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Grumpy cat taking a bath

Getting your cat used to water

The aversion cats have to water has been accepted as fact. However, just as the commonly excepted 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 cats don’t love water is they aren’t usually exposed to it. Unless your cat is an outdoor cat, he 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 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 of water to discipline their cat. Imagine if you’re sprayed in the face with water when you’re simply “being a cat;” of course you’d come to hate 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 “normal” smell. 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.

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 might. And if bathing isn’t part of their 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 & 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 his 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 Sphyx tends to enjoy water, making regular bath time a more enjoyable experience for pet parent and the cat.

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 of water. 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 kitty in an empty bathtub or sink and play with his favorite toy there. Talk softly to him 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 he’s comfortable in a dry sink or tub, you can start rubbing him with a wet washcloth. Not enough to soak him through, but to make him a bit damp.

3. Next, add a bit of room temperature water to the bottom of the sink and put him in, letting him feel it on his feet. You may want to put his favorite toy in with him.

4. Once he’s 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 him. Shampoo him with cat-safe products then rinse him thoroughly.

5. Take your time and talk calmly to her throughout. Once the bath is done, wrap her in a fluffy towel and dry her off as much as possible.

If you love the outdoors and want to take your cat on adventures with you that may involve his getting wet or being exposed to lakes or streams, you will want to expose him to it as early as possible. Use positive reinforcement and don’t force kitty into the water or you will scare him.

Most cat parents are happy to simply let their cats sit on the side of the bathtub and play in the soap bubbles while the human relaxes in the water. Know your cat and his 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 MatterMy Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.

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