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Why Do Cats Hate Water?

Picture of wet white cat

Savvy cat owners know that it’s not a good idea to attempt to give kitty a bath. Cats hate water, right? Well, mostly. Here we’ll discuss if, and why, cats really do have an aversion to getting wet.

Cats Who Like Water

Believe it or not, there are some felines who like water! The Cat Fancier’s Association has noted that the following cat breeds have an affinity for water:

  • Turkish Van – This breed has been nicknamed “the swimming cat” because of this cat’s enjoyment of swimming in water.
  • Turkish Angora – A cousin of the Turkish Van, this breed has been known to come running when she hears her owner filling the bathtub.
  • Abyssinian – One of the oldest breeds of cat in the world, the Abyssinian likes to play in running water and may drink straight out of the tap!
  • Maine Coon– Maine Coon cats have been known for fascination with water, and like to scoop water with their paws. Owners have learned to keep toilet lids closed for this reason!
  • Bengal– Owners of Bengal cats have noted that their kitty has jumped into a full bathtub, displaying her liking of the water.
  • Savannah – This cousin of the Bengal enjoys being bathed and playing in the water.
  • Bobtail (both American and Japanese varieties)- These breeds are said to enjoy splashing around in water or dunking cat toys in water.
  • Manx- Owners say that Manx cats enjoy playing in water.
  • Norwegian Forest Cat- These cats have been known as fishers throughout history, so it only follows that they would enjoy the water. Cat owners with aquariums should beware!

This list is not exhaustive, of course, Many owners of domestic cats have said that their kitties love playing in the water and being bathed. For the most part, however, cats are not known to be water lovers.

Why Don’t Cats Like Water?

For felines without an affinity for water, what are their reasons? Of course you can’t ask your cat, “Why don’t you like the water?” Cat experts, however, have postulated the following explanations:

  • Throughout history, cats have not been water dwellers. Today’s domestic cats are descendants of cats that have lived mainly in dry climates. They did not learn to swim as there was no need to do so.
  • Cats are less tolerant of change. Getting wet is a big change. Therefore, a cat who has never been around water will probably loathe getting wet. If a cat has been exposed to water as a young kitten, however, she might become more tolerant of water over time.
  • Cats like to know what will happen. This goes along with not liking change. Cats hate surprises and want to know what will happen at all times. A curious cat might stick her paw into a bathtub but will likely draw it back quickly, shaking it to get it back to its original, dry state.
  • Cats are fastidious. Cat owners know that their kitties love to groom themselves and don’t like anything different sprayed onto their fur. Getting wet is an affront to a cat who wants to stay perfectly groomed at all times, and forces the cat have to re-groom herself after her water “bath” is complete. By the same logic, getting caught in the rain will also necessitate a long self-grooming session for your cat.
  • When wet, a cat’s coat is heavier. If a cat is drenched in water, her fur will become heavy, making the cat feel that it is harder to run and escape from a situation. If your cat feels slow and heavy, she’s not going to be a happy feline.
  • Cats are sensitive to smells. There are chemicals in tap water cats can smell that humans can’t. Some cats have been known to refuse drinking tap water because of this.
  • Cats get cold easily. Because a cat’s normal body temperature is higher than her owner’s, it’s harder for them to get warm and stay warm. If a cat gets wet, this causes the cat to feel cold, and carrying around heavy, wet fur will keep your cat cold for a while.

Picture of a cat after a bath

Is It Possible to Bathe a Cat?

If your cat really needs a bath (because she got something nasty in her fur or just has an odd smell), here are some tips to help you to bathe your cat:

  • If you know you’re going to want to bathe your cat, start doing so when she’s a kitten. This will help your cat acclimate a bit easier to bath time.
  • Help your cat get used to whatever you will bathe her in, whether it’s a tub, sink, or bin, when the apparatus is still dry. Allowing your cat to play in that area while it’s dry is a good idea.
  • When your cat becomes familiar with the area and plays in it easily, add an inch of water and some more toys. Do this a few times a week until your cat begins splashing around in the water playing with the toys.
  • Put a towel under the sink or tub so that the enclosure won’t move around much. This will give your cat a sense of stability.
  • Use the smallest amount of water possible and the smallest amount of restraint that you can to keep your cat in the tub.
  • Have all of your bath supplies ready- shampoo, rinse, towel.
  • Don’t use soap or shampoo designed for humans. Our skin’s pH is different than a cat’s and human products can dry out your cat’s skin. Use something specifically designed for cats (not dogs!). Only use medicated products if there is a skin problem. Also avoid flea shampoos unless recommended by your vet.
  • Stay calm. If you are nervous, your cat will pick up on your anxiety and might lose her cool, too.
  • Towel-dry your cat after the bath. Using a blow dryer can be dangerous and burn your cat’s skin.

If all else fails and your cat still needs a bath, take her to a professional groomer who is experienced in bathing cats

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