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Cats are extremely clean creatures and regularly self-groom, spending around 5 hours every single day cleaning themselves. However, cats sometimes can roll in something messy, shed a lot of fur, or occasionally stop grooming. As owners, it is our responsibility to give them a helping hand if and when this happens.
The first time I had to clean my cat, my son was still a baby, which gave me a thought: Can you use baby wipes on cats? This seemed like a safe and convenient solution that I already had on hand! Plus, baby wipes are miles cheaper than any cat cleaning wipes. However, after doing a little research, it turns out baby wipes are not safe for cats.
I was surprised as baby wipes are extremely soft and gentle, designed for a baby’s delicate and sensitive skin. But there are actually several reasons why you should avoid using baby wipes on your feline which I will run through in this article, along with some great alternatives.
Are Baby Wipes Safe for Cats?
If you’re looking for a quick answer to this question then here it is: no, baby wipes are not safe for cats. You cannot use baby wipes on a cat’s ears, eyes, paws, face, or anywhere else on their body.
Although baby wipes may seem like an inexpensive and convenient alternative to cat-specific cleaning products, they are not safe for cats because they contain several harmful chemicals. I was so surprised to find all these chemicals are commonly found in baby wipes, despite them being termed “gentle” or made for “sensitive skin”.
These chemicals could give your cat skin irritation or discomfort, cause respiratory illness, or even have the potential to cause cancer. As cats are notoriously good self-groomers, they may also ingest some of these ingredients. This makes them even more dangerous, and so cleaning your cat with baby wipes should be avoided.
Why Aren’t Baby Wipes Safe for Cats?
As I already mentioned, you cannot use baby wipes on cats as some of the chemicals commonly found in wipes can irritate your cat and cause discomfort. Of course, each brand of baby wipes does have a different list of ingredients, and so the effect they have on your feline will vary from brand to brand. But, as a general rule of thumb, what are baby wipes made from?
The main ingredient in baby wipes is water, which obviously won’t cause your cat harm. However, the function of water in baby wipes is to carry all the other ingredients, which consist of detergents and surfactants, preservatives, moisturizing agents, and sometimes fragrances, be that natural or artificial.
Whereas water will cause no harm, all of these other ingredients have the potential to irritate your cat. Here’s a closer look at what ingredients make baby wipes unsuitable for your pet – and potentially your baby too!
To prevent mold and bacterial growth on baby wipes, they contain preservatives. Many different preservatives are used, and some are worse for the skin and overall health of your cat than others. Unfortunately, preservatives have long chemical names which make it difficult to fully understand what preservatives wipes contain.
Of all preservatives, one commonly found in baby wipes is phenoxyethanol, which was found in over 50% of baby wipes according to one study, including popular brands like Huggies, Pampers, and Aden & Anais. Although US safety standards ensure baby wipes don’t contain this ingredient in high quantities, it is a very controversial preservative and it is best to avoid it where possible.
Exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to eczema in babies, for who these wipes are specifically designed. So, just imagine what it could be doing to your cat, an animal that these wipes will have never been tried and tested on! This chemical will likely cause your cat to suffer from skin irritation, dryness, and itchiness.
Another issue with phenoxyethanol and other commonly-used preservatives is that they break down into formaldehyde, another dangerous chemical. This can irritate the eyes and upper respiratory tract, and so any cats that suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions have even more reason to steer clear of baby wipes.
As formaldehyde is also what the preservatives in the wipes break down to form, this chemical will be left behind on your cat’s fur. Next time they groom themselves, they may ingest it. Studies have found that when given orally, formaldehyde is toxic to cats and has carcinogenic properties.
Because the purpose of using baby wipes is to clean the skin, it should come as no surprise that they contain cleaning molecules. These types of molecules are called surfactants and they work by tightly binding to the dirt and oils on the skin to remove them as you wipe.
