There are two basic reasons why most cats hate water, and while science attributes these two reasons to genetics there is likely more going underneath the surface. The two reasons are: cats are control freaks and their coats being completely wet take a long time to dry out, making them uncomfortable.
But the genetic argument doesn’t seem to float if you take into account their ancestors such as the tiger are not only excellent swimmers, but love to romp in large reservoirs of water. On the continent of Africa the water definitely is a great way to cool down, and the pursuit of the next meal is not hindered because the prey decides to take a dip. Not that there aren’t some cats who can be found paddling along in a pool or pond, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
The control freak argument seems to carry more water, as cats tend to prefer having all fours on terra firma. Non-cat owners often wonder how it is a cat almost always manages to land on all fours, but friends of felines understand it’s all about an internal balancing act that parallels the idea of always grounding themselves on the earth. On the other hand, water requires mammals and animals to float and trust we will not go under, a trust that cats are not likely to extend beyond their own senses.
In fact, though the evidence is almost 100 percent observational, a strong case can be made that it is this lack of trust beyond their natural traits and instincts that fuel the avoidance of water. Ask yourself who or what does a cat trust. The answer is almost always: no one and nothing. The phrase “nervous as a cat” didn’t come out of thin air, and the idea of herding cats is used as an illustration of independence and rejection of authority. The only one a cat will follow is the one who has their next meal.
If we put ourselves in the cat’s paws, the question is other than a little needed for drinking, what use does a cat have for water? If a cat is found to be drinking a lot of water it is usually a cause for concern, generally the reason is a possible kidney problem or diabetes. If a cat is fed wet food, then their need for water decreases. It cleans itself regularly without the need for a bath, a characteristic many cat owners find to be a huge advantage. A cat will rarely have a wet mouth like a dog’s, so their norm is to have just enough water for themselves and no more. If you are wondering how cat’s manage to eat birds without needing more water than usual, their natural stomach acids are very strong, enough to dissolve bird bone and feathers.
Another theory has the need for adjusting to watery environments being bred out of them over time as they became more and more domesticated. Cats are famously known for eating rodents such as rats and mice, reducing the population of these pests in the homes of royalty and citizen alike. There wasn’t much use for them by the poolside or moat, so the vast majority of their time was spent listening and watching for their meal to come out at night.
From an evolutionary perspective, somewhere between the tiger and the tiger kitten the disdain for water became a part of the domestic cat. Unlike their ancestors, domestic cats found plenty of food without having to chase it through large bodies of water. Domestic cats are considered to be generally lazy creatures, but the reason for this may be that they burn off energy is short spurts. Swimming burns off significantly more energy than walking through air, another possible reason worth considering.
This trait of having an aversion to water is not something likely to change anytime soon, so like the cat’s propensity for being lazy, it is something we need to accept. You aren’t likely to teach an old dog new tricks, and just as unlikely to teach a cat to swim. It’s just one of those things.