If you’ve ever seen a wet cat’s facial expression, it will come as no surprise that many cats seem to hate water with a passion. Unlike their water-loving canine counterparts, cats loathe getting wet, preferring to either stay away from water entirely or dip only a paw into a stream of running water.
But why do cats hate water? And what can you do if your cat dislikes getting wet but needs a bath? We answer these questions and more information about felines and water below.
Do All Cats Hate Water?
Most typical domesticated cats hate getting wet, but there is some nuance. Being submerged in water could be a cat’s worst nightmare, but playing with a stream of running water from a faucet is perfectly suitable for many cats.
Interestingly, several cat breeds actually like the water and even enjoy swimming (yes, cats can swim!). Here’s a list of cat breeds that don’t mind getting in the water:
These breeds have water-resistant coats, making it easy to spend time in the water without getting soaked.
Why Do Cats Hate Water?
There are various reasons why cats hate water:
Cats’ wild ancestors lived in dry, arid environments and thus had little contact with water. Fortunately, these wild ancestors got enough hydration from eating their prey, so being far away from a water source was not a big problem.
Over the lengthy timeline of cats’ evolution, cats have not changed much regarding their relationship with water. Today’s domesticated cats have very little evolutional pull to get in the water.
Lack of Familiarity
Because cats don’t have a strong need or desire to get in the water, they’re generally not familiar or comfortable with it. Some cats could even be afraid of water. Also, since cats are meticulous groomers, they can keep themselves clean without needing a bath.
The best time to get a cat familiar with water is during the socialization window of kittenhood—between about 3 to 16 weeks of age. If kittens are exposed to water and have positive experiences with it during that time frame, they’ll be familiar and comfortable with water and might not mind a bath or dip in the kiddie pool.
Lack of Control
When a cat dips their paw in a stream of running water, they fully control the situation and their interaction with water. Being fully submerged in a tub of water is another matter, with the cat no longer being in control.
A wet cat is generally an unhappy cat. A cat’s grooming process distributes healthy oils through the skin and coat. However, oil and water do not mix. If a cat gets completely wet from a bath (or gets stuck in the rain), it will get soaked down to its skin.
Being completely soaked weighs down a cat, making them less agile. In addition, a drenched coat will take hours to fully dry, leaving a cat uncomfortably wet and cold for a long time.
Cat owners will sometimes use a squirt bottle to deter or punish bad behavior in cats. For example, a cat that jumps up on the kitchen counter may get a squirt of water to the face as punishment. This type of punishment creates a negative association with water, increasing the likelihood of a cat hating, or possibly fearing, water.
Aversion to Scents
Cats can smell 14 times better than a person can. So, what may smell like a lovely scented shampoo or conditioner may be overkill for your cat, making them not want to take a bath.
Cats can also detect chemical scents in tap water, but there are varied opinions about whether these scents are off-putting for cats.
What to Do if Your Cat Hates Water
Having a cat that hates water does not need to be a source of great concern. Providing your cat with a comfortable and controllable level of water exposure may be all you need to do to keep your cat happy.
If you have a young kitten, consider gradually exposing them to water when they are 3 to 16 weeks old (you can follow the steps below for bathing a cat). Your kitten may not fall in love with water, but at least they will be comfortable in it if they ever need a bath.
How to Bathe a Cat Who Hates Water
Certain situations may make it necessary to bathe a cat. For example, arthritis or serious illness can make it difficult for cats to groom and keep themselves clean.
But how do you bathe a cat that hates water? The key is to acclimate your cat to bathing and make bathing enjoyable. Let’s break down how to do this:
Acclimate your cat. Baths aren’t an emergency for cats, so take plenty of time to get your cat used to bath time.
First, place some of your cat’s favorite toys into an empty tub. You can even spread a tasty treat like anchovy paste on the bottom of the tub so your cat can lick it (clean your tub first).
After your cat is acclimated to being in an empty tub, add an inch or two of warm water and place your cat’s toys in the water. Give your cat lots of verbal praise as she plays in the water.
Create a comfortable bath environment. Bath time should be pleasant for your cat and you. Gather all of your supplies, including a fluffy towel, cat-specific shampoo and conditioner, and a non-slip tub mat. You’ll also need a cup for pouring water on your cat’s head and special treats and toys. Keep the room quiet so your cat can feel more relaxed.
Bathe gently. Depending on your cat’s temperament, you may want to have someone gently hold your cat and keep them calm. Minimal restraint is ideal when bathing a cat.
Bathe your cat gently with the shampoo and conditioner, carefully avoiding the face. Consider using a warm washcloth to wipe and rinse your cat’s face. Encourage your cat with verbal praise.
Dry off your cat. After the bath, wrap your cat immediately in a warm towel and dry them off. Your cat will need some extra time to dry off fully, but the towel will remove most of the wetness. Give your cat lots of verbal praise and offer them a treat as a tasty reward.
Cats aren’t big fans of water, but that’s not necessarily bad. Find fun ways for your cat to interact with water. If your cat does need a bath, make it a pleasant experience for both of you.