Unfortunately, surfactants can also bind to fats in the membrane of the skin and remove these, which can damage the skin barrier when used frequently. This can lead to dryness and irritation. Also, it makes infection more likely as the weakened skin barrier more readily lets toxins enter the body and infect your cat.
The damage caused to your cat by the surfactants again depends on the ones present in the wipes in question. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is commonly found in baby wipes and has been shown to strip and damage the skin with repeated use, but other surfactants have similar negative effects too.
3. Perfumes & Fragrances
Many baby wipes are unscented or fragrance-free, which is great. However, any that are perfumed such as Huggies Nourish & Care wipes often are unsafe for cats.
This is especially true for artificial fragrances which are made from a range of chemicals. By law, manufacturers don’t have to disclose exactly what chemicals these artificial fragrances are made from, and so often this information is not clearly displayed on the package. These chemicals, however, can have drying effects on the skin or cause respiratory distress or illness.
On the other hand, some wipes contain natural fragrances. You may think that as these are natural they’re safe for cats, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, lavender is a commonly-used fragrance in baby wipes thanks to its calming and soothing effects on humans. However, this is toxic to cats even in tiny doses.
Cats are also extremely sensitive to smell, and so strong and powerful fragrances that we think smell great can be overwhelming to cats and cause your kitty to feel extreme distress. Fragrances that cats hate include citrus smells, lavender, and menthol, all of which are commonly found in soaps and cleaning products such as baby wipes.
4. Propylene Glycol & Polyethylene Glycol
Propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, known as humectants, are often added to baby wipes to help moisturize the skin and prevent it from drying out. In fact, propylene glycol is one of the main ingredients in anti-freeze for this very reason.
This may sound like a benefit of baby wipes rather than a drawback as most of the issues with baby wipes come from excessive drying of the skin. However, these two chemicals also have a less favorable function: they open up the pores in the skin.
By opening up the pores, the other chemicals can work their way into the skin more easily. Because of the number of other dangerous chemicals found in baby wipes that are unsafe for cats, propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol are extremely harmful, worsening the effects of the other chemicals in the wipes by enhancing their absorption.
Additionally, both of these humectants can easily be absorbed into the skin themselves, and studies have found they have carcinogenic properties, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer. Also, ingesting these chemicals in small amounts won’t cause your cat harm, but they have low toxicity and can cause complications if high doses are taken.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent which slows the growth of germs, and it has been used for decades in many over-the-counter antibacterial products, from wipes and hand sanitizer to toothpaste. It also used to be in antibacterial hand and body wash, but the FDA issued a new rule in 2016 which banned it from being used in wash-off products.
Whereas triclosan isn’t always present in baby wipes, especially after the FDA’s ruling for its ban in consumer hand wash, if it is present it can be extremely dangerous. Even exposure to low doses of this substance can cause problems, and your cat could easily ingest the agent when self-grooming after you have wiped them.
The major concern of triclosan and pets is related to colon issues as it is known to cause inflammation of the colon. It can also increase the incidence of colitis which can cause inflammatory bowel disease and is even thought to increase the risk of colon cancer, even upon low exposure. Ingesting triclosan can contribute to thyroid issues and skin problems.
For this reason, you should never use products containing triclosan on your cat.
Safe Alternatives to Baby Wipes for Cats
Wipes would be great for cleaning small areas of your cat that are covered in dirt and as a fantastic alternative to a whole body wash. For example, cleaning a cat’s ears, eyes, paws, or face. Besides, using wipes would mean you can avoid the commotion of trying to get your water-hating feline into the bathtub!
However, from this large list of dangerous ingredients and potential complications and side effects, it is clear to see why we cannot use baby wipes to clean our cats. But, that doesn’t mean keeping your cat clean needs to be difficult!
Thankfully, there are some great alternatives that also make for easy cleaning, but safely.
