It’s a truth universally acknowledged that cats hate water. The internet is generously sprinkled with videos of cats falling into baths or fish tanks, causing them to all but levitate in sheer horror.
Sure, cats will splash about in their water bowls, or lick any drips from the bathroom faucet, but when it comes to larger bodies of water, they lose their sense of humor altogether.
So, what’s the deal?
Reasons your cat hates water
If you are looking for explanations, here are four possible reasons why cats don’t like water.
Most domestic cats are descendants of African wildcats that originated in arid climates with very few large bodies of water like rivers and lakes. As a result, these cats never needed to learn to swim. Even now, almost 10 000 years later, domestic cats will still avoid water.
Cats tend to avoid water because they can’t control it. A drip from the tap and a shallow puddle is one thing, a raging river is another.
Also, that luxurious fluffy coat that you love to stroke so much? It soaks up water like a thirsty sponge, weighing the kitty down and impacting their agility. Wet fur takes a long to dry and can get cold quickly too.
Additionally, water in a cat’s eyes and ears can impact their ability to assess nearby threats, leaving them more vulnerable to potential enemies.
Cats are purrfectionists
We assume cats are obsessive over their grooming only out of vanity, but it’s also a question of remaining in tip-top shape to tackle any dangers.
While water doesn’t have a particular odor to humans, the same is not true for cats. Cats can smell the chemicals in water and prefer not to be soaked through to avoid smelling that way all day.
Cats also secrete pheromones into their fur to mark their territory and communicate with others, so any submersion in water will remove this.
Many cats are afraid of water because of a past event, most commonly, from being caught out in a downpour, being sprayed with water, or being forcefully bathed or submerged. The shock of sudden wetness can linger and cause cats to avoid water at all costs.
As with all things, there are exceptions to the rule. There are some cats that like water.
Aside from the larger cats like lions and tigers who love a dip to cool off, many common domestic breeds are partial to a good splash in the water.
There are those cats that enjoy sticking a paw into their water bowl or lapping from a dripping tap. It can be a fun sensory experience (think sparkling surfaces, and trickling and gentle splashing sounds), as long as they still feel in control of the situation.
And then there are those exceptions to the ‘cats hate water’ rule. Abyssinians and Bengals are fearless and adventurous and will happily take to the water, while Maine Coons have coats that repel it. The Turkish van is a rare breed of cat that also has a water-resistant coat, and is also known as the ‘swimming cat’.
Can I get my cat to like water?
It is possible to get your cat used to water, but it will be a process and will need plenty of patience on your part.
Remember, cats are very easily overstimulated. Bathing them can be more of a horror story for them than you realize, from the way their fur feels when it’s wet, to the smell of any soaps and shampoos, and the sound of gushing, running water echoing in a tiled bathroom.
Bathing cats that are afraid of water
We’ve mentioned already that cats are pretty fastidious – they spend most of their days grooming, so are basically self-cleaning.
But, in a situation where you feel you must bath your cat, here are some helpful pointers to make the entire experience less traumatic for your cat and leave you far less scratched up after.
Prepare things ahead of time so everything you need is easy to reach – shampoo (choose one formulated for cats), treats, toys, a cup or jug to pour with, and a fluffy, warm towel to wrap them up in after.
It’s a good idea to place a towel or a rubber mat in the bottom of the tub to give your cat more grip and security. A slippery tub floor will leave your cat feeling vulnerable and more stressed.
Keep things calm and peaceful
The aim here is to ensure that you cause as little stress as possible. Fill the tub beforehand as the sound of running water can be alarming to your kitty. Also, keep the water level in the tub low so your cat doesn’t feel too threatened.
Avoid loud noises. Keep the door closed to manage any noise from outside, and give your cat loads of reassuring, calm praise.
Be firm but gentle
Your cat is likely to feel very vulnerable during a bath. Restrain them firmly, but don’t be too rough as this will stress them out. Your cat’s bath time should never resemble an amateur wrestling match.
Pay attention to your kitty’s body language. If they are looking overwhelmed and stressed out, don’t force it. Give them plenty of praise and treats to create a positive environment.
Use a cup not the faucet
When it’s time to rinse, a cup or jug will be far less frightening to your cat than a noisy faucet or handheld shower. It’s always preferable to clean a small area than to submerge your cat’s entire body.
Go slowly and make sure to get all the suds out to avoid any skin irritation. Also, your cat will likely groom themselves immediately after their bath, and you don’t want them ingesting any lingering shampoo.
It is important to avoid wetting your cat’s head; their ears and eyes are extremely sensitive, as are their whiskers. Getting water on their face will almost guarantee an angry kitty.
Towel-dry in a warm room
No prizes for guessing that coming at your already shaken up kitty with a roaring blow dryer will end badly.
A warm, soft, fluffy towel will do just fine. Give your cat a gentle rub down and let them do the rest. Keep your kitty in a warm room away from drafts and don’t let them outside until they’re fully dry so they don’t catch a cold.
Give treats then leave
Shower your feline with plenty of praise and treats and then retreat so they can decompress from the ordeal. They’re likely overstimulated and need their space at this point.
When your cat seems to have recovered from the experience, why not dedicate some playtime to give them a healthy outlet from any excess stimulation and to reestablish a positive vibe.
For those who survived bathing their cats, we have an article about cat skin, coat, and dental care.