How to Bathe Cats with Medicated Shampoo

Why do I need to bathe my cat with a medicated shampoo?

There are several reasons why your veterinarian might prescribe a medicated shampoo for your cat.

  • Bacterial skin infection. Mild skin infections may be treated solely with an antibacterial shampoo, while more severe infections often require a combination of antibacterial shampoo and oral antibiotics.
  • Yeast infection of the skin. These infections are often treated with an antifungal shampoo.
  • Skin allergies. Even in the absence of infection, medicated shampoo can be helpful in the treatment of allergies. These shampoos often have ingredients that alleviate skin inflammation and itching while also helping to reduce potential allergens on the skin and coat.

While over-the-counter shampoos are sometimes advertised as general-purpose, medicated shampoos are prescribed to treat a specific skin condition. A wide variety of medicated shampoos are available to veterinarians; your veterinarian will select the most appropriate for your cat’s skin condition.

Where should I bathe my cat?

Cats can be bathed in a bathtub or sink. Select a comfortably warm area with access to warm water. Make sure there is a place where you can set clean, dry towels within arm’s reach to make it easier to remove your cat when finished.

If possible, bathe your cat using a spray nozzle or hose attachment to make rinsing her easier and the entire bathing process less stressful. If you do not have a hose attachment, use a large cup or bowl to collect water from the faucet to pour water over your cat.

"If you do not have a hose attachment, use a large cup or bowl to collect water from the faucet to pour water over your cat."

Some communities have commercial 'pet wash' facilities with bathing stations. The tubs at these facilities are designed for bathing pets comfortably and conveniently, and many facilities provide towels and other helpful items. This may be a good option for you and your cat.

How do I bathe my cat?

Medicated shampoo should be applied to a clean, wet coat, so start by thoroughly rinsing your cat with lukewarm water.

If your cat is visibly dirty, bathe her with an over-the-counter shampoo to remove dirt and debris. Unlike cleansing shampoos, medicated shampoos do not typically contain soaps or detergents and may not thoroughly clean dirty cats. Ask your veterinarian if you have concerns about using an over-the-counter shampoo with your cat’s skin condition.

After your cat is clean and wet, work the medicated shampoo into the coat. Start with the areas that are most severely affected. In many cases, these areas are the paws, the armpits, the groin, and maybe the area around the rectum. After thoroughly rubbing the shampoo into these areas, you can begin massaging the shampoo into the coat across the rest of her body.

Once the shampoo has been thoroughly worked into your cat’s coat, set a timer for 10 minutes (or the contact time your veterinarian prescribed). When the timer goes off, it is time to rinse. Ensure you rinse all the shampoo from all areas of your cat’s body. This process will take several minutes; it is important not to leave residual shampoo on the skin. If your veterinarian prescribed a leave-in conditioner, it can be applied now. After bathing, dry your cat with a towel and keep her in a warm area until she is completely dry.

"After bathing, dry your cat with a towel and keep her in a warm area until she is completely dry."

The frequency of medicated baths depends on the specific skin condition that the baths are addressing. In many cases, medicated baths are recommended on a weekly basis. Your veterinarian may recommend bathing more or less frequently, depending on the details of your cat’s particular skin condition.

Typically, skin conditions should improve within the first few weeks of using a medicated shampoo. Your veterinarian can give you a better idea of what to expect with your cat’s particular skin condition.

You may notice that your cat’s skin is a bit red immediately after a bath. This typically does not indicate a reaction to the shampoo; instead, it reflects an increase in skin circulation that often occurs after bathing. However, if your cat’s skin appears to be consistently worsening with bathing, please contact your veterinarian. While uncommon, allergic reactions to medicated shampoo can occur.

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