Damp Towels & Cloths
You can safely use a damp towel or paper cloth to clean a specific area of your cat. Simply rub the damp towel gently over the area that needs cleaning and the dirt should start to lift. The cloth should only be damp and not dripping wet, but for more stubborn areas you should try holding the towel on the area for a little while before rubbing. This will add moisture to the dirt and help it lift more easily.
Moreover, you don’t have to use a towel or cloth if you are targeting a small area. For example, using a cotton bud dampened with water may be better suited for cleaning your cat’s ears. Similarly, a cotton pad will be softer and a better size for cleaning away any discharge around your cat’s eyes.
If using a damp towel or cloth doesn’t work, you can try using soaking the towel in a solution made from baking soda and water. Baking soda is great at clinging onto dirt, oils, and odors, and so will help to shift any stubborn residue.
To try this, dissolve 1 tablespoon of baking soda in 6 cups of water and then use this solution to moisten the towel or cloth you’re using. Whereas baking soda is safe for cats and won’t cause skin irritation, ingesting large amounts can cause sickness. For this reason, I only recommend using baking soda when cleaning a small stubborn patch of dirt away.
Pet Wipes for Cats
You can also invest in a packet of pet wipes for cats that you can pick up from your local pet store. These can be used in the exact same way as baby wipes but they come with one huge benefit – they don’t cause any adverse side effects. These wipes have been made with cats in mind, and so are pet-friendly and free from any harmful substances.
That being said, as with baby wipes, cat cleaning wipes can be made from a range of different chemicals that varies from brand to brand. The best cat wipes will be unscented, are made from natural ingredients, and don’t contain any of the chemicals I have mentioned.
Some brands will also offer different wipes for different areas of your cat’s body. For example, wipes for their paws, eyes, ears, or face. You will also be able to get antibacterial wipes for cats which are great for cleaning sensitive areas. If you know you are looking to clean a specific area, you should be sure to purchase wipes intended specifically for this purpose.
Wondering how to clean a cat with wipes? It’s easy – simply wipe them from their head to their tail, or rub the wipes over a specific area that is covered in dirt.
You can also clean your cat the old-fashioned way – using a hairbrush for cats. While this isn’t as great at cleaning specific areas, such as if your cat has rolled in something sticky, regular brushing can help to keep your cat clean and reduce shedding. Most cats also love being brushed and this activity can help form a close bond between the two of you.
When brushing your cat, always brush in the direction of the hair growth and pass the brush gently through their coat. If you have a long-haired cat, a pin brush is better at detangling the fur and you can then use a slicker brush to tackle the shedding and dander. If you have a short-haired cat, you can just go straight in with the slicker brush.
In some cases, dabbing with a wet cloth, cleaning your cat with wipes, or brushing their fur just doesn’t cut the mustard. In this case, it is time to take a trip to the dreaded bathtub. Your cat may not take well to bathing initially, as cats are known for despising water. However, if you bathe your cat regularly they will soon learn it is nothing to be scared of.
To bathe your cat in the tub or sink, put a towel in the base of the sink and wet it with lukewarm water. Once fully saturated, pop your kitty on top and gently spray them with the water, being careful not to spray any aggressively in their face. You can then lather your cat with shampoo, rinse this off completely, and hand dry them with a clean dry towel.
But hold up – if baby wipes are unsafe for felines, can I use human shampoo on my cat? No, you cannot! When bathing your cat, you will need to use a cat-friendly shampoo that has been specifically designed for use on felines, not humans. These are totally safe for use on cats and won’t come with any adverse effects.
To summarize, you cannot use baby wipes on cats, at least not safely. They contain lots of chemical ingredients which can cause skin irritation, respiratory illness, or even toxicity. If your cat accidentally ingests any of the chemicals it can cause even further complications.
Thankfully, there are safe alternatives such as cat cleaning wipes which are made to be pet-friendly. You could also use a damp cloth or paper towel to clean certain areas, and regular brushing will help to keep your cat clean over time. Otherwise, it may be time to bite the bullet and give your cat a scrub in the tub!