Why Do Cats Hate Water?

Most cats avoid water at all costs, as any cat owner knows. Here's why, according to veterinarians.

Why do cats hate water when their bigger cousins like the tiger, bobcat, or leopard don’t mind taking a dip to cool off or catch prey? Veterinarians and researchers aren’t entirely sure, but it’s fascinating to explore the theories. Equally fascinating? These other explanations behind your cat’s behavior.

One and done

A curious cat that falls in your bubble bath or caught outside in the rain may avoid water for the rest of its life. Why do cats hate water after these scenarios? Eve Elektra Cohen, DVM, of Bideawee has a theory. “When a cat becomes wet, their hair/coat is heavier, colder, and uncomfortable. It can also take a long time for a cat’s hair to dry on its own,” says Dr. Cohen. “Another aspect of discomfort is that cats are quick and nimble creatures, light on their feet and adept at jumping and balancing. In water, they may feel a loss of control as it slows them down.” Even after only one negative experience like that and your cat may say “no thank you” to future water excursions. If this becomes frustrating when trying to bathe your cat, here’s how to give a cat a bath without being clawed.

Fear of the unfamiliar

Cats are all about grooming—around 30 to 50 percent of their day is spent licking and fluffing their coat. So besides their water dish, cats aren’t exposed to larger bodies of water. “Like anything else unfamiliar, the initial reaction may be fear. This fear reaction can be exacerbated if owners have used a squirt gun or spray bottle to dissuade cats from being on surfaces such as furniture or the kitchen counter,” says Jennifer Kasten, DVM, from Tomlyn Veterinary Science. Cats may also turn their nose up at the odors their keen sense of smell detects from the chemicals in tap water.

Why do cats hate water but play with a running faucet?

How is it that some cats are fascinated by a running faucet or even drink from a running kitchen faucet, yet hate water? “The appeal is likely more about the game of the movement of the water, the noise it makes, and the light reflecting off of it,” says Dr. Cohen. “This stimulates the cat’s strong prey drive.” Other experts think cats evolved and prefer the clean and safe tap water over the stagnant water in nature. When it’s mealtime, make sure you know the best diet for your cat.

These cats don’t mind taking a dip

But why do cats hate water except for some breeds such as the Maine coon, Bengal, Abyssinian, or Turkish Van? Because these cat breeds have a different texture to their hair that makes them more resistant to water, so they don’t experience the discomfort and actually enjoy the water and even known to enjoy swimming, Dr. Cohen says.

The water’s fine, feline

If you have a kitten or older cat, it’s not too late to help them feel more comfortable around water. It may come in handy if you have to bathe sick or older cats with arthritis who can’t groom themselves properly. (You don’t generally have to bathe a kitten; in fact, it’s one of the 13 things you do that your cat actually hates.) “For kittens, the most impressionable time of life is between three to 16 weeks of life. That is the ideal time for a pet parent to expose their kitten to water using treats or toys as positive reinforcement. Older cats can also be conditioned to tolerate or enjoy the water, but it may be a bit slower process,” says Dr. Kasten. Next, watch out for these mistakes every cat owner makes.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.