That familiar, angry wet-cat look is so iconic that it’s reached colloquial placement in our cultural idioms. It now informs our understanding of cat’s opinions about water. But do cats really hate water? The answer may surprise you.
Reasons cats hate water and love water too
There can be many reasons cats hate water, but the truth is, it’s not in their genetics. Many cats revel in a little splashy fun. It all depends on how water is introduced into their lives. At an early age, was it warm, comfortable, and maybe even fun? Or was it scary, cold, and maybe even frustrating or angry?
For most cats, their only experience with water is being trapped in a scary thunderstorm, forced into a bath, or sprayed with a water bottle to discipline them. However, when left to their own devices in the wild, with water readily available, many cats love to play and swim.
Tigers in the Australia zoo and around the world love to swim. Some even dive to the bottom of shallow pools to capture toys and fish. Jaguars are also known to take a dip in rivers and lakes. The Maine Coon is a domestic cat that was a popular cat on ships in New England because of their comfort with and enjoyment around the water.
If handled with care, our feline companions can be tipped from the ‘cats hate water’ column into the ‘cats love water’ column. Cats are not naturally water-dwelling creatures, so having a healthy aversion to water is generally good. And from an evolutionary standpoint, cats are more often from dry, arid regions, so it’s genetically possible that cats hate water, or more accurately, have a healthy, cautious attitude. Finally, cats may love to play and splash but may avoid being drenched, and that’s okay.
We can help them learn a healthy respect for the water while learning to play and appreciate the good times that can be had in everything from a drippy faucet to a bathtime race with a rubber ducky.
Water & Feline Hypnosis
One clue to their potential for a fun and splashy bath time is in their fascination with water. It’s undeniable that regardless of their aversion to being drenched, many love to watch water. From water features to dripping faucets to flushing toilets and draining sinks, if cats hate water, surely they would avoid the hypnotic lure of flowing water.
This preoccupation with water in motion can be a great way to introduce cats to the fun side of water. Without splashing them or dunking them, a little time close to the water can build into something more.
Bathtime and Kitties
Even though we often think cats are free from the need for baths because they bathe themselves, our feline friends do need the occasional bath. We never know when they’ll require a bath. Cats can end up needing a bath for medication or because they become too old to reach important places. Or they might get into something sticky or smelly.
Introducing cats to water at a young age is the best way build a healthy relationship. If that’s not an option, the same process can be used. It may just take a little longer. Beginning with an empty sink, a reassuring voice, and just enough room temperature water to dampen a washcloth is best. Maybe a few distracting treats can be helpful, but remember not to give so many that it becomes an expectation or that it ruins their dinner appetite.
Graduate from the washcloth to a pitcher of warm (not hot) water. If we gently pour it over kitty’s fur, beginning with their rear and keeping a respectful distance from their face, we can easily reduce their apprehension over time.
Eventually, working toward being able to dampen our kitty companions, work in a bit of diluted shampoo, and rinse without a problem, will be a possibility. Rinse more than once, so the irritation of dry skin doesn’t ‘dampen’ the experience. Always dry kitty with a clean, fluffy towel, lot’s of praise, and either playtime or treats.
The lesson here is that cats, though hilarious when angry and wet, do need the occasional bath and can enjoy it with the right guardianship.