Why Do Cats Hate Water? Do They Actually?

By Sara Ochoa, DVM March 27, 2019

Have you ever tried giving a cat a bath? If so, you probably know all too well that cats typically won’t go in without a fight! Many cats are apt to bring the claws out to escape any body of water. But why? Can cats learn to love H2O? Read on to find out!

Reasons Cats Hate Water

Scientists have speculated that this aversion to water may stem from our feline friends' very long history spanning thousands of years in which they populated the more dry/arid regions of the world. From early on, cats did not acquire a lot of experience in or around water to become accustomed to its properties. Moreover, given their proclivity towards excellent personal hygiene, they likely do not enjoy the arduous task of grooming a thick wet coat. Cats groom themselves with a specially designed tongue that is covered with tiny little barbs that act as a brush. Since they spend a third of their waking hours grooming with the aid of their tongue, the use of water really isn't necessary unless they become very filthy. Imagine brushing your hair for an hour only to step outside and have rain mess it all up again. Cats share the same disdain for such experiences!

Another plausible reason cats may dislike water is because they have a very sensitive sense of smell. Since chemicals such as chlorine are in human processed water, it may be very irritating.

Can Cats Swim?

All cats have the natural ability to swim, they just don’t know it. Big cats like tigers and jaguars are exceedingly proficient swimmers, and they even hunt in the water. Domestic cats have the ability, but they do not have the interest. As stated before, they have never had a reason to.

Much like humans, cats are born with the innate ability to swim, but for some reason many never quite grasp the concept and overreact when they happen to fall in a swimming pool or bathtub. Sometimes the situation can lead to severe consequences like drowning. It is always recommended to supervise any events where your cat may be subject to full immersion. Think of them the same way you would a small child. There are countless videos on the internet of human babies being taught how to float and get to safety. But without being taught how, your cat simply won’t know what to do and could be placed in a potentially life-threatening situation. So, to answer the question of whether or not cats can swim: Yes, but it doesn’t mean they will.

Do All Cats Hate Water?

Asking if all cats hate water is like asking  if all people hate anchovies on their pizza. A grey tabby may claw, bite, and run up the walls to get out of the bathtub, while its sibling of the same breed may calmly sit and enjoy the warmth of the water. There really is no definitive evidence as to why some cats react badly and others do not. Even cats of a breed known to love water, such as the Abyssinian can have a bad reaction when they are introduced to a bath. So, do all cats hate water? Simply put, some do and some don't. It really depends solely on the individual cat.

For instance, it has been speculated that the main reason the Turkish Van seems to enjoy being in water is because their fur differs from that of most other domestic cats. Their fur has evolved to be much more water resistant and it doesn't get bogged down when they swim. It also dries much faster than others. Furthermore, it is thought that Abyssinian, Maine Coon, and Bengal cats are more likely to enjoy water because they come from hotter, drier regions where water is more of a respite from the heat of the day. But before you go and buy a Turkish Van (swimming cat), Maine Coon, or any other water-loving breed, keep in mind that pure breeds are expensive and there is no guarantee that they will like to get wet. Cats from each of these breeds have been observed rejecting being wet just like any other breed. Ultimately, it all boils down to what the individual cat is comfortable with.

How To Give Your Cat a Bath

Unfortunately, trying to bathe your cat can lead to being scratched or even bitten, so you should always introduce the idea of bathing slowly and gently. When your cat resists, they are not trying to be malicious - they are simply trying to remove themselves from a very uncomfortable situation as fast as possible, even if that means going through you to get away.

As with any species, it is helpful to start training cats young. For several reasons, training at an early age can be beneficial to the trainer as well as the trainee. One reason is that a kitten is much more manageable than a full grown cat. They may tend to be more compliant because they haven’t learned that water is something to fear. Another reason is that when your kitten is learning to bathe, it can be a wonderful bonding experience for you both. When introducing your kitten to bathing, it is imperative to start slow. Don’t hope for the best and just dunk them in the water. You don't want them to associate water with such a negative experience!

First, start by letting your kitten play with toys in the tub or sink without any water. This is to help them feel like the sink is a fun and safe place to be. Once they seem comfortable playing in that area, let the faucet drip therefore enticing their interest in water. No matter how much a cat may hate bathing, almost all cats love to at least play with running water. This is probably because it simulates a trickling brook or waterfall. When they become more comfortable with the faucet dripping, you may gradually begin to increase the flow until they feel comfortable standing in it. The water level should never exceed elbow height since a shallow pool is sufficient for bathing. At this point, playtime is very important and light splashing may be tolerated or even welcomed. Show your kitten that it is fun to play with their toys and splash around and that you will be there to help dry them off after. Most kittens love snuggling in a nice warm towel when bathtime is over. The most important part of bathtime is building trust, and under no circumstances should your kitten ever be left unattended.

So, why do cats hate water? Well they don’t necessarily hate it.  They just haven’t had any reason to learn to love it - not yet, that is! With some patience and training, your cat can learn to look forward to enjoying their bath time.

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