Are Cats Afraid of Water?

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Fact checked by  Dr. Lizzie Youens BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS
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Blue tabby and white Maine Coon cat playfully interacting with water

Some big cats, like tigers, are known to enjoy a dip in the water to cool off or hunt prey. But most domestic cats – despite a fascination with dripping taps – seem to avoid getting wet at all costs. This might be because they evolved from desert cats, who would have had very little exposure to water. Or maybe they just don’t like the feeling of a heavy wet coat weighing them down.

We will probably never know for sure exactly where cat’s fear of water comes from, but this article will explore the theories about why they are afraid of water, which breeds are an exception to that rule, and whether it’s possible to teach cats to love water instead.

Key Takeaways

Cat's fear of water may be a trait inherited from their desert-dwelling ancestors, who had little contact with water and therefore did not evolve to swim

A few breeds of cats are known for their unusual love of water. This includes Maine Coons, and the Turkish Van (actually nicknamed 'The Swimming Cat').

If your cat is afraid of water it is best to respect that fear, rather than try to teach them to like it.

5 Reasons Why Cats Hate Water

Not all cats hate water. Some cats love nothing more than chasing a stream of water down the pavement or sticking their paw in a fishbowl. Moving water can be a source of fascination for many cats. But as a rule, almost all pet cats hate getting wet. So, why do our cats feel so differently from their tiger cousins?

1. Their Wild Cat Ancestors Lived in the Desert

Your cat’s ancestors lived in dry, desert lands where they would have had very little contact with water. This is why, even thousands of years later, your cat copes so well in the heat and doesn’t need to drink a lot compared to other pets.

Experts believe it might also explain why they show such an aversion to getting wet. Their ancestors had little need (or opportunity) to enter the water, so your cat just hasn’t evolved to be a water baby. They’re probably far happier sunning themselves on a nice warm day!

2. Wet Coats Are Uncomfortable

Cats haven’t evolved to spend time in water, so neither has their fur.  When cats get wet their fur absorbs the water and becomes heavy – a bit like walking around wearing a big wet coat. As cats love to be agile and spend a lot of time grooming, a wet coat can be very uncomfortable and restrictive. They also take a long time to dry out.

All in all, your cat would rather stay dry.

3. Getting Wet Removes Their Natural Scent

Owner gently giving a Bengal cat a bath

Getting wet makes cats’ coats heavy and washes away familiar scents.

Cats have scent glands all over their bodies. These glands secrete pheromones that are unique to your cat and signal different things. For instance, when your cat rubs up against you, they are leaving a message to themselves that you are a friend.

These pheromones are important to your cat and play a vital role in how they communicate with the world around them. Getting submerged in water can remove these special smells that they spend so long spreading around, which can be disorientating and confusing for them.

4. Their Sensitive Sense of Smell

In addition to producing a huge array of pheromonal smells, cats are also extremely good at detecting them. They have approximately forty times more scent receptors in their nose than we do. This means they can sniff out all sorts of chemicals and dissolved substances in tap water that we couldn’t possibly detect, which may be off-putting to our fussy felines. Their sensitive nose is thought to be another reason why cats seem to hate water so much.

5. Negative Experiences

As well as inheriting traits from their desert-dwelling ancestors, cats are impacted by experiences in their own lifetimes. Your cat might hate the idea of water because they had a shock in the past falling in the bathtub or being squirted with a water gun. Of course, not all cats who dislike water have had a bad experience.

And not all cats hate water…

Also Read: The 10 Things That Cats Hate Most

Which Cat Breeds Love Water?

There are some breeds of cats that break the rules when it comes to water, and I’m not talking about tigers. Some of these breeds have an unusual affinity to water because they are known for their outgoing and inquisitive personalities, like Bengals. Others (such as the Turkish Van) have special water-resistant coats which make getting wet more enjoyable.

These breeds are more water-loving than your average domestic kitty:

However, every cat is an individual. Even most Turkish Van cats (nicknamed ‘The Swimming Cat’ due to their unusual love of swimming) do not usually enjoy taking a bath.

Can You Teach a Cat To Love Water?

Cat joyfully engaging with water during playtime

Many cats are curious and inquisitive around water, but most dislike actually getting fully wet.

Some cats do seem to have a fascination with water, particularly when it is moving. In this case, you can encourage their natural curiosity with some simple water games. For instance, try putting a few of their favorite treats into a bowl of water for them to fish out. Bottle caps, ping pong balls, and plastic cat toys also work well if they aren’t so keen on soggy treats. Equally, many cats are just as entertained by a dripping tap!

However, whilst some cats may take pleasure from playing with water, it is very unlikely they will voluntarily enter it (unless they are a breed known for swimming). It’s important not to force the issue, as pressuring cats into water can just scare or stress them. There are far more rewarding ways to spend time with your cat than trying to teach them to love water. It just isn’t what cats are about.

If you need to bath your cat – for example, if recommended by a veterinarian to treat a skin condition, or to remove a noxious substance – then there are ways to help keep your cat calm during the experience. Use a small tub with a non-slip mat rather than a large bath, keep the water warm and shallow and dry your cat off with a towel as much as possible afterwards to avoid them being cold and wet.

Also Read: How Much Water Should A Cat Drink?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats dislike still water?

Most domestic cats dislike water, particularly still or large bodies of water (like a bath!). This might be because their ancestors lived in the desert where they had little contact with water. However, many cats enjoy playing with moving water, like a dripping tap. Their instincts might tell them that running water is more likely to be safe than still water.

How do I get my cat to like water?

For most cats, their fear of water is hard-wired. You might be able to encourage a curious cat to play with water by placing a few floating toys in a water bowl. But if your cat really dislikes water, it is probably kindest to respect that.

Do cats swim?

Most domestic cats dislike water, particularly entering a large body of water, and hate getting wet. But there are some breeds of cats, like the Turkish Van, which are famous for their unusual affinity for water. In fact, the Turkish Van cat is nicknamed 'The Swimming Cat' because of their love for swimming.

Are cats actually scared of water?

Most cats certainly dislike getting wet. Their coats absorb water, making them heavy and uncomfortable when wet. Whilst many cats will enjoy playing with a dripping tap or sticking their paw in a fish bowl, most cats are afraid of large bodies of water and hate getting their coats wet.

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About Dr. Nat Scroggie MRCVS

Nat is a keen runner and has a passion for wellbeing, both within and outside the veterinary profession where she works hard to support others in their own wellbeing. She lives in Nottingham with her partner, their young baby and their beloved 14 year old lab x collie, Milly.

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