Selecting the Right Shampoo or Conditioner for Cats

You smell a strange odor as your cat enters the room. Uh oh – it might be time for a bath! Bathing is sometimes a necessity for cats to maintain good health and keep him smelling and looking clean, as well as reducing shedding.

Bathing can also help you spot parasites such as fleas and ticks. But you need to find the right shampoo and conditioner. Don't reach for whatever you use! Pet shampoos are formulated specifically for cats; human shampoos can cause irritation.

Selecting the right shampoos and conditioners depends upon your pet's specific needs. If your pet has a chronic skin disease, check with your veterinarian before using any shampoo or conditioner.

How often your cat will need to be bathed depends on your pet's lifestyle. Cats that don't groom as well as they should or just seem to attract odors and debris may need a bath more frequently than the typical cat. Many cats go their entire lives without never needing a bath.


Before using any shampoo on your pet, protect the eyes with a drop of mineral oil or eye ointment. Place a little cotton in the ears to prevent water from reaching the ear canal. Remember to remove it when you are done.

Flea and Tick Control

Fleas or ticks on your pet requires immediate attention. Fleabites often induce allergic reactions that can cause your cat severe irritation and itching. They may scratch themselves to the point of skin damage and infection. Most flea shampoos contain mild short-acting ingredients that will kill the fleas rapidly but do not have a long residual effect. Check the label carefully for any warnings. Most flea products cannot be used on young kittens less than 6 weeks of age. Once the fleas are under control, talk to your veterinarian about flea prevention products.

Cleansing and Deodorizing Shampoo

These shampoos are formulated for the purpose of washing your pet to remove dirt, skin oils and dander. They are pleasantly scented and your choice may be made simply on what appeals to you. These shampoos are a good choice if your pet needs a routine bath.

Color Enhancers

If your cat is a solid color, there are shampoo formulations designed to bring out the natural shine and enhance the colors of cats. Cats that participate in shows are often bathed with color enhancing shampoos. These products do not contain any type of dye, just ingredients to help bring out the best in your cats natural color.

Medicated Shampoos

If your cat suffers from seasonal allergies or a mild skin irritation, a bath in a soothing shampoo may help to relieve inflammation and make your cat more comfortable. Shampoos formulated to combat itching often contain ingredients such as oatmeal, aloe or tea tree oil. Others may have medicinal ingredients like hydrocortisone, antihistamines or coal tar. Be sure to check with your veterinarian if your cat's skin does not improve.

Herbals, Botanicals and Organics

A variety of natural scents and oils are available in pet shampoos for their organic properties. Papaya and coconut are often used for moisturizing dry skin. Kiwi and citrus are used for their pleasant scent. Aloe and oatmeal are used for irritated skin. If you prefer a holistic approach to your pet's health care, an herbal shampoo is a good choice.

Waterless Shampoo

If your cat is fearful or won't tolerate water, there are several varieties of waterless shampoos. Available products include foaming mousse, dry shampoo powder and shampoo wipes. All of these products can be applied to a dry hair coat. Vigorous brushing removes the dirt picked up by the shampoo. These products also work well for "spot" bathing.

Allergy Relief

There's help if you are allergic to pet hair or dander. These shampoos are designed to help keep YOUR allergies under control by reducing shedding, dander and other irritants. Even if your cat has no skin problems of his own, these shampoos may help those pet owners who find themselves allergic to their pets.

Tearstain Remover

Although technically not a shampoo, tearstain removers will help remove the discoloration to the fur that results from chronic tear drainage. This is a common problem for breeds like the Persian or Himalayan. This solution is applied with a cotton ball or wipe helps keep this delicate area clean.


Conditioners are primarily used for cats with medium to long coats to help keep fur soft and tangle free. If your cat's fur has tangles or mats, they should be removed with appropriate brushes or mat combs. Conditioners are made with the same scents, oils and botanicals as shampoos. Some are "leave in" products; a small amount is applied for a smooth silky coat and left in for added conditioning. Others are applied and rinsed out, as you would shampoo. After applying a conditioning rinse, gently comb the coat until its tangle free and gently dry.