The aversion cats have to water has been accepted as fact in the media and popular culture. However, you may be surprised to learn that just as the commonly accepted idea that all dogs love water isn’t necessarily true, all cats hate water has its exceptions as well.
Why cats (generally) don’t like water
One of the main reasons a cat may not like water is they aren’t usually exposed to it. Unless your cat is an outdoor cat, he or she won’t likely ever have been caught in a rainstorm and dealt with a sopping coat and wet skin. Some researchers believe cats have developed a distaste for water because house cat owners shield their beloved felines from the elements. If a cat has limited exposure to rain or water, it evolves to a point where it has no need to dip his or her feet into a tub, lake, or swimming pool.
Another reason a cat may hate water is there are some cat owners who use a spray bottle to discipline their cat. Imagine if you’re sprayed in the face with water for simply being a cat. Of course, you’d grow an aversion to it.
Cats are fastidious. If you live with a cat you’ve noticed they spend hours at a time grooming themselves. If you try to bathe them you’re taking away their natural scent. A cat may also think you’re making more work for them if you bathe them because then they will need to re-groom themselves.
Finally, cats don’t generally adapt well to change. If they are introduced to a new experience, they may not take to it as well as a dog would. If bathing isn’t part of their typical routine, they will avoid it. So, if you are able to get them accustomed to water when they’re young, it may not be as bad an experience for them—or for you!
Cat breeds and water
One specific breed of domestic cat that doesn’t mind the water is the Turkish Van. This breed originated in the Lake Van region of Turkey and enjoys the water just as their ancestors did. It’s believed these cats would jump into lake waters to cool off during the excessive summer heat.
While other cat breeds may look at swimming or bathing as more of a spectator sport, there are some breeds that require bathing. The hairless Sphynx, for example, is a breed that requires baths every few weeks because their body oils collect on the skin and attract dirt. The Sphynx tends to enjoy water, making regular bath time a more enjoyable experience for the pet parent and cat alike.
Cats like some water
I have two Devon Rex who are mesmerized by dripping water. They will jump up into the bathroom sink when the faucet is left dripping for them. They bat at the stream with their paws and seem to love drinking from running water more than they do from a bowl. Cats who love water from a faucet may do so because they look at it as a toy and the sparkling droplets fascinate them.
Here are tips for teaching your cat to love (or at least tolerate) water:
1. Put your kitty in an empty bathtub or sink and play with their favorite toy there. Talk softly to them and make the time in the tub or sink fun. Do this for several days. Use positive reinforcement and offer treats during the entire process.
2. After they're comfortable in a dry sink or tub, you can start rubbing them with a wet washcloth. Not enough to soak them through, but to make them a bit damp.
3. Next, add a bit of room temperature water to the bottom of the sink and put them in, letting them feel it on their feet. You may want to put their favorite toy in with them.
4. Once they're all right with the washcloth and water in the sink, you can use a cup, or your hand or the sink hose to gently wet them. Shampoo them with cat-safe products then rinse them thoroughly.
5. Take your time and talk calmly to them throughout. Once the bath is done, wrap them in a fluffy towel and dry them off as much as possible.
If you love the outdoors and want to take your cat on adventures that may involve getting wet or being exposed to lakes or streams, you will want to expose them to it as early as possible. Use positive reinforcement and don’t force your cat into water or you will pretty much guarantee them a lifetime of aversion.
Most cat parents are happy to simply let their cats sit on the side of the bathtub and play in the soap bubbles. Know your cat and their personality and approach water and bathing in a way that is enjoyable for both of you!
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.