Myth Busted: Are Cats Really Hydrophobic?
Cat Facts

Myth Busted: Are Cats Really Hydrophobic?

Our fur babies are hunted by the reputation of being terrified of water. While we know tigers and jaguars to be great swimmers, most domestic cats forgo a good splash. Are cats really hydrophobic though?

two tigers playing in the water with each other
two tigers playing in the water with each other

Why do so many cats dislike water?

Actually, many cats find themselves fascinated by the water. You may have caught your kitty staring intensely at the shower head, faucet or bathtub. Sometimes they’re even brave enough to delicately dip a paw into the water to test it or just watch the surface ripple and move while their reflection changes accordingly.


Why do they do this? John Bradshaw, Ph.D., the Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol explains: "That flickering pattern, the light coming off the water, is hard-wired into their brain as a potential sign of prey," Bradshaw says. "It’s not because it’s wet. It’s because it moves and makes interesting noises. Something moving is a potential thing to eat."

Get them completely wet though, and you’re likely to suffer from the stare of betrayal for hours afterwards. And here is why:

1. It weighs them down. Unlike some dogs, feline fur is not adapted to repel water. If cats go into the water, their coat will be saturated. This significantly weighs them down, which naturally makes them feel super uncomfortable. Cautious and on guard, cats always need to be in good shape in case they have to fight-or-flight.

2. Evolution. Many scientists explain that feline ancestors lived in dry, arid environments. And though they probably embraced fishing every once in a while, they generally never needed to get accustomed to swimming. It was never an evolutionary advantage. Bradshaw explains: "Domestic cats were descended from Arabian wild cats," he says. "Their ancestors lived in an area with very few large bodies of water. They never had to learn how to swim. There was no advantage to it."

a cat looking out a window in the snow
a cat looking out a window in the snow

Are cats really hydrophobic?

3. Experience. Cats are creatures of habit and are generally not very tolerant of change. A cat who was never exposed to water before likely won’t be very open to the idea. Kittens regularly exposed to water, on the other hand, are much more embracing.

Furthermore, just like us, mere humans, if a cat had a bad experience with water in the past, it may have developed a true fear of water. There are many ways cats can acquire hydrophobia - maybe they were forcefully bathed before, or they were caught up in a scary storm.

4. They don't like the smell. If the water smells odd, as it usually does in the bathtubs and swimming pools, it is likely that your cat doesn’t want anything to do with that smelly substance. If your cat also refuses to drink the tap water, it may be because it can smell the chemicals and minerals in it.

5. It feels uncomfortable. Walking around soaking wet is simply uncomfortable. And besides weighing them down, to soak the coat would mean to ruin all the hard work they put in grooming themselves. Imagine having to lick every single hair back to where it belongs. And that unfamiliar smell! No, thanks!

How to bathe a hydrophobic cat?

A lick here and there, cats keep themselves clean and pretty at all times. However, sometimes they may need some extra help. So, how can we provide the hand without "betraying" our beloved ones and, ultimately, scarring for life?

First of all, it is highly advisable to groom your kitty regularly. This will help your cat on so many levels. It keeps them clean, improves the circulation, helps reduce the hairballs and makes it easier for you to monitor for parasites or skin abnormalities.

When necessary, you can also wipe them or use dry shampoo. If your feline, usually for medical reasons, really does need a proper bath, then all you can do is make the experience a little bit less stressful than it has to be.

Fill the tub with lukewarm water. Line the tub with the towel they can grip on. Don’t use the faucet to pour the water on the cat, but rather use a container and be careful and gentle. Talk to your cat to try to make it feel safe. Always use gentle soap and watch out for the eyes!


Aqua loving daredevils

Evolution didn’t manage to stop all the cats from swimming though. Meet the 10 daredevil breeds who just love a good swim! List is from CatTime.

1. Turkish Van: The legend has it that Turkish Van swam ashore from Noah’s Ark. No wonder they don’t fear the water!

2. Turkish Angora: Who cares about the looks when water is so much fun?

3. Savannah: Their curiosity wins over their fears. Playing with water is more fun than ever with these active felines!

4. American Bobtail: With the short tail came the love of water.

5. Bengal: They love water. They love the game. It’s as simple as that.

6. Japanese Bobtail: The tricolor coat is water resistant. And they are fearless. Watch out for that aquarium!

7. Manx: They have double coat. Double the protection, double the fun!

8. Abyssinian: These cats are hilarious. They will often learn how to turn the faucets on. Who are you to deprive them from their own personal waterpark?

9. Norwegian Forest Cat: Did you say fish? These brave kittens are known not to fear a swim to snag fish from lakes and streams. You don’t have the aquarium, do you?

10. Maine Coon: These felines sport water-repellent coat. They are big, fun and fearless.

a black and white cat drinking water from a pool
a black and white cat drinking water from a pool

Are cats really hydrophobic?

Internet sensations: famous feline swimmers

Here are the top 3 little daredevils internet is obsessing about!

1. Nathan, the beach cat: there’s nothing more fun than a swim with my hoomans! Meet Nathan, a rescue who just can’t get enough of swimming!

2. Sasha, a pro swimmer: Sasha owns every swimming pool she jumps into.

3. Merlin, the swimming cat: Merlin takes regular swims on North Pond, Norway. He’s that pawesome.

a cat is drinking from a faucet in a bathroom
a cat is drinking from a faucet in a bathroom

Are cats really hydrophobic?

Water loving or not, all cats are exceptional and lovable in their own rights. Do you happen to be owned by an exceptional daredevil who doesn’t mind getting wet? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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