What’s the best waterless shampoo for cats? Does waterless shampoo work on cats?  These are great questions and ones I am asked often.

It truly would be a godsend to have “miracle in a bottle” waterless shampoo to apply to a cat’s coat, leaving it clean, lustrous, mat-free, and rid of grease with very little effort.  But the reality of the situation is that nothing works to achieve the desired results like a good, old-fashioned bath with shampoo and water. Because cats are greasy, the shampoo used needs to be one that does a thorough job of removing grease and oily residue from both the skin and coat.

Many cat owners and groomers are under the impression that cats have dandruff because they have dry skin.  Unless a cat has some strange health issue that is causing dry skin (I’ve yet to encounter this in all my years of cat grooming), the dandruff is a result of dead, dirty, greasy skin that needs to be scrubbed with a good shampoo and lots of water.  Rubbing a waterless shampoo into the coat, whether it be in the form of a powder, mousse, or spray, does nothing to remove the grease, dandruff and filth from a cat’s coat.  Waterless shampoo, in any form, may mask bad odors but will do little else. And sometimes waterless shampoo can exacerbate any problems a cat already has, making mats or tangles worse or increasing the amount of dandruff (dead, flaky skin).

Think of it this way……..if you did not wash your hair for 6 years, would you consider your head/hair clean after simply applying a foam or mousse and then towel drying and combing out?  Would you consider your hair clean if you sprinkled some flowery-scented powder over your head and then combed out your hair?  What about after spritzing your head with a bottle of waterless shampoo spray?

Take it a step further and consider what it would be like to not bathe at all for 5 or 6 years (or even a whole decade!) and then take a “bath” by spritzing a little misty fragrance over your body.  I wouldn’t want to be around you, that’s for sure!!

Add to the scenario that a cat has been in a litter pan for all of those years, whether just stepping into the box several times a day or lying down in it for a nap.  Add a bit of petrified poo or some urine dribbled down the inside of the legs.  And then there’s the ear wax buildup, tear staining, gunk in the nails, and large mat on the back hip or behind the ears.  I don’t care what the claims are on a bottle of waterless shampoo, nothing short of shampoo, water, and a good scrub are going to get rid of the filth, grime, germs, oil, and dead skin.

So why is it that waterless shampoo is even considered for use on cats?  Most likely because it has been believed for so long that cats “groom” themselves and/or that they hate water.  Neither of these myths are true. (For more on dispelling these myths read the Ultimate Cat Groomer Encyclopedia.)

No cat grooms itself.

They lick a lot, which is nothing like true grooming whereby clippers, trimmers, shampoo, water, combs and such are used to actually clean the skin and coat, remove debris and mats and a whole lot more.  Define “groom”.  Is it cleaning, trimming, and rectifying problems with skin and coat or is it merely licking and applying saliva to an already dirty coat.  As a groom, I do the former.  I do not lick cats (gross!) and they do not groom themselves.  (Imagine if your hair dresser “groomed” you by licking your head while you sat in the chair and then sent you home all covered in saliva.  Or better yet, your hair stylist instructs you to sit in their chair and lick yourself before calling it a day and charging you a fee for the “groom” that was just performed.  Dog grooming = cat grooming…….in other words, the things you do to a dog to consider it “groomed” and ready to go home after the owner pays a fee should also apply to a cat.)

The majority of cats can be acclimated to the bathing process with very little difficulty.  Many will learn to enjoy the bathing process.  It’s true that a few cats will go nuts when faced with water, however, these are typically feral cats.  In my experience, even some of those crazy kitties can learn to go through the bathing process without incident if they are handled in such a manner that it is non-threatening and out of control.  This takes skill, strength, and understanding the nature of felines.  (and some might say, it also takes suicidal tendencies.)

When a cat is presented for grooming it is usually because there are issues that need to be taken care of. It might be that the cat is matted, dirty, smelly, shedding profusely, or covered in dandruff – to name just a few issues.  How will waterless shampoo (in mousse, powder or spray form) rectify any of these issues? Waterless shampoo with fragrance may cover up the smell, but the effects will only be temporary.  The products will do nothing for the other problems. Therefore, it is a disservice to the cat and the owner to even offer a “groom” of this type.  I believe that, as professional groomers, we have a duty and responsibility to be as educated as possible about the animals we handle and to offer our clients options that are truly effective.  Offering a “mask” that covers up a problem but doesn’t fix the problem is any easy out for the groomer but does nothing to show care for animal and the needs of the client. If you are giving your clients substandard options, stop doing so!

If you are offering substandard because it’s all you know to do, I can appreciate that. For too long, that was the way of things. Not anymore.  Today there are better options available to you and your clients.

So what about the special situations?  The elderly fragile cats with serious health concerns?  Aren’t they candidates for waterless shampoo?  These are both valid questions.The fact remains that waterless shampoo still doesn’t really fix anything. It doesn’t remove the build up of greasy skin, dead hair, dust and dirt the cat lives around. It is only working as a flimsy bandaid to a problem, instead of working towards a full solution. Eventually, the cat will need a more substantial grooming appointment – whether a boatload of dead, shedding hair is removed, or significant matting needs to be shaved out – neither of which are ideal situations for these special situations or elderly cats. However, introducing them to the bathing process is significantly more effective and less stressful for the cat.

I believe unusual situations call for creative solutions, good communication, special handling and a dose of resourcefulness.  There are effective ways of handling such scenarios without the use of a “shampoo” that isn’t really a shampoo.

So, the question really is – why aren’t you bathing cats?

My guess is one of two reasons: 1) you don’t believe that cats need bathing (which, after reading the above, isn’t applicable anymore, see also our Grossness series of articles). The second reason is that you aren’t very comfortable bathing cats of all different temperament types. Which is completely understandable. Most dog grooming schools are programs completely glaze over cat grooming entirely, and very few go as far as bathing cats at all. However, we have found with a bit of education and training, the groomer can bathe the majority of their cat clients while limiting stress and any aggressive behaviors. Check out our cat bathing online class – The Bath: Why and How, or dive right in to our full program the Complete Cat Groomer Training Syllabus to learn more.

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