Why Do Cats Hate Water?

Blue Tabby Maine Coon cat playing with water coming out of a garden sprinkler

The combination of cats and water is seldom a match made in heaven. Cats pretty much hate the stuff, as you might have noticed if you’ve viewed any of the hilarious viral vids circulating online. But why do our feline friends have this loathsome, never-ending hatred for water?

If your cat is like most, she may come bounding through the house if she hears the tap start running, hoping to lap up some water right from the faucet if you let her. That same kitty, however, may try to claw your eyes out if you bring her near a tub filled with water. The exact reason that cats feel a certain way about things or why they do anything, really, usually boils down to what scientists and pet behaviour experts discern from classic cat behaviour. A rundown on what the pet behaviour experts say about the timeless conundrum of cats hating water can shed some light on your cat’s fears, so you can help her feel more at home in all areas of the home.

An Evolved Animosity

Cats’ overall disdain for water may be largely rooted in their DNA. Scientists say that the evolutionary history of the cat is the key to determining why cats have such a dislike of water and behave so curiously around it. Over the ages, little exists in the history of the species to suggest that cats ever had successful dealings where water is concerned. Ancestors of the modern-day cat lived in areas where the climate was arid, so there wasn’t much opportunity for cats to face water obstacles, such as oceans or rivers. And there is definitely nothing much in the ancestral lineage of the cat that would have prepared them to be bathed in a tub. This can very well explain why the initial reaction of your cat when she thinks you’re trying to put her in a bathtub is one of fear.  

The Weight of Water Affects Her Mobility

Water drenching your cats’ coat makes her feel like she’s walking around with a sopping-wet blanket draped over her body. Imagine it, and you may get an inkling into why she’s so adamant about avoiding it. When your cat’s fur is soaked, she feels weighed down and heavy, which affects her mobility — and her agility and flexibility, for that matter. This experience is quite unpleasant and awkward for your feline because she normally navigates through her world with a gait that’s nothing less than effortless.

Past Water Trauma

Some kitties experienced past water traumas that left them with a bad taste for the stuff. Maybe the cat had an experience in early life as a kitten that stuck with her to adulthood — from being submerged in a bathtub to being squirted with water as punishment for doing something bad. The stress of being exposed in a negative light to water can really affect how the cat feels about water going forward — and can explain why she is so unwavering about her distaste of water in general.

Control Issues

Few things make your cat feel out of control — and in turn, make her kitty instincts go bonkers — quite like a tub filled with water. Imagine her discomfort; she’s on a wet, slippery surface, water is pouring down in (what feels to her) a torrent, her coat feels saggy and heavy, and the stuff is getting in her eyes to boot. This combination makes her feel endangered, which may kick in her response to fight or flee, which is when her claws really come out.

Sensitive Sense of Smell

You may not smell it, but your cat can. It’s chemicals in the water flowing through your tap. As you may know, cats have a sense of smell that’s much stronger than yours. In fact, it’s your cat’s most reliable sense. So, even though you may not detect the chemicals in the water, your cat can. And the chemicals found in tap water are especially malodorous to your cat, so her super-sensitive nose picks up on them quickly. It causes her fur to smell nothing like it should, and this, in itself, is enough to turn her against taking a bath at all — other than the one she regularly gives herself with her tongue, that is.

Feline Exception to the Rule

Do all cats hate water? Yes, most cats and kittens despise water, and it’s easy to see why they are forlorn and behave oddly around water. However, there are some exceptions to the cats-hate-water rule. Some cat breeds seem to be drawn to the water — or at least don’t mind getting wet. These remarkable felines include:

  • The Maine coon. This water-loving kitty has a water-resistant coat, which translates to the Maine coon (both adults and kittens) loving to splash in water whenever and wherever possible. Throughout history, the Maine coon has been a reliable and lethal pest controller (dare we say, exterminator) on ships bound for sea. This can help to explain why the Maine coon is completely in her wheelhouse when she’s around water.
  • The Abyssinian. Leave the tap running, and you can count on the Abyssinian to come running, ready to investigate and maybe even go for a dip. A feline immigrant from Europe, the Abyssinian first came to our shores via boat, which helps to justify her affinity for water.
  • The Turkish Van. A waterproof coat sets the Turkish Van apart from her water-hating counterparts. Because the Van’s coat is waterproof, swimming is a lot more fun for them, and the Turkish Van even seeks out water sources for their next aquatic adventure. This fact alone helped secure the Van’s “swimming cat” title.

Should You Bathe Your Cat?

As covered above, cats (with some exceptions) lack water-resistant or waterproof coats or the calm attitude necessary for regular exposure to water. Although under some circumstances, you can actually bathe your cat, it is not for the faint of heart and can be tricky. If you bathe your cat, be sure to have special shampoo on hand, a nonslip floor mat, a brush and towels. And remember, your cat cleans herself — a grooming ritual that cats have participated in since time immortal — so she probably doesn’t need a bath anyway.

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