You’ve probably heard that cats hate water. But have you ever stopped to think about the reasons your cat might not be so fond of water? Consider these eight factors about common cat and water encounters.
1. Instincts: Your house cat retains the same instincts as her wild cousins. Her behavior is guided by being a predator, but also by being potential prey. Your cat knows she must remain in good shape and be alert to escape potential danger.
2.Vulnerability: Your cat’s top layer of fur is somewhat water resistant but not enough to keep her dry if she is drenched with water. This soaking of her fur creates a weighted down and unfamiliar feeling. Your cat might feel trapped by the feeling of a heavier coat, thus increasing feelings of vulnerability. Cats are creatures of habit and do not like changes that make them feel a sense of uncertainty.
3. Curiosity: Our cat Annie is quite curious about water. She makes a point of leaping up into the kitchen window to watch me wash up dishes after dinner. The water swirling down the drain fascinates her. I allow Annie to inspect the water on her own terms and never splash her or force her to get wet. Our other cat Eddie likes to sneak up and catch a few drops of water out of our reverse osmosis faucet.
Even if your cat is curious about water like our Annie and Eddie, there is a big difference between dipping in a paw to test the surface, or letting a few drops fall on her head while drinking from a faucet, than being submerged against her will.
4. Odor: The purified water that comes from our faucet does not have the same chemical smell that might permeate our tap water. Our cats may turn their nose up at the unfamiliar smell of chemicals that are in tap water. A cat’s nose is sophisticated and knows the difference between natural smells such as soil in water and the pungent smell of chlorine. The smell alone could be reason enough for your cat to turn up her nose at water.
5. Drinking Technique: Cats even have a unique way of drinking water that keeps their chin and sensitive whiskers dry. Your cats use fluid dynamics and physics to take in water. While a dog will curl his tongue like a ladle to collect water, a cat curves the tongue under and slightly back, leaving the top surface of the tip of the tongue to barely touch the water. The cat then raises the tongue rapidly, creating an upward mini-stream of water, about four mini-streams per second. A cat then closes the mouth shut, capturing the water before the force of gravity pulls it back down.
Big cats use the same maneuver for drinking as our housecats, though the larger cats slow down their lapping to take advantage of the physics of balancing the upward movement of the water set off by their tongue. A lion laps about two times per second versus your house cat’s four times per second.
6. Temperature Regulation: Cats living in hot climates might not be as averse to water as their cousins living in colder climates. Water provides a way for cats to cool off with a swim or just a quick dip. Cats are able to swim. In fact, big cats who live in hot climates, like tigers, lions and jaguars, are skilled swimmers. Cats in colder climates don’t like being cold and wet for the same reasons we don’t. Being wet in the cold causes us to lose body heat and be uncomfortable.
7. Swimming: Not all domestic cats are water averse. The Turkish Van breed of domesticated cat has been nicknamed the “swimming cat” because of their fondness of water. This breed was known to swim in Turkey’s Lake Van and even swim out to greet returning fishing boats. If you share your home with a Turkish Van you might also share your bathtub with this water-loving feline.
8. Bathing: Cats are fastidious about grooming so keeping clean is a top priority for them, but this doesn’t mean our version of a bath is a good idea for the cat. At some point in your cat’s life it might become necessary to lend a helping hand to help her get clean. Wiping your cat down with a warm damp washcloth rather than plunging her into the bathtub is the better solution to help your cat come clean. Plan ahead by providing a nice warm towel to wrap around your cat and rub gently to help her dry off. If it is cold and you think your cat will tolerate the noise, you can use a blow dryer on the low setting to make sure her coat is dry.
So, it isn’t so much that cats hate water, but that they embrace water on their own terms. As long as we respect a cat’s needs and don’t force her into anything she might not be comfortable doing, everybody will be happier.