Reviewed for accuracy on October 22, 2018, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
We’ve seen the videos. One quick search on YouTube for “cats swimming,” and next thing you know, that’s two hours you’ll never get back. Since cats have a reputation for not liking water, we seem to be collectively mesmerized by cats that like water. So what’s going on here?
Certified cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson of Fundamentally Feline says it’s rare, but there are some cats that like water. She believes it’s the curiosity factor and says that cats prefer to attempt the experience on their own.
As with many feline behaviors, you can’t expect to simply turn your kitty into a water-loving cat. Turning on the faucet for them to check it out at their own speed is a good start. If they’re forced into it, they will definitely hate it, if they didn’t already.
The Feline Evolution
Johnson cites cat evolution as an indicator of why they may not be drawn to water. “Cats are a desert species, so they evolved in dry climates historically,” she says. “Water wasn’t a big part of their life, so it makes sense that it’s not something ingrained that they would naturally like. Some cats have been trained gradually over time in a positive way so it’s not a scary experience.”
Cats that like water are few and far between, but for those who do, it’s generally because they were exposed to water at a young age and became desensitized to it, according to Johnson. For example, this could be a show cat who was bathed regularly as a kitten.
Water could have become a positive experience, or at least something the cat has become acclimated to being around. Still, Johnson thinks that about 90 percent of cats will dislike water.
Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant from The Cat Coach and author of the book Naughty No More, corroborates what Johnson says. “The theory is that cats have ancestors who lived in a desert environment, and they didn’t have a need or opportunity to swim. Most household cats still retain this behavior, and there hasn’t been any reason for them to evolve into swimmers.”
Krieger says another possible reason for water aversion is that cats don’t do well with change. “The feel of water on their fur can be uncomfortable and cause stress.” She says training cats to like baths is possible, but it needs to begin while they are kittens.
Coat and Scent Factors
Another reason why some cats usually steer clear of water has to do with their coats.
“The reason it is more common for certain breeds such as Turkish Van and Turkish Angora cats to like water is that their coats are more water-resistant than other breeds,” says Johnson. “As a whole, a cat’s coat holds water, and it takes them a very long time to dry off, which makes being wet very unappealing.”
Cats also don’t want their natural scents to be washed away from their fur.
Johnson says, “There is comfort for cats in being saturated in their own scents. Water actually grooms away their natural odor. When grooming, they deposit their own saliva on their coat. Water dilutes their natural odor, so they lick to get their own scent back.”
Cats That Like Water
Krieger has seen many cats that like water, but most of them enjoy playing with water from faucets or fountains. They will often bat at dripping water, while some fully immerse themselves.
Some breeds are known to like water more than others. Krieger says that cat breeds that like water include Bengals, Turkish Van cats and some Savannahs are partial to water, though it’s not a guarantee. Johnson says that Maine Coons are especially known to like water, but she says it really depends on the cat.
To encourage your cat to like water, Johnson suggests trying a cat water fountain or a motion sensor that turns the faucet on so it doesn’t drip constantly.
A cat water fountain, like the Drinkwell 360 stainless steel pet fountain, is fun for cats because of the continuous flow that mimics water in a stream or river. If you have an adventurous cat who will swim in open water, you may want to get them a life jacket in a small size such as the Paws Aboard Pink Polka Dot dog life jacket.
To provide enrichment for a water-inclined feline, Johnson suggests putting pieces of meat in ice cubes for cats to find in a water bowl or filling the bathroom sink with water and adding ping pong balls or bath toys for the cat to play with.
These Pet Parents Have Water-Loving Cats
If you ask around, you’ll find plenty of pet parents with stories to share about how their cats love water.
Hope Muller’s cat Bonzo loved to jump into the tub during bubble baths. “He was mesmerized by bubbles. He wouldn’t eat them; he would just bat them around with his paws. Bonzo was a very playful cat and actually jumped into the toilet by accident once! After that he would use his paws to smack water running from the faucet, and lean inside the toilet bowl to splash in that. I think he just liked water.”
Kimberly Rolzhausen’s cat “Michael Bolton” is not a swimmer or a wader, but she is a splasher. “She likes to stick her paws in water and fling it about. She’ll do this in her water bowl, at the water faucet if it’s running, and also has no problem sticking her paws in your water glass!”
Perhaps the most surprising was Abigail Sisson’s cat Pumpkin who loved to swim in the bathtub with her sons when they were little. “He took baths with the boys a few times a week ever since we got him! If we didn’t put him in, he would jump right in on his own.”
Cats like Pumpkin, who love taking a dip, might enjoy their very own Cool Pup Splash About dog pool—who says dogs get to have all the fun?
So why do some cats like water but others don’t? When it comes to cats and water, the bottom line is you can lead a cat to water, but you can’t make them swim.
By LisaBeth Weber
Image via iStock.com/Aleksandr Zotov