Cats are notorious for hating water. Luckily, bathing a cat is rarely needed (and when it is, a waterless cat bath can be a great option). But why do cats seem to hate water so much?
Six reasons why most cats don’t like the water
1. Fear or discomfort
Cats are creatures of mystery…and habit! A cat that has never had a bath may not like the feeling of having its body drenched in it. A negative experience with water once could set up a conditioned fear response that will stick with that cat for life. It may genuinely fear the newness of the experience and the physical sensation. A cat that has regularly been exposed to water as a kitten may be conditioned to be more accepting of it.
When wet, a cat’s coat weighs more than normal. This can limit their movement and reflexes, which may make them feel vulnerable. It simply may make your cat feel unable to protect itself.1
In addition, water makes surfaces slippery. Your cat may not feel like it can grip or balance when in the sink or tub, which can make it feel threatened.
Try using a wet towel in the base on the tub or sink for the kitty to grip onto to minimize this sensation.
3. Grooming preferences
Cats like to feel clean. They spend a lot of time grooming themselves, as much as 50% of their day!2 It would seem that most cats aren’t big fans of having anything that doesn’t smell “normal” on their fur.
Water and solvent based shampoos can strip the natural oils on the their fur. In their eyes, you’re creating more work for them by bathing them, when they would (for the most part) rather bathe themselves.
4. Dry time
If you’ve ever bathed a cat, you know it can take quite a while for their fur to dry after a bath. Some cats may not want to get wet because they know how long it takes for their fur to dry, leaving them soggy and unhappy.
Damp fur is cold too! Your cat may have a period of feeling chilled after being submerged in water.
Cats are sensitive to smell—14 times more sensitive than humans.3 Your water may have chemicals (or even minerals) that your cat doesn’t like the smell of, like chlorine or fluoride. Your cat may also dislike the scent of the shampoo you’re using, especially if the scent is strong.
6. Evolutionary landlubbers
There are likely biological reasons that cats don’t like water. Even though many cats love the taste of fish, historically, they are not ocean or river-dwelling animals. Domesticated cats are descendants of felines that typically lived in dry and arid areas. They have never learned to swim because there was no evolutionary need for it. This behavior, or lack thereof, has stuck around in our modern-day cats.
Let’s not forget: some cats love water!
Cats are curious and unpredictable creatures; some actually do like water! It’s not uncommon for some owners to post pictures of their cats playing in the water on social media. But splashing and pawing at streams of water may have more to do with the play of light and shininess of the water than anything else.
Some breeds of cats are actually known for enjoying swimming. For example, the Turkish Van can’t seem to get enough of paddling around and has been nicknamed “the swimming cat” for that reason.4
Tips if you must bathe a cat
Thankfully, bathing your cat is rarely necessary, as most cats are fastidious groomers. If you do need to bathe your cat, such as for medical reasons or after a skunk attack, there are some ways to make it a little less stressful.
Fill the tub (or sink) first, the sound and splashing of running water will make things worse. Line the tub with a folded towel (which will of course become wet) so they feel like they have something to grip onto. A slippery tub floor will also cause more stress for the cat. Use a container to carefully pour water over, versus using a faucet. Lastly, be really careful around the face and eyes!
If your cat is deeply scared of water, you may try using a waterless bath. Find a pet-safe wipe, dry shampoo or foam to gently massage into your kitty’s fur.5 Then simply use a towel to remove residual soap. It probably won’t get your cat as clean as a traditional bath, but it can be helpful in many situations. Always use a product labelled for use on cats. Since cats groom themselves, they are very likely to ingest whatever you put on their fur.
From Pets Best
While we can’t help you give your cat a bath, we can help you make sure that your cat is protected from the medical conditions that make more frequent bathing necessary. At Pets Best, our cat and kitten insurance covers chronic conditions and can be customized for your pet’s unique needs. In addition, Pets Best policyholders can speak to a veterinary expert anytime through a 24/7 Pet Helpline.
1“Why do cats hate water,”Don Vaughn, Brittanica, https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-cats-hate-water#:~:text=Cats%20are%20fastidious%20animals%20that,is%20also%20the%20shock%20factor, accessed October 13, 2022.
2“Cats that lick too much,” Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/cats-lick-too-much#:~:text=Cats%20typically%20spend%20between%2030,their%20day%2C%22%20she%20says, accessed October 13, 2022.
3“Cat Senses,” Paws Chicago, https://www.pawschicago.org/news-resources/all-about-cats/kitty-basics/cat-senses#:~:text=Their%20sense%20of%20smell%20is,furniture%20or%20a%20house%20guest), accessed October 13, 2022.
4“Turkish Van Cat Breed Information,” Hills Pet, https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/cat-breeds/turkish-van, accessed October 13, 2022.
5“Wet Bath, Dry Bath, Moist Bath,” Catnip (Dec., 2018), https://www.tuftscatnip.com/everydaycatcare/wet-bath-dry-bath-moist-bath/, accessed October 13, 2022.