FirstVet Q&A: Why do cats hate water?

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FirstVet Q&A: Why do cats hate water?

Have you ever wanted to know why most cats seem to hate water? Our vets have the answer! Keep reading for the surprising answers…

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Why do cats hate water?

Many cats are averse to being immersed in water, and many owners of cats have found this out the hard way when trying to bathe them. In truth, cats most often do not need to be bathed. Since cats groom themselves (with a rough tongue), they manage to prevent oily build-up from their own skin. Older cats who stop grooming themselves (due to arthritis, etc.) will quickly develop dull, matted fur. But a young, healthy cat who is grooming regularly has a coat that contains less oil and therefore is less waterproof. When a cat becomes wet, their hair coat is heavier, colder, and uncomfortable. It can also take a long time for a cat’s haircoat to dry on its own.

Another aspect of discomfort is that cats are quick and nimble creatures, light on their feet, and adept at jumping and balancing. In water, they may feel a loss of control as it slows them down.

From a more anthropological perspective, the domesticated cat evolved from the African Wildcat in the desert and therefore was not exposed to bodies of water.

In addition, cats have a much more powerful sense of smell than humans, and it’s possible they can even be turned off by the smells of chemicals in tap water, not to mention shampoos and soaps.

I realize some cats don't hate water. Is there a reason for that? Maybe the owners got them used to water when they were kittens?

Certain breeds enjoy the water and even swimming. The Turkish Van, Bengal, Maine Coon, Abyssinian, and other breeds are often noted to play with water and even go for a swim. The Turkish Van has a different texture to their haircoats that makes them more resistant to water and therefore they do not experience the discomfort that other domestic cats do. These cats originate from the Lake Van region of Turkey which is extremely hot in the summer.

Many cats who will fight you tooth and nail to avoid a bath will be found drinking from the faucet, playing with running water, sticking their paws into their water dish, and jumping in the tub right after you’ve showered. For cats, the appeal is theorized to be more about the game of the movement of the water, the noise it makes, and the light reflecting off it. This stimulates the cat’s strong prey drive.

We can also go so far as to say that running water is often cleaner and safer in nature than stagnant water, and cats may have evolved to prefer running water.

Do you have an interesting story of a cat who went to extreme lengths to avoid water?

My beloved childhood cat of 18 years was horrified when we moved to a house with a pool. When we went swimming, she would crouch down and cautiously approach the edge of the pool, horrified by our bodiless bobbing heads on the surface. We would laugh hysterically but she was quite unimpressed with the whole thing.

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