Many people believe that cats hate water, and cats certainly don't do anything to dispel that belief. However, do cats really hate water or is there more to it?
Some of a cat's dislike for water stems from instinct. Big cats that live near river-dwelling predators (for example, crocodiles) avoid run-ins with these predators by avoiding certain bodies of water. On the other hand, big cats that live in hotter climates actually love to play and lounge in the water. Asian fishing cats hunt in the water and even have partially webbed paws to help them dive and swim.
While your tabby hopefully won't be encountering any crocodiles at any nearby streams, that instinctive caution is still present.
Cats are also super sensitive to smell and many may not like the smell of chemicals from tap water or ponds. Imagine someone dousing you with a perfume or cologne that you totally hated. And who wants to smell like pondwater anyway? Bleh!
Another consideration is the fact that getting soaked makes the cat's fur heavier. Also, it will make your cat cold much quicker. As anyone who has watched a cat lay for hours in a sunbeam knows, cats HATE being cold!
Cats also don't like change or unexpected surprises. Think of the last time someone splashed you with water or pushed you in a pool. It's not fun to find yourself unexpectedly wet is it? Cats feel this same way. They don't like the surprise or the lack of control over their environment.
All of that being said, cats don't hate water completely. Some breeds, the Turkish Van for example, actually love water and enjoy swimming. Even cats that don't like to swim usually like putting curious paws into water bowls or under dripping fountains. Cats typically prefer drinking from flowing water and several water fountain type dishes exist for just this purpose.
So… what about baths?
Because cats are so fastidious about cleanliness, many of them will never need a bath. However, if your cat gets into something messy & needs a little help – patience is key. Start by gently rubbing your cat with a damp cloth, just enough to get the fur damp. If your cat tolerates this well, try slow cupfuls of warm water to get them more wet. Don't drench them all at once.
Slowly introduce a cat-specific shampoo. Do not use human, dog, or flea shampoos as they can strip your cat's fur of needed oils and irritate their skin. Likewise, excessive baths can lead to skin itching and issues. Be sure to fully rinse any cleaners off of your cat so that they do not ingest them later during their normal grooming. Finally, be sure to gently but thoroughly dry your cat. They probably won't tolerate too much towel action but do your best to make sure they're not sopping wet before letting them escape to indignantly clean themselves again.
If your cat always seems to be smelly, despite your best bath attempts, speak to your vet about what might be causing the problem. Overweight cats have a difficult time cleaning themselves and this will sometimes lead to odors around the areas they can't reach. Work with your vet to figure out a healthy weight loss routine to correct the underlying problem and also see what you can do to help your cat stay clean in the interim.
One final thing to mention when it comes to cats and water. Cats hate getting their whiskers wet and they hate for their whiskers to touch the sides of their dish. If your cat's water bowl is small and deep rather than flatter and wide, they may not be drinking enough. Get a water bowl with kitties in mind to help keep your cat properly hydrated!
Check out this Simon's Cat Logic video that talks more about how and why cats interact with water as well as some tips and tricks for the type of bowl to buy and bowl placement.
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