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While wild big cats like tigers and jaguars are often seen swimming or relaxing in rivers, house cats seem to have a reputation for hating water. Do cats hate water? Is this reputation accurate?
Like in any species, there are bound to be cats that hate water. However, on the flip side, there are also cats that enjoy being in water. These two sides each have their own reasons. While cats who dislike water tend to dislike new experiences and how water makes them feel, many cats who like water seem to have distinct advantages compared to their counterparts, including the unique texture of their fur.1
In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the reasons why cats hate water and some cat breeds that like water. We will also answer a few commonly asked questions regarding caring for a cat that dislikes water. If you want to learn more about your cat’s relationship with water, keep reading.
Reasons Why Cats Dislike Water
Why do cats not like water? Water keeps us clean, helps flush out toxins in our body, and relieves fatigue. Water is the source of all life, so why do some cats seem to avoid it as much as they can?
Of course, not all cats dislike water, but it does seem to be the norm. From evolutionary reasons to past traumatic experiences, here are some reasons why your cat may hate water.
They Dislike New Experiences
Cats are creatures of routine. Observing your cat day to day, you may have noticed that they follow a strict routine. From sleeping to grooming to eating to playing, they have a designated time slot for all of their favorite activities.
A small change in your cat’s routine or environment can easily stress them out. No matter how minor it may seem to you, adding a new piece of furniture to a room or switching to a new brand of wet food can cause your cat to spiral, not to mention bigger events like welcoming a baby or a new kitten into the home.
Other than showcasing their discontent by excessively meowing, studies have shown that cats will go to extreme measures to express their distaste for change, going as far as faking an illness.2 If you see your cat acting out or showcasing signs of cat anxiety due to a change or new experience, know that they are not doing so to spite you. Instead, it’s important to look for ways to help them through what they are dealing with.
After getting a clear idea of cats’ aversion to change, it becomes easier to understand why cats also dislike new experiences. A cat taking a bath for the first time may completely loathe the experience just because they’ve never encountered anything like it before. They are afraid of the intangibles and the unknown. This is why it is important to get your cat slowly used to the idea of taking a bath in case you ever need to bathe them. Desensitizing them to water won’t make being soaked such a shock to their system.
Their Desert-Dwelling Ancestors
All of today’s domestic cats share a common ancestor — the North African wildcat, also known by its scientific name Felis silvestris lybica.3 These cats lived mostly in dry, arid deserts, so they had little need to ever cross any bodies of water. Never having to learn how to swim, it’s likely that their unfamiliarity with water has been passed down generation by generation.
Water Masks Their Natural Smell
Another reason why cats hate water is that being wet masks their natural smell. Cats are extremely cleanly and fastidious animals, spending around 30 to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves. They even have tongues that are built for this exact task, with little keratin barbs covering their tongue to help them untangle their hair and dislodge any dirt and debris.
While taking a shower makes us humans feel clean and fresh, to cats, getting their meticulously groomed coat completely soaked nullifies their hours of arduous labor. Cats also have a much keener sense of smell compared to humans. In fact, a cat’s sense of smell is roughly 14 times better than a humans. A cat has 200 million odor sensors in their nose, while humans only have around 5 million.4
Because of this, while we may not think water smells like anything at all, cats may think it smells weird. There is a very valid reason why cats do not like smelling like anything other than themselves as well. Cats groom themselves to stay clean, regulate their temperature, and promote circulation, but another important reason is that grooming keeps them as scent-free as possible. This helps them evade predators. A groomed coat is almost like an invisible cloak.
Water on a cat’s coat masks their natural, “odorless” scent and creates more work for them.
Water Weighs Them Down
While cats don’t prefer the smell of water, they really dislike the feeling of water. Cats are predators to small rodents, birds, and insects, but in the grand scheme of things, they are still very much prey.
So, why don’t cats like water? In addition to being uncomfortable, having their coat completely drenched limits their range of motion and slows them down. Although house cats no longer have to worry about any dangers of the wilderness, it is their instinct to want to remain as fast and nimble as possible, in case of an emergency.
They No Longer Feel In Control
Many of the above mentioned reasons play into cats’ desire to always have things in their control. When you suddenly bathe your cat, they feel as if they are no longer in control.
