BVMedSci BVMBVS MRCVS

Updated on the 22/02/2021, 13:42

They certainly do! Here’s everything you need to know about helping your cat to look their best, including tips on how to bathe a cat and the benefits of regular grooming sessions.

Are cats clean?

Your feline friend dedicates around 50% of their waking day to ensuring they have the perfect personal hygiene. A cat's favourite grooming tool is its rough, sandpaper-like tongue. They use it to clean their coats, as well as a few other places! It’s barbed texture removes dirt, dead skin cells and loose hair. Grooming helps to remove fleas and external parasites that might be hitchhiking on your cat, but it’s important to remember grooming alone won’t get rid of these nasty beasties! Most cats are very good at keeping themselves clean and tidy, but cats with disabilities or older felines may struggle to keep themselves and their fur in peak condition.

How to care for your first cat?

Despite their conscientious approach to personal hygiene, most cats will benefit from a helping paw from their human carers. Some cats require more grooming care than others, you won’t spend much time brushing a sphinx but long haired breeds can present a challenge if their fur isn’t kept in good condition!

Brushing or combing fur regularly has lots of health benefits, and can help to build a bond between you and your cat. Gentle brushing can remove any tangles or knots that could develop into unsightly and often painful matting; it spreads natural oils evenly throughout the fur and it can help in the detection of any fleas or parasites that may be lurking under all that fluff! Lots of cats enjoy being groomed by their human friend, and think of it as the equivalent to a spa day - but others might see this as an invasion of privacy! Not all cats will allow a full pamper session straight away, so find a brush that works for both you and your pet and work out what they tolerate before attempting any difficult areas.

Long haired cats can be more of a challenge, but brushing doesn’t have to be a chore. A few minutes each day is enough to keep the most long-haired kitty in good shape, while two or three weekly grooming sessions are ideal for short-haired felines.

What is the best way to bathe a cat?

Most cats and kittens don't need a bath, although there are some exceptions. Outdoor cats may come home from their adventures covered in mud, or a questionable substance. If you’re worried something on your cat’s fur may be harmful, consult your veterinarian for advice. Elderly and sick cats may also need a helping hand to help keep themselves clean.

Most owners know that cats aren't very keen on water, and a bath might be our pet’s worst nightmare! A bath can be a stressful situation for both you and your feline friend, and unless it’s absolutely necessary it’s often best to stick to brushing or spot baths with damp cloths. Remember - cats bite and scratch! Most cats will groom themselves effectively and remove the worst of any dirt, so don’t panic if your pet won’t tolerate a full bath.

It's time for the bath! Let's pamper this cutie © Shutterstock

If you have a cooperative cat who isn’t hydrophobic, introduce the idea of this slowly. Don’t expect to find your pet relaxing in the bath immediately. Provide a calm and quiet environment, and start by gently washing any dirty areas and if your cat is worried or stressed - stop and have a break. Always used specially designed cat shampoos, or even just warm water. Lots of human shampoos and soaps contain ingredients that are toxic for our animal friends.

Baths and sinks are suitable for washing. Your cat is unlikely to stand still, so it may be helpful to have a pair of human hands free to help restrain. Make a bath a positive experience. Some cats may enjoy a scratch under the chin or some sympathetic human attention, whilst others may prefer some motivational snacks! Water used to bathe your cat should never be too hot, always check the temperature. You may find it easier to use a jug or cup to gently pour small amounts of water onto the dirty areas, be careful to avoid pouring water directly onto their head. Shampoo should be gently massaged into the coat and rinsed away.

Most cat’s won’t let you use a hairdryer after a bath - the noise can be scary! If attempting to use a hair dryer always use the cool setting. Towels are often a better option for getting your furry friend warm and dry again. Make sure your cat has a warm environment to sit in whilst drying off, particularly if they are young or small. Unlike humans, your cat won’t need a bath or shower every day! These should be done as infrequently as possible - let your cat do the cleaning and help out only if required.

