What is the best shampoo for cats?

A friend phoned just before midnight one evening sobbing hysterically. She is typically a calm, process-oriented person, so I braced myself for the worst. She finally composed herself enough to wail, “Agatha Christie is PINK!”

I relaxed a bit, no life-or-death crisis after all! Agatha Christie is her pampered, aging Blue Persian cat. Still, how is it that Agatha Christie turned pink?

Turns out Agatha Christie spent a few days at the Kitty Kennel while my friend was out of town. Agatha came home from the kennel scratching and smelling foul, so my friend decided she must have a bath before either of them could sleep. It was late and the groomer was closed, so my friend planned to tackle the job at home. The lovely smelling, rich-looking, bubblegum pink shampoo she chose should have been a nice luxury for Agatha.


You guessed the rest — the dry, brittle cat’s fur absorbed the dye in the shampoo, and Agatha Christie, instead of a gleaming, sweet smelling, well-groomed, predominately white kitty, turned out looking like an agitated, embarrassed, rolling ball of cotton candy!

She did smell nice at least.

My friend is an extremely responsible pet owner. She loves that cat but in her haste to help Agatha Christie she neglected to read the product label. She purchased the cat shampoo because of a pretty color and a nice fragrance and she missed the importance of selecting the right product for the job. Considering the obvious pitfalls of bathing an animal with an inherit aversion to water, when a pet owner decides to attack the task of giving their feline friend a bath what’s the best shampoo for cats?

The Best Shampoo for Cats

The very best shampoo for a cat is actually produced by the cat! That’s right, cats have built-in grooming salons: teeth, nails, paws, tongues and saliva. They are the animal kingdom’s masters of personal care. Despite all their natural resources, however, there are still occasions when your cat may need the intervention of a human-variety bath.

Never use people shampoos on a cat. Some chemicals in shampoos intended for humans are too severe for a cat, despite the gentle-use claims on the bottle label. Plan ahead and buy a shampoo formulated for felines and prepare both the cat and the proper tools for the bath. Research the best techniques for calming the cat during a bath and make the bath a positive experience.

The grooming aisle of a pet supply store will offer a variety of shampoo options and related products. Choose a pet shampoo designed to treat your cat’s special needs. Many manufacturers are using botanicals and homeopathic oils to blend cleansing, deodorizing and medicated properties that are safe for use on animals.

Avoid pet shampoos that list any of the following as active ingredients:

  • Artificial dyes
  • Parabens
  • Sodium laurel sulphate
  • Petrochemicals

Cleansing and Deodorizing Shampoos

There are times when housemates really need a bath! This principle is true of humans and pets.

When your feline friend needs a fresh scent, try a gentle cleansing and deodorizing cat shampoo. Magic Coat Cat Tearless Shampoo (affiliate link) is a good choice. The all-natural formula is free of dyes, and it cleans, conditions and deodorizes with no detergents to irritate eyes.

Avoid getting shampoo in a cats ears, eyes or nose — regardless of the safe formula.

(Got an extra-tough problem? Read what to do if your cat gets skunked.)

Dry Skin, Dandruff and Coat Conditioning

Cats, especially older ones, may develop skin conditions that trigger excessive itching, flaking and dry the fur. Shampoos with natural oils such as chamomile and aloe vera help nourish the skin and fur and relieve itching. Espree Natural Silky Show Cat Shampoo is designed to soothe skin and moisturize brittle coats.

If the skin is irritated or has open sores, consult your veterinarian; there may be an infection present or other health issues that require medical attention.

Excessive Shedding and Hairballs

Cats shed — it is a fact of life. If your cat moves from the sofa and leaves half her coat on the cushions, you may want to investigate a shampoo designed to control excessive shedding. 8 in 1 Cat Shampoo is formulated to reduce shedding and hairballs, and it detangles. The moisturizing formula is all natural and detergent free.

Brushing between shampoos is an effective way to help your cat rid herself of excess fur and stimulate oils to condition the coat. Regular brushing becomes more necessary if your cat has long hair. If you do not remove the tangles before the bath, your cat’s hair may get matted.

Fleas, Mites and Tick Control

Fleas make life miserable for your cat and other warmblooded animals in your household — including humans.

The use of diluted Dawn Dish Detergent is gaining popularity for flea control on both cats and dogs. The product, used extensively during massive aquatic oil spill cleanup efforts, was approved for use on birds and other animals caught up in the greasy, sticky goop. Consult your vet for advice before using any product that is not specifically produced for animals. Also, never bathe a kitten younger than 6 weeks without the advice of your veterinarian.

Natural Chemistry Cat Shampoo is veterinarian-approved and effective. The ready-to-use botanical formula requires no mixing and is gentle to sensitive feline skin.

Don’t miss Pets Adviser’s expert guide to treating fleas on pets.

Waterless Shampoo

The option of bathing a cat with a waterless shampoo may achieve the desired effect without the stress of a water bath. There are several good waterless shampoo products on the market. These products are also designed to reduce hairballs, condition the coat and leave a fresh fragrance. Waterless shampoos for cats are available as sprays, towel wipes or powder formulas.

FURminator produces a line of popular, veterinarian-recommended shampoos that work well. Earthbath is another waterless shampoo option; this is a premoistened towelette sold in a dispenser. Hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, these wipes are easy and convenient.

Remember: everything in moderation. Bathing a cat too frequently can cause more harm to the animal than good. Use all available resources to your advantage to avoid the cat-astrophic results Agatha Christie suffered. By the way, eventually the cat’s bad dye job faded away, but she still hides under the bed at the slightest flash of pink!

Additional Resources

Photos: Waldo Jaquith (top) and sjephoto/Flickr


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