Rather than your cat actually hating water, this is more about forcing them to interact with water when they don’t want to. For example, when you have the faucet on, you’ll notice that your cat may act very interested in the stream of flowing water coming out. They may even paw at it or drink from the faucet. Cats can like water when they choose to, but they dislike water when they are not in complete control.
If your cat has accidentally fallen into water or been caught in a downpour before, they may have created a negative association with water. Even a poorly planned past bath experience can trigger bad memories in the future.
When giving your cat a bath, it is important to start slowly. Getting them acquainted with the water is a very important step that should not be skipped. You never know when you will need to give your cat an emergency bath, so it’s crucial to start this process as early as possible.
Do All Cats Hate Water?
Do cat’s hate water? The answer to this question is complicated. While we’ve given you some reasons as to why cats don’t like water, it is also important to keep in mind that not all cats dislike water. Below we will discuss 4 breeds that tend to like water, and even if your cat is a different breed, whether a cat hates water or not is decided on an individual basis. Many cats seem to like water when they are interacting with it of their own volition.
Cats Breeds That Like Water
Here are 4 cat breeds that are known to enjoy taking a dip in the water from time to time. Cats that don’t mind water are usually naked cats that benefit from taking routine baths or cats with unique fur that makes them more water resistant than other cat breeds.
- Sphynx: Sphynx cats are hairless cats known for their large ears and muscular body. Because they don’t have hair like other cats, they need frequent baths to help them get rid of the excess oil on their body. Due to their body oil, they are also more prone to feline acne that usually occurs on the chin. Many Sphynx cats have garnered a large social media following by posting their “self-care routines” in which their owners bathe them, clean their ears, and remove the residue from between their nails. Sphynx cats are probably also wondering why cats hate water.
- Turkish Van: Turkish Vans have a semi-long, water-resistant coat that changes according to season. In the summer months, Turkish Vans have a short, light coat. In colder weather, however, they grow a cashmere-like long coat. Turkish Vans are very rare, with a fur pattern that only manifests on their head and tail, leaving the rest of their body white. This breed may be less fearful of water.1
- Maine Coon: Maine Coons are big domesticated cats that also have a water-resistant coat. They are one of the oldest breeds in North America, originating in the state of Maine. Known to have a “dog-like” disposition, Maine Coons tend to be very playful. Many Maine Coons seem to have a fascination with water, which may be a result of their ancestors who exterminated mice onboard ships.1
- Bengal: The Bengal is a breed derived from the Asian leopard cat. It also has a water-resistant coat. Perhaps due to its origins, this breed tends to be bolder and more adventurous than the typical cat, and many Bengals can be seen accompanying their owners on long cross-country trips. They are very energetic and may very much enjoy the occasional swim.1
Why Do Cats Hate Water?: FAQs
Do cats need baths?
Cats don’t necessarily need baths. They are very good at cleaning themselves and spend a great deal of time doing so. However, if your cat gets into something toxic and it sticks on their coat, they may need an emergency bath. Get your cat acquainted with water as young as possible in case of an emergency.
How can I bathe a cat that hates water?
Bathing a cat that hates water takes a lot of patience. Get them slowly acclimated to the feeling of water by dribbling a few drops of water on their paws and body first. Then, place their paws in a shallow tub of water and monitor their reaction. Take it step by step at a slow pace.
Can you train a cat to like water?
Yes, you can train a cat to like water. While “Do cats hate water?” is a complex question that can be difficult to answer, with the proper introduction, you can teach your cat to like water and even appreciate it. Starting this training when your cat is still a kitten is very important.
Why don’t cats like water? Every cat may have a different answer to this question, but in general, cats dislike water due to their aversion to change and a lack of control. If you want some more tips on how to bathe your cat, take a look at all of Dutch’s blogs and resources. If you want a professional opinion on any pet issue such as cat skin irritation, speak with a Dutch vet today.
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Vaughan, Don. "Why Do Cats Hate Water?" Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-cats-hate-water.
Zhang, Lingna. et. al. "Dealing With Stress in Cats: What Is New About the Olfactory Strategy?" Frontiers in Veterinary Science, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9334771/.
"How did cats become domesticated?" Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/zoology/item/how-did-cats-become-domesticated/.
"Cat Senses." PAWSChicago, https://www.pawschicago.org/news-resources/all-about-cats/kitty-basics/cat-senses.