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Can Cats Swim?

Cat laying resting by the side of a pool
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Domestic cats are not known for their love of water. In fact, most cat pet parents would probably say that avoiding water is one of their cat’s major initiatives. But there are always exceptions to a rule, and there are particular cats who enjoy splashing around in their water dishes and playing with a running faucet.

If your kitty is constantly frolicking in puddles or jumping into a full bathtub, you might be wondering if it’s time to take the plunge (pun intended) and let them have a proper swim. But would that be safe? Can cats swim? And what sort of precautions should you take?

Do Cats Like Water?

Cat looking confused

Generally speaking, cats are not fans of water. This may have to do with the fact that domestic cats originated in the desert and didn’t have many opportunities to swim in their native environment [1]. However, some cats are drawn to water and may enjoy taking a dip. Certain breeds are known for liking water (more on those later).

According to Dr. Maranda Elswick, a Florida-based veterinarian and founder of The Meowing Vet, enjoying the water isn’t necessarily an innate trait but something that cats can learn if you introduce them early enough. “You should start when your cat is young. That’s the best time if you want your cat to learn how to not only swim but also enjoy the water,” she says.

Dr. Elswick warns that if a cat isn’t introduced to water at their own pace, they could panic, which is extremely dangerous. “It’s the panicking that causes cats to drown, not necessarily that they don’t know how to swim,” she notes. 

Can Cats Swim?

Cat sitting by edge of pool

Short answer: Yes, cats can swim.

Cats have webbing between their toes, meaning they should instinctively know how to swim if needed. That said, you don’t want to toss a cat into a large body of water to see if they’ll swim. It’s best to start slow and ensure that your cat is well-equipped to paddle around.

“I would start in shallow water, just a couple of inches,” Dr. Elswick says. “Let them get used to the water before increasing the depth. You always want the cat to feel comfortable. Don’t push it and stop immediately if your cat starts to panic.” 

Once your cat is comfortable in shallow water (Dr. Elswick recommends starting with a warm bathtub), try holding them in deeper water and gently letting go to see if they’ll start swimming. Make sure to supervise the process from start to finish.

With some diligence in training, most cats will learn to swim, says Dr. Elswick. “if you stick with it and are patient as your cat acclimates to the water, chances are she’ll learn,” she adds. “However, some cats are never going to like water, and you should never force your cat to swim if she doesn’t enjoy it.”

Swimming Cat Breeds

Norwegian Forest Cat swimming cat breed

Certain cat breeds enjoy the water, notably Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats

Maine Coons are a long-haired breed known for their easy-going disposition, large stature and shaggy coats. The Cat Fanciers’ Association notes that Maine Coon cats are particularly known for their love of water and may join you in the shower or “help” you wash the dishes [2]. 

Norwegian Forest Cats (known affectionately as “Wegies”) look like Maine Coons and share their affection for water. This could be because they have a double coat with a water-resistant outer layer that protects a warm undercoat. Their double coats help them survive cold winters in their native Norway and make playing in the water more appealing. 

Dr. Elswick mentions a few additional breeds that like the water, including Bengals, Turkish Vans and even some Manx cats. She does add, though, that liking water doesn’t necessarily mean your cat will want to go swimming. “A lot of them may just want to put their feet in, walk around in a puddle or just play in the bathtub or sink. They may also be easier to bathe,” she says.

Remember that cats are individuals, and you shouldn’t assume they’ll enjoy water or be good swimmers based on their breed alone.

Cat Swimming Safety Tips

Cat head tilted twisted around by the water

Even if your cat loves water and is a proven swimmer, pet parents should keep some important safety tips in mind. 

First and foremost, cats shouldn’t be swimming in any body of water with a strong current or tide. “And if they are in a large body of water, they should be wearing a leash or harness so that you can get to them quickly if there are any issues,” Dr. Elswick says.

While many pet parents may consider life jackets for their cats, Dr. Elswick doesn’t necessarily recommend them. She says that wearing any type of clothing, including a life jacket, may make your cat panic in the water and can limit movement, making it more difficult to swim.

If your cat takes to the water like a fish, there are still a few potential pitfalls to consider. First, water can upset the balance of oils on cats’ skin and in their coats. 

“This can cause dry skin and dry fur. It could also lead to overgrooming as your cat tries to fix that balance,” Dr. Elswick says. This is especially true if your cat is swimming in a pool with chemicals like chlorine. Other health issues to look out for are GI upset, coughing and respiratory problems. 

If your cat has been swimming in chlorine or a natural body of water, you should attempt to bathe your cat in pet-safe shampoo to prevent ingestion of chemicals and infectious disease transmission.

For pet parents with a pool or a pond in their yards, ensure there’s a gate or safety fence surrounding that water. “A pool alarm, which should alert you if a small child falls into the pool, is a good idea if you have pets,” Dr. Elswick says. It’s also a good idea to have stairs or a ramp out of your pool so your cat can get out if they fall in unattended.

Finally, all pet parents should learn pet CPR, Dr. Elswick says. “Whether your pet likes to swim or not, is a strong swimmer or a weak one, it’s just a good thing to know.”