Should You Bathe Kittens?
The short answer is no. Unless you have a very good reason to, do not bathe kittens.
Kittens are fragile little creatures. The younger they are, the more fragile. Their small body size means they have a lot of skin relative to their mass, and that ratio makes them more sensitive to changes in their environment. Also, some of their systems just haven't yet fully matured. Just like their eyes take three more weeks to develop, so do other parts in their body, including their immune system and the systems that control their body temperature.
What Are the Risks?
There are several risks associated with bathing kittens:
Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature very well and are susceptible to getting chilled. A cold kitten cannot digest its food well, making it even harder for its tiny body to get the nutrients it needs to keep warm. A chilled kitten can die very fast unless treated properly, making this a medical emergency. If you think you have a chilled kitten on your hands, call your vet immediately.
Water is often used for cooling off the body. Getting a kitten wet always puts it at risk for chilling, making this the number one risk associated with bathing kittens.
Scalding and overheating
A kitten's sensitive skin can get scalded very easily. Even if the temperature is not hot enough to cause a skin burn, you can still overheat the kitten's little body.
Washing the kitten with water, especially water containing even mild soap or shampoo, can dry up the kitten's skin, sometimes to the point of creating a rash. The risk increases the more frequently you bathe the kitten.
When you simply have to bathe a kitten
There may be situations when bathing a kitten, even a very small one is the lesser of two evils. Such is the case with a flea infestation, when you can't use topical anti-flea remedies because they are too toxic for kittens, a scenario rescuers often face when taking young kittens off the street. If a kitten manages to become covered in a substance that needs to be removed, a bath may sometimes be the only solution as well.
Here are some guidelines and tips for bathing your kitten safely:
- Warm up the bathroom as well as the room where the kitten will stay after the bath. Make sure both rooms are draft-free.
- Use a sink or a very large bowl as a bath for the kitten. Make sure you have enough room to work comfortably. You can place a folded towel in the middle of the sink, allowing the kitten a place to rest those feet and feel more stable.
- Prepare dry towels and warm them up a bit in advance. Use them to wrap up the kitten and gently yet thoroughly dry her/him after the bath.
- Use a thermometer for the bath water and make sure the temperature is 101-103 degrees. Use a baby bath water thermometer that can float around and let you know if the water is cooling.
- Use a gentle cat shampoo. Many rescuers use Dawn soap instead and it seems to do the trick. Never use medicated shampoos, or shampoos intended for humans or dogs!
- Make sure to never wash the kittens' ears or eyes. To be on the safe side, it's best to avoid washing a kitten's head altogether. You can use a damp washcloth later on to wipe off any dirt from that area later on.
- Wash one kitten at a time and towel-dry thoroughly before moving on to the next kitten. If the kittens are small enough, prepare confinement boxes where you can keep the kittens safe while they're waiting for their turn, or waiting for their siblings to be bathed.
Remember to check the kittens after they are washed and dry. If a kitten feels cold to the touch and seems unresponsive, keep it warm and call your vet ASAP.
Must wash your cat? Try these gentle cat shampoos:
It's possible to bathe kittens safely, as long as you're aware of the risks and do all you can to avoid them.