CasarsaGuru / Getty
In every cat movie from our childhood two things are abundantly clear:
1. Cats hate dogs.
2. Cats hate water.
Live without cats your whole life and you just assume those Disney-movie “facts” are accurate.
There are some very zany, cool, and collected cats that enjoy water (see Nathan, the beach cat), especially from the kitchen or bathroom faucet as you try to brush your teeth (my cat). But for the majority of our household felines, water isn’t all that wonderful—especially when it’s deep, gushing, or sprayed (never do that to your cat, btw!). And although water is absolutely necessary to a cat’s survival, there are three likely reasons why your Whiskers might avoid baths in the tub or find lawn sprinklers to be demon spawn.
3 Reasons Why Your Cat Might Not Like Water
1. It’s in Their Genetics
Our domesticated feline friends can trace their genetic history to ancient times. Compared to dogs, modern cats are one of the most recently evolved species within the Felidae family. Our household kitty’s ancestors were wild cats that thrived in dry habitats, like savannas. They weren’t the type of animal that would find it relaxing to bathe in a cool pond or water hole, because open water areas were often riddled with dangers (like snakes and crocodiles). This might be why our cats prefer to bask in the sun, nap in cozy places, and avoid deep and cold water.
2. It Messes Up Their Fur
Cats provide excellent examples of self-care rituals, including their ability to take quick snoozes whenever they want and enjoy long, luxurious grooming sessions. Grooming is critical to a cat’s mental and physical well-being. Not only does grooming rid a kitty of mats and keep their coats shiny, it also provides a chance for them to check themselves for fleas, ticks, or other nasty parasites or skin conditions and helps them to regulate their body temperature. Getting wet, especially when it comes as a surprise, messes up all the work accomplished from a recent grooming session and might make your cat feel unkept and physically uncomfortable.
3. It Smells … Weird
A cat’s sense of smell is extremely powerful and crucial to their way of life. Cats have very sensitive noses that might be better at discerning smells than dog’s noses. The water that comes through our home faucets has quite a few chemicals in it and water that has been sitting in a bowl for long periods of time takes on new odors, too. These smells are all detectable to your fastidious cat that likely just gave herself a nice, long grooming session. She doesn’t want that icky water (to her nose) changing up the smell of her beautiful fur, and she certainly doesn’t want to taste it the next time she licks her back or her feet.
Do All Cats Hate Water?
While many of our feisty felines are not fans of shower time or getting splashed, some kitties actually love taking a dip or putting their paws under running water. Every cat is different and has different preferences for not only how they drink water but how much, or how often, they come in contact with it. Many cats find playing with water to be a great enrichment activity.
How Can I Bathe a Cat that Might Not Like Water?
First things first: Never force your cat into the bathtub! Instead, try using a small amount of water poured into a bowl or in your sink and see if her interest in playing with it takes over. Then, as she plays in the water or bats at the water coming out of the faucet, you can give her a favorite treat as you slowly bathe her. If she is not going to like any amount of water, then you can instead get her coat wet by soaking a washcloth in the bowl and gently rubbing her down.
If your kitty just never seems to enjoy any part of getting wet or taking a bath you can try waterless shampoos, or make an appointment for her with an experienced cat groomer. Every cat needs to get clean, either via a bath at home or with the help of a professional cat grooming service. Considering your cat’s preferences for water go a long way in making sure your cat is healthy and happy.