Do Cats Really Hate Water?

Some cats will do anything to avoid it, while others love it and want to jump right in. Experts discuss some possible reasons.

Do they or dont they? Hate water, that is. The question of how cats feel about water is somewhat controversial, because there are cats that will do anything to avoid it while other felines love it and jump right in. So when your cat paws inside your fish bowl, does that mean he likes the water? Perhaps your cat is unknowingly emulating the fishing cats of the Middle and Far East.


The Love/Hate Relationship
To a large extent, assuming that cats innately hate water is questionable, says Larry Myers, DVM, MS, PhD, from the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine. There is a lot of evidence that many cats love water.

Cats that like water often will sit near the tub while you splash them. Others will jump into the sink or tub and actually seem content or amused as water from the faucet drips all over their heads. Some of these cats may be attracted to the motion and sound of water coming out of the faucet. In my practice, I have people who claim that their cats like to jump in and take a shower with them, says Dr. Myers.

Many  cats just like to drink running water. And some will even put their paws into their water dish and swirl it around so they can drink running water.

However, tolerance for water varies from one cat to another. Its a lot like people. Some like water; others dont, says Dr. Myers. I think a lot of cats aversion to water is learned. It may be that many cats are afraid of water by the way we use it around them – squirting them to shoo them away from places we dont want them to be or forcing them into baths. And most cats hate getting water in their eyes or ears. 

On the other hand, some cats have either neutral or positive experiences with water. Show cats are bathed very often, starting when they are kittens. Most dont seem to mind the usual dreaded bath because they are accustomed to it.

Climate and Water
One theory is that cat species native to hot areas seem to enjoy a dip in water. These large felines include tigers, lions, jaguars, ocelots and jaguarunde from hot savannas. They are likely to fancy a plunge into cool, refreshing streams and ponds to get a break from the heat. 

Cats from cold environments – snow leopards, lynx, bobcats and cougars – seem to have little interest in getting wet. Some experts reason that water could destroy or decrease the furs insulation and its ability to keep these cats warm in cold air. 

Cats Made for Water
Whether cats like or dislike water, they are natural swimmers, says Dr. Myers. You put them in water and they swim; you dont have to teach them.

There are some breeds that mix well with water. Many Manx cats (the breed that often has little or no tail) seem to really like water. The Manx hail from the Isle of Man near Great Britain.

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a non-domestic breed that lives in a variety of water habitats, swamps and marshy thickets and reed beds. According to The Cat Survival Trust, you can find the fishing cat diving into water to take fish, frogs, crabs and even mollusks … throughout southern Asia, from Malaysia, parts of Indonesia (Sumatra and Java) and Sri Lanka to the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.

Fishing cats are very skilled swimmers. They dive headfirst into the water and then swim underwater to grab fish with their jaws. People living in their habitats have actually seen them climb trees to dive into the water.

What makes the fishing cat so well suited to water? This fishing feline has short, coarse hair with two layers that make up the pelt. So when the fishing cat goes into the water, he doesnt get wet down to the skin. Contrary to the myth, the fishing cat does not have webbed feet, say experts.

Another water-loving cat is the Turkish Van, a domesticated cat that lives near Lake Van in Turkey. You dont have to coach this cat into the water; she is known to swim in the bath and the pool – and has even been spotted swimming into the harbor to greet fishing boats! Human companions are advised to keep their toilet lids down, as Turkish Vans are very curious about this special source of water.

The bottom line is that, when it comes to liking or disliking water, it seems to be a matter of individual taste (except for certain breeds that are especially attracted to water). But one thing is sure: You can lead a cat to water but you cant make him like it. Cats, as you know, want all things – water included – on their own terms.