Why Do Cats Hate Water Title

Photo Credit: Guðmunda Jónsdóttir via Flickr


My younger cat, Manna, came into my life when she was only 3 1/2 weeks old. It turned out that this tiny ball of fluff had fleas. However, due to her age, flea treatments could not be used on her. The veterinarian suggested that I give her gentle baths with a tiny bit of baby shampoo to try and manage the fleas until she was old enough for treatments. I did everything I could to make the baths as comfortable as I could, but Manna was far from impressed. Those tiny claws left me looking like I’d emerged from a horror movie. This experience made me wonder, why do cats hate water?

Exceptions to the Rule

Why Do Cats Hate Water? - Bath 4 months 4

Photo Credit: Devin Prewett via Flickr

The truth is that not all cats hate water. There are several examples of cats that actually love water! In the wild, tigers and jaguars take regular dips in lakes and rivers. Domestic breeds such as the Bengal and the Turkish Van love to swim too! The Turkish Van used to be known in Turkey for swimming out to incoming boats.

Many domesticated cats are fascinated by water. A cat may not enjoy being submerged in water, but watching it in motion is another story. Cats often play with water that is dripping from a faucet. It isn’t unusual for cats to interact with their owners while the owner is taking a bath or shower. My cats love to watch me bathe! Cats can even be coaxed into drinking more water by using a water fountain.

Why do cats hate water? A Few Theories.

Cat behaviorists have several theories that attempt to explain why cats hate water, but no one really knows for sure. It appears to be a cognitive/behavioral issue since there are not any medical reasons why a cat can not get wet. Most theories about why cats hate water come down to 3 basic reasons:

  • Most domestic cats are not used to water.
    A cats aversion to water may have started with their ancestors. The wild cats of the African desert experience very little water in their life time. This coupled with the idea that domesticated cats live indoors and away from the elements could explain that cats are just not used to getting wet. It is outside their comfort zone.
  • Domestic cats do not have a need to get wet. 
    Cats are very good at keeping themselves clean without getting in the bathtub. They spend a large portion of their waking hours grooming themselves. Also, cats can find plentiful prey on land, so there isn’t a reason to dive into the water for food. Cats do drink water, but that does not require any drenching of the fur.
  • Being wet is simply inconvenient for cats. 
    Cats are obsessed with their fur being groomed in a particular fashion. Water messes up all of that hard work! When a cat’s fur gets drenched, it can take a long time to dry thoroughly because of the different layers. It’s possible that wet fur is uncomfortable.

Making Bath Time Easier

Why do cats hate water? - first Bath

Photo Credit: Bill & Vicki T via Flickr

A cat will not necessarily ever need to be bathed. They do a great job grooming themselves! However, there may  some circumstances that will require you to bathe your cat. Just like in Manna’s case, cats can have medical conditions for which baths are recommended. If your cat is unable to groom him/herself, they will need your help! Cats should also be bathed if they have gotten a substance on their fur that could harm them if they licked it off. Here are a few tips for making bath time easier:

  • Begin bathing your cat when he/she is young.
  • Teach your cat that the sink/bathtub is a friendly place. Interact with toys or treats in the area without water until the cat is comfortable with the area.
  • Use a wet washcloth to wipe down the cat. This can help the cat get used to the feeling of being wet. Sometimes a wet washcloth wipe down will be all your cat needs!
  • Place something on the bottom of the sink/bathtub that the cat can sink it’s claws into for stabilization. Something as simple as a towel could work.
  • Keep bath time positive. Offer the cat tons of praise for putting up with the process.
  • Use small amounts of feline shampoo and work from the tail to the head.
  • Make it quick! Don’t take any more time than you have to when bathing your cat.

What experiences have you had with bathing cats?

Sources and Digging Deeper

Do Cats Really Hate Water? – Animal Planet

Why does my cat…hate to take baths? – VetStreet

Why Do Dogs Love Water but Cats Hate It? – Live Science

Why Do Cats Hate Water – Canadian Veterinarians