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Why Do Cats Hate Water? Science-Based Facts & FAQ

Genevieve Dugal

By Genevieve Dugal

cream tabby maine coon cat playing water

Cats are true neat freaks.

Indeed, felines are known for their impeccable hygiene, daily grooming time, and taste for freshwater. But they tend to divert from this trend when it comes to bathing. But is this the case for all cats? And, more importantly, do cats really hate water?

The answer to this question is not straightforward. Indeed, according to veterinarians and specialists, cats have a complex relationship with water, and, surprisingly, the majority of them even enjoy interacting with water. However, cats who have never had contact with water will react strongly if you dare to immerse them in a bath!

A Relationship with Water Between Fear and Fascination

Have you ever dazzled your kitten by simply turning on the tap water? Cats are indeed fascinated by water, especially running water. According to feline specialists, cats are attracted to flowing water because, from an evolutionary perspective, it appears fresher and uncontaminated. This is probably why your cat prefers to drink tap water rather than the stagnant water from their own bowl! But cats’ curiosity for water doesn’t mean they’re all crazy about getting in it: some cats really hate any contact with this transparent fluid.

A cat drinking water from the tap

The 4 Leading Theories Why Cats Dislike Water

Let’s explore the theories behind this strong aversion.

1. It makes them feel trapped

Cats, even domesticated ones, are essentially wild animals. They don’t like to feel trapped and certainly don’t appreciate the loss of control that comes with getting wet. So, unless it is on their own initiative, cats do not tolerate being immersed in water because then they can no longer control the situation.

In addition, when a cat is wet, its coat is much heavier, compromising its agility and mobility. The water will indeed weigh down the cat’s coat, which hinders its movements and makes it less fast and agile. A sensation that felines hate above all! Besides, a wet coat in cool weather can be very unpleasant for a cat since its hair can sometimes take quite a long time to dry.

A Persian Cat bathing

2. It harms their well-being and their calm

Most felines love water and are excellent swimmers (just think of tigers frolicking in their pools!). But what they don’t like is being immersed in it, let alone unexpectedly. Cats want to take things calmly and go at their own pace.

Your favorite felines are creatures of habit who don’t like surprises very much. Therefore, it is essential to teach them how to take a bath from an early age; otherwise, water could become an unpleasant experience for them, and it will forever have a negative connotation in your pet’s life.

3. They don’t like the unknown

Cats like to feel that they can control their environment and what goes on there. But, on the other hand, they are inquisitive creatures, but this is a discreet and cautious curiosity. Thus, before jumping entirely into the water, a cat will first judge the situation from a distance.

A Cat drinking water in the garden

4. They don’t like the smell of water

The smell of water is essential for a cat to be interested in it. This is because cats are animals with a strong sense of smell, and they can tell the difference between freshwater, which comes from natural sources, and water treated with chemicals.

It’s not surprising to see cats enjoying a natural fountain, well, and puddle, but grab their paws around their necks when you run bathwater in a tub.

Note: The theories described above are supported by a few studies and experts’ opinions, but there is still a lot to learn about the relationship between cats and water.

Can You Get Your Cat Used to Water?

Those who have tried it, know that bathing an adult cat can be a particularly complicated exercise. If a cat has never gotten used to the water, it can be very resistant to the idea. Therefore, it is better to start accustoming your animal to water when it is still a kitten.

Indeed, it seems that you can teach a cat to love water. Kittens are much less fearful than adult cats. A kitten exposed to water that’s used to being bathed from a very young age will be more inclined to like water and take pleasure in bath time. Obviously, this is only true if the experience was not traumatic! You must start gently and repeat the experience, without forcing it. Here are a few tips:

  • Wet a glove with a little lukewarm water and apply it to your animal
  • Talk to him to reassure him and give him treats
  • Always be gentle and patient
cat bath
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

Water tolerance also varies from cat to cat. Most cats don’t like to be splashed on the head, inside the ears, or in the eyes. The peculiarity of their coat, which retains water, explains why some cats hate baths. Indeed, once wet, in cold weather, a cat is unable to keep its heat.

Note: A cat that doesn’t want to be bathed shouldn’t be forced. Cats who have been accustomed to water from a young age are more likely to love water.

Are There Any Cat Breeds That Love Water?

Just because your own pet hates getting even the smallest droplet on its coat doesn’t mean that all cats dislike water. Some breeds do not have a particular aversion to this element, and there are even cats that enjoy taking a bath!

Certain breeds of cats are known to love water: the Bengal, the Abyssinian, or the Turkish Van (which is even called the “swimming cat”). Not only is the Turkish Van unafraid of the water, he is even comfortable there. This characteristic may be explained by the fact that his ancestors, originally from the region of Lake Van in Turkey, had to dive into the water in order to feed.

Another feline species, the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), hunts fish and crustaceans by diving and using its claws as hooks. It lives near swamps in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.

Bengal cat lying on the ground
Image Credit: Uschi Dugulin, Pixabay

What About the Big Cats?

Within the big cat family, the attraction to water seems different depending on the climate in which they live. Species in warm places, such as tigers, lions, or jaguars, love water. Swimming in the water points of the savannah is a way for them to cool off. On the contrary, snow leopards and other wild cats evolving in cold environments do not appreciate water because of their thick fur, which is no longer insulating when wet.

Final Thoughts:

In short, it is wrong to say that all cats hate water. Some breeds love it, but others will panic at the sight of water. The exact reasons for this behavior are still unknown, but experts agree that cats have a complex relationship with water. Besides, if the idea of entering the water comes from them, cats can become big fans of it. Also, it is easier to get kittens used to loving water, although this is not essential as cats are rather obsessed with keeping their coats clean.

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