Q: Do Cats Really Hate Water?
A: Not all of them. It depends on the species, fur type, and cat's history.
House cats with water aversion have been known to put up one hell of a fight before going in the drink. They claw. They run. But whether they are naturally hydrophobic seems to depend on the feline.
(Photo by Daniel Skeen)
And tigers aren't the only ones. Jaguars, lions and ocelots will all get wet if there might be food involved. The Fishing Cat native to Asia's wetlands even has webbed feet and has been seen diving underwater to snag fish. (Too bad these cute swimmers are disappearing quickly and considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.)
So, there goes the "all cats hate water" theory. But what about the domesticated ones in our homes? Here, it seems a number of factors may come into play. If the cat has had bad experiences with water in the past - like the ill-advised use of a spray-bottle for discipline - it probably won't be a big fan of bath time.
Another possible reason some felines avoid water is that it messes with their hairdo. Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves and each other. Take a closer look at your cat's tongue and you'll find it covered in tiny, hellish combs specially designed to remove loose hair and other debris from its coat. (Technically called "papillae," these little spines also help felines lick clean the bones of their victims, which is kind of awesome.) Now imagine you just spent the whole afternoon working on a killer perm and somebody comes along and dunks you in a tub.
In the same vein, cats come equipped with a number of glands that produce scent chemicals called pheromones. These are used for marking and communication, which is partly why they're always rubbing up against your leg. Coming into contact with water, let alone shampoo, could mess with the message they're trying to give off.
Some breeds may also be more inclined to like water from the start. If you do a quick search online, you'll find that the Turkish Van breed of domestic cats has quite a reputation for loving water. However, this cat's street cred is probably equal parts lore and fur. Turkish Vans, or "swimming cats," were said to have swam ashore from Noah's ark, apparently sick of waiting for the water to go down. More likely, the cats don't mind playing in puddles because their fur is densely cashmere-ish and water resistant.
Other breeds, like the Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat have thick fur built for repelling moisture and cold winters. The latter is known for hanging out on Viking ships, so maybe that has something to do with its fearless demeanor. Many Bengal cats also seem fascinated by water and will readily play in it.
If we've learned nothing else, it's that every species, breed, and individual cat is different. Just as some dogs and cats get along fine and others are mortal enemies, many cats will happily take a bath.
But what do you do if you're unlucky enough to get a hydrophobic kitty-kat? Well, best-selling author of cat behavior guides and host of Animal Planet's "Psycho Kitty" Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends you start by trimming your cat's nails. "Wear long sleeves, even if they get wet, to protect your arms just in case the cat panics," she says. A steady, hose-like attachment for your faucet and a rubber mat on the bottom of the tub may also make your cat more comfortable. But really, the best thing to do might be to skip the bath altogether.
"Most cats don't need bathing," she says, "so unless you have a breed that requires regular baths or your cat gets something on the coat that can't be removed any other way, don't put your cat and yourself through the bathing experience."