Maintaining your kittens coat

Even kittens are more than capable of keeping themselves clean and tidy. In the cat world personal hygiene is passed down from mother to kitten, and from a very young age our little friends will be doing a great job of grooming! It’s helpful to get your kitten used to being brushed early, particularly if they’re a fluffy breed and may be more prone to matting. Purchase a kitten brush and gently groom your new friend regularly - this will help with grooming your pet as an adult. Kittens fur will change as they progress to adulthood, they lose their baby fur and develop their adult coat, and you may notice a change in texture. Gentle brushing to remove loose hair is always a good idea.

Mmh that feels good! ©Shutterstock

You might notice your kitten wiping his or her face with their paws. Most kittens are quite capable of removing any food material or dirt that builds up on their face without assistance. If they’re looking a little more dishevelled than usual you can gently wipe their face with a damp cloth to remove any food material or dirt that they’ve missed.

Nail clipping: How to clip a kitten’s claws

Kitten nails are sharp! But whilst they can be painful, sharp little nails are normal. Providing your cat with a scratching post or equivalent will help to naturally wear down your kittens nails. Kittens aren’t very good at retracting their claws - but once they grow up they’ll get much better at this! If you’re concerned that their nails are too long, or too sharp they can be clipped but this must be done carefully. Cat nail clippers can be bought from lots of retailers, and it’s important to only take the tips of the nails to prevent any damage to the blood vessels running through the centre. Give lots of treats and make sure your kitten is comfortable with this before you attempt to do this at home.

If you’re worried about clipping your cat’s nails, or want a demonstration before attempting this at home speak to your vet or veterinary nurse who will be happy to teach you.

How to clean my kitten's litter box?

There's one thing that cat's never clean, and that's their litter box! So unfortunately, that job is up to you. Changing cat litter regularly is really important for owners and for the litter tray users. Cat faeces can contain bacteria and parasites that can cause serious health issues for cats and other household pets, and even humans.

There are multiple litter choices available in supermarkets and pet stores. Choose a litter that works for you and your cat. You may notice that your cat is fussy with their tray. Lots of cats have litter substrate preferences and can even be picky about how much litter is in the tray! If your cat’s tray isn’t cleaned out often, you may notice they refuse to use it at all. No-one wants to go in a dirty toilet, and our feline friends are exactly the same.

Litter, urine and faeces should be scooped at least daily. This should be placed in the bin and disposed of properly, and the tray should be cleaned with warm water and a pet safe detergent before being refilled. Empty the tray completely at least once a week for a full clean. Just remember to use cat-friendly products!

Looking after your cat’s oral hygiene

Like humans, cats could use some help keeping their teeth and gums clean! Getting your cat into a good dental routine is important from an early age, as most of our feline friends won’t tolerate much poking around in their mouths. Dry food can be helpful in reducing the plaque build up on our cats teeth, compared with wet food - and it is possible to buy special dental diets from your veterinarian. Regular dental checks with your vet are great for identifying any problems, and most cats will need some form of dental treatment in their lives. But what can we do to reduce this?

Cats and dogs can, but often won’t, have their teeth brushed! Special pet safe toothpastes can be bought from veterinary practices or pet stores, with small tooth or finger brushes to help us try and keep our pets teeth clean. Unfortunately most cats (unless taught from an early age) aren’t a big fan of this. Some toothpastes can be applied as gels to the gums and teeth, rather than trying to brush.

What should you know as a first-time cat owner?

Most cats will benefit from some degree of grooming. Long haired cats can be more work, and often need brushing - particularly if they spend time outside. Short haired and indoor cats are generally easier to keep clean and tidy, but cats are strongly independent creatures. If they really don't like something, then they won't do it! If your cat appears distressed, then give up and try another day. If your cat really needs a hand with keeping themselves clean and you aren’t able to manage this at home then contact a professional groomer or your local veterinarian for assistance.

Regular grooming is important in keeping a shiny, healthy coat and can be helpful in monitoring any new lumps or bumps that may pop up. Unfortunately brushing and bathing won’t eliminate any parasites that your cat may pick up from the environment or other animals, so to keep them free from any little hitchhikers like fleas and ticks speak to your vet about effective parasite control.

There are no set rules when it comes to basic cat hygiene. Your cat will usually keep itself clean, so it's your job to keep an eye on them and step in when they need some extra help. This may be extra grooming sessions, a deep litter tray clean or the occasional bath.