Why Do Cats Hate Water?

Cats and water don’t mix, or at least that’s how the old saying goes. But what is it about this banal liquid that makes them lose their mind as captured by so many “cats vs bathtubs” videos on the Internet? And do all cats hate water? Find out here.
Cat in the bathtub
Cat in the bathtub
Cat in the bathtub

Our feline friends have mysterious ways that keep us guessing about plenty of things, but one of the most enduring conundrums has to do with a pretty basic element: water.

Why do cats hate water? And how come they love the water dripping from a tap, but will fight teeth and claws if they come close to a bathtub full of water? We’ll probably never know for sure, but experts have a few ideas that can help baffled cat owners understand their pet’s behaviour a bit better.

Why do cats hate water?

Cats are fine with water to drink, but if it gets near their fur water can instantly turn a happy cat into a miniature lion. Here are some of the causes that help explain why.

1. Water weights a cat down

Imagine having to carry a soaking wet blanket on your shoulders until it gets dry again. A similar principle is at work when it comes to cats and water.

When their entire fur gets drenched, a cat will feel weighted down and unable to move at their normal agility levels. That’s quite an uncomfortable experience for a feline that likes to navigate life with a springy, effortless gait.

wet cat wrapped in a towel

2. The cat’s evolutionary history

Another reason why cats hate water is attributed to their history. There is not much in a cat’s background to recommend them for successful interactions with bodies of water, be it small or big. Cat’s ancestors lived in dry arid places which means rivers or oceans weren’t obstacles they had to face. There is not much in their ancestors’ past to prepare the modern cat for the bathtub which helps explain why their first reaction is to scratch their way out of the arms of an owner determined to get them in it.

3. Cats can smell the chemicals in the water

Smell is a cat’s most reliable sense. Even though we might not detect them, the chemicals in the tap water give it a particular odour that a kitten’s sensitive nose will pick up straight away. It’s fine for dipping a paw in every once in a while, but having their fur submerged in a liquid that smells nothing like their coat should smell, is enough to put them off bath time.

4. Negative experiences

Some cats might have actually experienced bathtubs or having their coat wet in early kittenhood. Sometimes it’s those first interactions that can help elucidate the mystery of why cats hate water. If being submerged in the water was a stressful experience the first few times, it’s likely they’ll say “no way” at the sight of the bathtub well into their adult years.

5. Lack of control

There is something else that helps explains why a cat will avoid getting into the bathtub but is happy to play with any dripping tap within reach or even venture close to the full tub to dip their paw in – in those instances a cat will have more control over the situation. After all, they’re still sitting safely on dry land and can easily get away. But being on a slippery wet surface with water pouring down on their coat, getting into their eyes and weighting them down in the process is enough to make their feline instincts go haywire.

Are there any cats that like water?

All these reasons why cats hate water hold up for most kittens. But as with any rule, there are also exceptions and some cats actually do like water.

Maine Coon

A Maine Coon’s water-resistant coat means that these kittens won’t hesitate to splash around every chance they get. Leave the tap running a bit too long and you’ll soon have a Maine Coon on the case.

Cat drinking water

Historically these cats have been trusted pest controllers on sailing ships, which helps explain why they’re so at ease around bodies of water.

Turkish Van

One of the most stunning examples is the Turkish Van cat breed. Their waterproof coat doesn’t hold water which makes swimming a rather enjoyable experience for them. These kittens have such an affinity for water that many owners look for cat pools so they can paddle and swim to their heart’s content. They actually enjoy being in water so much that they’ve been given the nickname “the swimming cat”.

Abyssinian

Another cat that is fond of water, the Abyssinian won’t hesitate before investigating everything from a full bathtub to their own water bowl by dipping their paws in first. These kittens arrived in Europe for the first time by boat, so perhaps that their utter comfort regarding water comes from that initial voyage across the ocean.

Can I give my cat a bath?

Since the majority of kittens don’t have water-resistant fur or a composed attitude to all things wet like the cat breeds above, you might be wondering what to do when your cat gets in a mess that they can’t clean all by themselves.

Under special circumstances you can actually give your cat a bath. It can be tricky, but a good starting point is to get the essentials right. Make sure you have ready a non-slip floor mat, specialist shampoo, towels and a brush. Check out our guide for bathing cats to help make the experience as less stressful as possible for both yourself and the pet.