If your cat has ever slipped into water—whilst inspecting the sink or the garden pond, say—then scrambled out as if they’d fallen into a pool of lava, you probably aren’t surprised. Many cats hate water because wet fur is heavier, making them feel more uncomfortable and less nimble than usual.
With cats taking pride in their skillful methods of transportation and peak sneak, it’s no wonder kitties are generally considered water-averse. And while this evolutionary need is rooted much in comfort, not all cats dislike water. Some breeds dislike water more than others, whilst other cats don’t mind getting splashed at all.
Fortunately, their self-grooming regimen means cats don’t need bathing very often. But if you are still curious about your cat’s H2O personality, grab your goggles: it’s time to dive into why (many) cats don’t like water.
1. Cats Don’t Like Feeling Wet
Ever stepped out of the shower only to find your towel is nowhere to be seen? Being left soaking wet, chilly, and dripping is far from a pleasant experience. Your cat may feel similar levels of discomfort when they get wet.
“A cat’s fur is not designed to repel water,” explains Molly DeVoss, a certified feline training and behavior specialist (CFTBS), certified cat behavior consultant (CCBC), and founder of non-profit Cat Behavior Solutions. As such, “it takes a long time to dry and becomes heavy when wet.”
It’s not only for comfort reasons that felines don’t like being weighed down by heavy, wet fur: they have an evolutionary need to be nimble and quick off the mark.
“By nature, a cat prefers to be ready to flee any potentially dangerous situations, and when their coat is wet, it makes that more difficult,” notes DeVoss.
2. Cats Evolved To Be Out of Water
While some animals are innately designed to be in and around water, cats are the opposite.
Domesticated felines have their origins in the hot, humid conditions of the Middle East, where water sources such as lakes and rivers are scarce. DeVoss affirms that “cats evolved in dry climates and didn’t have much exposure to water.”
This means that when they are exposed to water, it can come as more of a shock than it might to other animals who have evolved to be around it.
3. Water Smells Bad to Cats
There are numerous smells cats really don’t like. And strong scents in the water — such as from treatment chemicals — can be highly off-putting to them.
For example, we all recognize the distinct smell of chlorine in swimming pools, and this odor can be overwhelming for cats. According to FirstVet, felines have up to 200 million receptors in their noses. In comparison, humans have around 6 million!
Let’s be honest: if you thought you were about to fall into a large pool of something foul-smelling, you’d be keen to scarper ASAP, too.
4. They Have Water-Related Trauma or Phobia
Humans can develop fears or phobias around certain things if they’ve previously had a bad encounter with it — and felines are no different.
“Trauma associated with water at any point in their life can turn them off to it,” reveals DeVoss. Perhaps your cat got into trouble after falling into the bath or a pool when they were a kitten and now fears the same will happen again.
If you get your cat when they’re young, taking the time to slowly and carefully introduce them to bathtime can have long-lasting benefits.
“If you regularly expose a kitten to water in a safe, comfortable way at a young age, they will be much more comfortable with it as an adult cat,” DeVoss says.
5. Being In Water Makes Them Feel Out Of Control
In some situations, being in water can make us feel (both literally and figuratively) out of our depth — and the same applies to cats.
With their honed hunting techniques and scent marking behaviors, cats have in-built mechanisms to help control their environment. “The feeling of being in control is key to a confident cat,” states DeVoss.
“If they don’t feel in control, they become easily frightened,” she continues — so if your kitty doesn’t feel in charge while in the water, they’re likely to become distressed.
Which Breed of Cats Like Water?
If you have a cat that doesn’t mind bath time, it might be due to its breed.
“There are specific breeds who are more likely to enjoy getting wet,” explains DeVoss. “A couple of those are the Maine Coon and Turkish Van.”
According to The Cat Fanciers’ Association, other breeds that don’t mind being in water include Siberian, Sphynx and Bengal. Meanwhile, Purina notes that Turkish Angora and Manx cats also like having a splash.
If your kitty doesn’t like being doused in water, it doesn’t mean they hate this element altogether. On the contrary, many felines are mesmerized by running taps and water fountains. But why? Some believe the sound and sight is appealing (and playful!) to them, and that cats consider these smaller amounts of water to be safer.
How to Bathe a Water-Adverse Cat
Cats can spend up to 50% of the time they’re awake grooming! As regular self-groomers, cats use their tongues to remove dirt from their fur and keep it looking nice and shiny. (Licking to the point of creating bald spots is a sign of over grooming and something to speak to your vet about.)
But sometimes a cat bath is warranted. Perhaps they’re coated in excess mud or an unpleasant smell after an outdoor misadventure, or they’ve an infection such as fleas or ringworm. Overweight or older cats might also have trouble reaching some areas of their coat.
It’s best to bathe a cat in a smaller space, such as the sink, that’s been filled with a few inches of warm water. Once you’ve got this ready, follow these instructions:
- Gently hold your kitty by the scruff of the neck.
- Fill a mug with warm water and pour this over your cat’s body until all the fur is wet. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends avoiding wetting the head and using cotton wool to help prevent water from getting into the ears.
- Use a specific cat shampoo to carefully lather up their coat.
- Rinse off the shampoo, making sure there’s none left.
- Using towels (not a hairdryer), gently dry your cat. You might need to comb kitties with longer fur, too.
- Give your bath time hero a treat!
If your cat’s face or head needs attention, the ASPCA suggests using a washcloth dampened with water to carefully wipe things off.
While it’s true that many cats dislike being in water, there are some for which this isn’t the case. A feline’s breed can play a big part in whether they have an affinity, as can their early experiences.
Even among breeds that aren’t typically considered water lovers, did you know you might be able to train your cat to enjoy a splash around? “You can train a cat to do pretty much anything (they want to do)!” asserts DeVoss.
If you want to try this, make sure the water you use is relatively warm (but not scalding). DeVoss explains that a cat’s body temperature sits at around 102 degrees Fahrenheit, while a human’s is about 98 degrees. This means that “a cat isn’t going to enjoy lounging in your warm bath water – they will think it’s too cold.”
It’s essential to build positive associations with water, too. “Conditioning their response with something great happening simultaneously to the scary or new thing is key to them liking it,” shares DeVoss. “I find the Vitakraft Lick ‘n’ Lap treats particularly appealing for this because you can dab a little on the counter for them to lick while you are using your hands to soothe.”
Just as you might not take to an activity, cats can be the same. So don’t force your feline into doing something if they’re resisting or in distress. Remember that professional groomers are always on hand to help if bathtime feels more like a battlefield!