It’s a well-known fact that cats and water don’t mix. When you think of dogs, you can picture them being water lovers (most of them anyway), but cats are different species, and their species are not naturally fans of the water. Although most cats do not like or care for water, there are some that down right hate it. Some cat owners like to, or may even find it a necessity to have to bathe their cat. But what do you do if your cat hates water?
The internet is loaded with all kinds of silly memes of cats around water, whether it’s scuba diving, swimming, surfing, kayaking, and any number of water sports. But the real question is, is all of this true, and if so, how can it be with cats being so fearful and hateful of the liquid blue stuff. Ingrid Johnson, CCBC (Certified Cat Behavior Consultant), is quoted as saying, “In 19 years of working with cats, I haven’t seen one who swims.” And when Ingrid King, a cat expert and the publisher of, The Conscious Cat, was asked about the possibility of getting cats to like water, her reply was, “Anything is possible, but unless you live on a boat, why would you want to?”
So, here are the questions: why do cats despise water? Do all cats despise water? And, can you in fact, train a cat to like water?
It is the belief that cats began to domesticate themselves in the Middle East about 9,500 years ago. With this evolutionary scenario, it’s actually pretty easy to see why cats, or, the Felis catus, would not care to jump into a pool of water. They simply weren’t exposed to this at any given point during the evolution of their species. Johnson explained it this way, “Some individual cats may be curious about water, but historically they evolved in a dry, arid environment.”
According to Paula Garber, MA Ed, CATEP, CFTBS, who had this to say, “Cats’ general lack of experience with swimming and being submerged in water may originate with their ancestors. Our modern domestic cats evolved from desert-living cats (Felis silvestris lybica) who did not have a lot of experience with water.”
She also went on to explain the differences between cats and dogs, saying that the two species are just not physically built the same. Cats are simply not built to like water. She explained by saying, “Many dogs’ coats repel water,” Johnson says. “But cats’ coats hold water, which brings down their body temperature.” In the end, to be wet and cold does not sit well with a kitty.
Distant relatives of the cats seem to like water. Why?
It is true that distant relatives of the domestic cat really do like water. Cats like tigers actually enjoy it. When you see them in their natural habitat, you will see them cooling off in the water, swimming, and often swimming from one island to another, like in the Sundarbans, which is an expanse of forest in the Bay of Bengal. Lions are another cat that will swim, though they aren’t as big into as Tigers. They don’t naturally go out to look for an experience of swimming. But the bottom line is, for these cats, the water and swimming is more for necessity. They live around the water, and to survive in this habitat, it is often needed to be able to swim.
There are some domesticated cats who enjoy water
Most cats do hate water, and will do anything to avoid it, however, that being said, it is also true that there are some breeds of cats who do have more of an interest in it. They have a little desire to get a bit wet and have some splashy fun. According to Marilyn Krieger, CCBC and the author of, Naughty No More! Her cats actually have a water faucet that they can turn off and on all by themselves. She says that sometimes she’ll walk in and find her cats sitting in the sink under a stream of water flowing over them.
There are two breeds of cats that are on a shortlist of breeds that do enjoy water. The Turkish Van, and the Turkish Angora are two of the breeds on this shortlist. They originate in Turkey, and both are known to like to cool off in the water – shallow water, that is. According to Lana Fraley Rich, another cat behaviorist, says that Turkish breeds do enjoy water, and they do have somewhat water repellant coats.
Can cats actually be trained to like water?
Cats do have the ability to acclimate to water, according to Krieger. But you have to start acclimating them when they’re young, still in kittenhood. And you want to do this slowly, but consistently.
Apparently, you can desensitize a cat to water, but it involves gradually exposing your cat to the way water feels on their fur, on their paws, and then all over their entire body. Doing it slowly helps prevent stressing out a kitten. Click training helps cats with becoming more comfortable with water and the way it feels. Every time your cat makes a step in the right direction, click the clicker and reward them with a treat. An example would be, when your kitten stakes steps into a shallow tray of water, click the clicker and reward her. Don’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to, as this will make her feel out of control, which cats do not like.
Temperature is an important factor, too. Make sure the water is warm before you introduce her to it. You can also introduce play things into the water, to entice your cat to get in and have some fun, like in the kitchen sink, or shallow-filled tub. A tray of chicken broth ice cubes floating in the water to go after, or several ping pong balls to play with. Granted, this is a step that should be done after your cat has gotten fairly familiar with water.
Even though there are cats out there who will splash around a little in the water, or there is the rare story of a cat who dons a lifejacket and will just jump into a lake for a paddle around, and even the cute stories of cats standing poised at the tip of a kayak and can’t wait to dive in for a cooling off, the truth is that the majority of cats do not like water at all, and it will always be something that they fear or have a strong distaste for. Over all, cats should be able to decide for themselves as to whether or not they love water, tolerate it, or don’t want anything to do with it – ever. Because the truth is, that genetically, cats and water are not exactly compatible and don’t mix well.