Cat behavior after a bath varies, but most cats show signs of stress or anxiety after baths. This is because cats dislike water. They might also try to dry themselves or get rid of the shampoo scent by running, rolling, or licking themselves. A small percentage of cats like water and act normally.
Cats don’t need regular baths, and I don’t recommend bathing your cat unless it’s necessary.
In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about cat behavior after bath time, what to look for, and what it means.
Many Cats Become Scared and Retreat After Baths
Most cats dislike water. After a bath, they might act afraid or anxious.
Signs of fear and stress in cats after a bath include:
- Running away
- Sleeping more than usual
- Hissing or growling when you approach
- Avoiding you or the bathroom
If your cat continues this behavior for a long time, consult your veterinarian to ensure there’s nothing physically wrong with them.
You should also reconsider giving your cat baths in the future. As I’ll discuss later, it’s rarely necessary.
Cats Become Cold Easily After Baths
Cats can become cold easily after baths and have difficulty warming themselves back up. Dry your cat quickly after their bath and keep them warm.
Some people use a blow dryer on the lowest heat setting to dry their cat and then wrap them in a blanket or towel on their lap. Skip the dryer if your cat is afraid of it—the noise scares many cats.
Close any drafty windows and make sure the air in your house is warm.
If your cat is cold after their bath, they might tremble, cuddle into you or another animal for body heat, lie in a sunny spot, or sit on something warm (my cat loves heat and often lies on the cable box, for example!).
Sometimes they Act Excited
Sometimes people describe their cat as acting excited after a bath. They race around the house like mad, maybe meowing as they go.
This likely isn’t actually because the cat enjoyed the bath, but instead because they’re afraid or trying to dry off quickly.
They’re running away from the bath and might end up hiding once they find a good place. Or they may continue racing laps around your home, stressed at being wet.
A cat who actually enjoys a bath is more likely to react calmly when getting out of the tub or sink. They might show signs of happiness such as relaxed body language, or simply act as they usually do.
Cats May Run or Lick to Dry Themselves
Like I said, most cats despise being wet. They’ll want to be dry as soon as possible.
If you don’t dry them off yourself, they might run around the house to air dry or lick the water from their bodies.
Even a dry cat may lick themselves, however. This might be their way of trying to regain their natural scent or clean off the smell of the soap.
If you must bathe your cat, I suggest using scent-free items so that they aren’t bothered by smelling too different.
While it might be nice for you to have your cat smell pretty, scent is so important for them—they use it to communicate with others and even to identify one another. It really does bother a cat when they don’t smell like themselves!
Another option would be to use a more cat-friendly scent, such as Lavender. This is calming for your cat and might be especially nice for a stressful situation like a bath.
Avoid scents like citrus or peppermint—not only will your cat dislike these smells, but it may harm them if the scents come from essential oils.
I recommend bathing your cat with cat shampoo only—or in a pinch, use Dawn dish soap. It’s a gentle and effective cleaner, though it may dry out your cat’s skin if used too often.
Cats May Roll or Run Due to Scents they Dislike
A cat who dislikes the smell of the soap you use might also run from the scent or roll to try to remove it. Rolling also serves to make your cat smell more like home.
Like I said, scent is important to cats. In colonies, cats will rub against each other and their surroundings to mark their territory, their home, and the other cats they live with.
Your cat may roll or rub against things to begin smelling like home again. They don’t want to smell like shampoo—they want to smell like, well, a cat!
Cats’ noses are 14 times more sensitive than our own, so what smells nice to you may smell bad to them or just bother them because it’s not their own scent.
Some Breeds Enjoy Water
While most cats don’t like baths, some cats have a water-loving purrsonality! Usually these cats belong to unique breeds such as Bengals, Turkish Vans, and Maine Coons.
With these cats, it’s still important not to over-bathe them, and to keep them dry and warm after each bath!
Cats May Become Aggressive Toward a Bathed Cat
If your other cats are acting like they don’t know your bathed cat, or even become aggressive toward them, this is unfortunately normal.
Above, I discussed how cat colonies interact by rubbing against one another. This is how they mark one another as friends or “family” you could say. A cat rubbing against you means “you’re one of us!”
Cats who don’t smell like the colony are outsiders, and some cats are quite territorial toward those they don’t know.
When you bathe a cat, they no longer smell like themselves to your other cats—and this can cause conflict.
Even though it seems silly to you and I, who can obviously see that it’s the same cat, cats depend on their sense of scent a lot more than we do.
It’d be like if someone in your family left home and returned looking like a whole other person—you might panic, or even lash out thinking they were a burglar!
Meanwhile a cat might think, silly human, they still smell exactly the same! Why can’t you tell that it’s still them?
After some time, your cat will begin to smell like themselves again and your other cats will treat them normally. Don’t worry—I’ve been there several times after taking long-haired cats to the groomer, and it doesn’t take more than a couple days to have a peaceful home once more.
If your cats are getting too aggressive, separate them so that they don’t hurt each other. You can then reintroduce them in a day or two.
This will prevent your bathed cat from becoming scared of your other cat or holding a grudge for their violence!
Baths aren’t Usually Necessary for Cats
I have nine cats. The oldest are 13 years old, the youngest are 7 years old, and I’ve had most of them their entire lives.
I’ve only bathed one of them, one single time—and it wasn’t even a full bath! She’d been a kitten, pooped on herself, and I washed her rear end off in the sink.
My cats are indoor-only, which means the only mess they typically get into is their litter box.
In addition, I know that most cats groom themselves very thoroughly. They’re clean animals by nature, most of them hate water, and there’s no reason to put them through regular baths.
Sometimes they have crusty eyes or dirty butts, which I’ll clean with a baby wipe, pet wipe, or just a damp cloth—whatever’s on hand.
One of my cats pees on his tail sometimes, and clean them the same way. If it’s very bad I might use a soapy washcloth and then wipe it off with water until the suds are gone.
The only time I would bathe my cats, personally, is if they were very filthy. An example might be diarrhea all over themselves or if they got outside and rolled in something smelly.
My advice is to keep your cat indoors (it’s safer and healthier for them, anyway!) and bathe them only as needed—using alternatives when possible.
Regular bathing stresses most cats, isn’t necessary, and can even dry out their skin.
If Your Cat is Acting Abnormally, Bring them to the Veterinarian
Some people report sick cats or abnormal behavior for days after a bath. If this happens to you, bring them to vet to rule out illness.
Like I discussed above, cats sometimes have difficulty warming up after a bath. Though this can’t cause them to catch a cold, it is dangerous on its own and can cause things like hyperthermia.
Stress can also harm your cat, and the stress from a bath might escalate any existing medical conditions that they have.
Lastly, soaps may dry or irritate your cat’s skin, especially if they’re allergic to the kind you use or you don’t use a shampoo made for cats.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus
I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry. My full bio