Why Do Cats Hate Water?

Reviewed By Julie •  Updated: 01/07/21 •  10 min read
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Does your cat snarl, yowl, claw and scramble to get away when you try to give her a bath? You’re not alone! On the other hand, does your kitty love to play with water? Is she attracted to water dripping or running from the faucet or does she like to splash a sink full of water with her toes? Many cats love to play with water; however, they may not enjoy taking a bath or swimming.

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So, why do some cats enjoy playing with or manipulating water, but hate having a bath or swimming? Do cats really hate water?

The Relationship Between Cats & Water is Complex

The relationship between cats and water is complex; water is necessary for a cat’s survival. For example, cats need to drink water to keep their organs functioning properly. So, be sure your kitty has plenty of water to drink.

However, playing in water has some draw for many cats. They may be attracted to the movement, light and sounds of water as it runs. Kitties may daintily dip their toes into the water and splash it—they seem to be having fun! But when it comes to swimming or being immersed in water, most cats are quite frankly anything but happy.

Six Breeds of Cats that LOVE Water

Did you know there are certain cat breeds that love and enjoy being in the water? Here are a few breeds that love to swim and don’t mind a bath or cats using the toilet when needed:

You’ll find other breeds of cats, including some mixed breeds, that love to play with water or even swim!

Some don’t even mind taking a bath; however, the majority of cats will do everything possible to avoid water.

Why Do Cats Hate Water So Much?

Why are cats afraid of water? According to animal behaviorists and scientists, there are a number of reasons that cats don’t appreciate a dunk in the water:

1. Evolution: our domestic cats evolved from Arabian wild cats, which lived in semidesert areas, where there wasn’t much water. As a result, swimming wasn’t necessary for survival. In other words, a good swim or love of water don’t come naturally.

2. Cat fur isn’t made for water: unlike other animals (for instance a dog, such as a Labrador Retriever), a cat’s coat isn’t water-resistant. Instead, your cat’s coat becomes water-logged, heavy and soaked when wet. This makes your kitty not only uncomfortable, but also chilled. A water-logged coat also makes it difficult for your cat to be agile and fast when wet. As a result, your kitty could feel more vulnerable when she’s wet.

3.  Loss of control: anyone who’s familiar with cats knows they’re all about choice and doing things their own way. Many cats may simply feel like they have no choice in the matter and don’t like the loss of control associated with getting wet (a bath, being sprayed with water, etc.).

4. Don’t like surprises: this goes along with loss of control—cats hate surprises! They want to do everything on their own terms. If you decide it’s bath time and put your cat in the tub, your cat doesn’t have an option. She may view this situation as something unsafe and try to do everything in her power to get away.

5. Pheromones washed away: cats use scent (pheromones) to communicate with other cats. When submerged in water or bathed, these pheromones are washed away, removing some of the cat’s ability to communicate.

How to Bathe Your Cat if She’s Afraid of Water

If there’s no way around it and your fur baby needs a bath, what can you do? How can you give her a bath if she’s terrified of water?

Is your cat completely terrified of being in the tub filled with water? Then you might consider giving her a shower, instead. Some kitties feel more comfortable and safer when being held by the pet parent. Another option that might work is to bathe your cat in the sink, where she’s up high and can be closer to you. If she doesn’t like the sprayer or faucet, you could try using a cup to pour the water over her fur. When bathing your kitty, be sure the water is at a comfortable temperature. Make the water is the same temperature you would use for a baby or small child —not too hot or cold, but rather warm. This will keep your fur baby more comfortable during her bath and she will avoid becoming chilled.

You might also consider using a non-skid bath mat or folded towels in the tub or sink. These will give your cat more stability and something to grip during the bathing process. Her feet won’t slip and she may feel more secure. Use positive reinforcement to encourage kitty to behave during her bath. You could give her treats as an after-bath reward. She may also enjoy some extra attention after her bath—petting and her favorite massage give her a reward to look for to after bath time’s over.

If your fur baby just can’t abide a bath in any shape or form, then consider using cat wipes to get her clean. Cat wipes can help to clean and deodorize your cat’s fur. Another option is to use a waterless cat shampoo. These typically spray a non-toxic foam to clean kitty’s fur—and many don’t need to be rinsed out. Experiment to find what works best when it comes to bathing your cat. It’s entirely possible she won’t be happy with any type of water cleaning, so try using cat wipes or waterless cat shampoo instead.

Do what’s best for your kitty—it will also help you avoid her teeth and claws!

Cats in Water Freaking Out

You’ve probably seen a few (understatement!) cat videos online, including videos of cats terrified in water. While these water and cat videos can be amusing, it’s really not a good idea to purposefully put your kitty in the tub and video her escape efforts.

Think of it this way—if you didn’t know how to swim and had no flotation device, how would you feel if someone put you in a huge tank of water and recorded your efforts to get out? Would you see this as humorous or would you possibly even fear for your life?

This is how cats feel when put into a tub of water. They may feel completely out of control and like they’re in a life or death situation. That’s just not funny.

Why do Cats Hate Being Sprayed with Water?

Is spraying cats with water bad? Spraying a cat with water is supposed to be an effective method to punish felines for unwanted behavior. Why do cats hate being sprayed with water? Look at all the reasons we covered in the section “Why Do Cats Hate Water So Much?” This pretty well covers it! Let’s take a look at why this type of punishment isn’t effective with cats.

1. Your cat will associate the punishment with you: if your cat hates water and doesn’t like being sprayed with water, then she’ll eventually come to associate you with this negative experience and may start to avoid you completely. You want to develop a loving relationship with your fur baby, not keep her away from you.

2. Behavior continues when no one’s around: your cat’s not stupid! She will take advantage of no one being home and continue the unwanted behavior when you’re not there to spray her with water! Your kitty will happily jump on counters, eat plants, claw your favorite couch or chair—all when you’re not there to discipline her.

3. Negative reinforcement’s not effective: when it comes right down to it, negative reinforcement is not an effective way to train your fur baby. Instead of spraying her with water, try using positive reinforcement to distract her from the unwanted behavior.

4. The root cause of the behavior: this is not addressed when spraying your cat with water. Why is she jumping on the countertops or climbing shelves you don’t want her on? Maybe she’s just acting in a way that’s natural for cats. Cats love to climb and explore high places outdoors, including trees or even the roof of a home (it’s been done!). In nature, cats scratch on trees and other objects to leave their scent, etc. Your cat may need to have some outlet for these natural urges, rather than being punished.

Spraying your cat with water as a punishment is not a good idea! Rather than using this negative reinforcement (which is ineffective), look for ways to use positive reinforcement to correct unwanted behaviors. In addition, you don’t kitty associated bad experiences with you. If you want a cozy, close relationship with your fur baby, then avoid spraying her with water.

Cats & Water Don’t Always Mix

Cats and water don’t always mix, as we’ve seen in this article! Some do enjoy playing in water and great cat gadgets allow them to do so! However, most cats tend to have some aversion when it comes to being bathed or sprayed with water. When it comes to bath time, try to find alternative methods if your fur baby just can’t tolerate a bath with water. She may be terrified and scared, and could even come to associate this negative experience with you.

The same goes with using a spray bottle of water to punish your cat. This isn’t effective, and you could cause her to completely avoid. You want a good, relaxed relationship with your kitty, so try to find alternatives that work for you both. Look for cat wipes or waterless shampoos for cats to avoid a water bath. And find ways to use positive reinforcement to curb or redirect her natural behaviors. You’ll both be happier in the long run, while enjoying the special bond that only a cat and her human can have!

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Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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