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Do Cats Fear The Water?

Posted March 25, 2014 in Cat Behavior

Wet cat

Have you ever seen a cat on the beach or swimming in a pool? Most people, myself included, would probably say no. So have you ever wondered if there is any truth to the commonly held belief that cats hate water? 

Wild cats and water
A good way to start the conversation is by looking at our domestic cats’ wild relatives. After all, many of our pets’ behaviors are remnants of their wild ancestors’ instincts. Regarding water, wild cats fall into two camps—generally depending on where they live.

  • Cats from warmer climates, such as lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and ocelots, like water to cool off and are generally good swimmers.
  • Cats from colder climates, like bobcats, lynx and snow leopards, avoid water because getting wet would hamper their coats’ ability to keep them warm.

Domestic cats and water
Domestic cats, though related to these wild cats, are not directly descended from them. Domestic cats have developed over many centuries from a single wild ancestor that still exists in the wild today, the Near Eastern wildcat of the Middle East.  As water is scarce in the Middle East, these cats were not exposed to it in any great degree, and their decedents, likewise, do not generally appreciate water except for drinking.

Domestic cats that don’t like water
Today, most domestic cats would rather not bathe in, swim in or otherwise interact with water. Fortunately, they do not need to. While other species of animals (such as humans) clean themselves with water, it is not necessary for cats to do so. Cats are inherently clean animals; they use their tongues, which have minute hooked shaped papillae, to assist in grooming out knots and keeping the coat clean, sweet smelling and in tip-top shape.  In addition, many breeds have coats that trap water, so getting wet makes it hard for them to stay warm in cool weather. 

Domestic cats that do like water
Of course, there are exceptions to the general rule:

  • The Turkish Van, a breed of cat known as the “swimming cat,” loves water. So does the Turkish Angora that hails from the same area. It is possible that these cats enjoy water because of where they evolved, that is, they swam in Lake Van to cool down.
  • Bengal cats are also well known to love water; this makes sense when you consider that the Bengal is the

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.