Cats have long developed a reputation for hating water.
If you’ve ever tried to bathe your cat, you may have experienced this hatred first-hand (hopefully without a scratch or two).
Cats seem to bathe themselves obsessively. However, when it comes to you bathing them, they don’t seem to enjoy that so much— but why?
Read below to find out why cats hate water.
Theory 1: Water was scarce in their original environment
Cats domesticated themselves over 8,000 years ago in a dry, desert-like environment in the Middle East.
Even though their big cat relatives (like the lion and tiger) enjoy playing in water, the domesticated cat is not fond of water.
This is because big cats like lions, tigers, jaguars and ocelots originate from warmer climates and enjoy cooling down in water.
Domestic cats on the other hand, developed over my centuries from a single ancestor – the Near Eastern Wildcat in the Middle East.
Water is not abundant in the Middle East, so cats there are not fond of water unless it is for drinking purposes. This preference was passed on to many future generations of domestic cats.
However, as cats moved and adapted to new environments, some kitties grew accustomed to water or developed new features that made their fur water resistant.
This is the reason why some breeds, such as the Bengal and American Bobtail seem to enjoy water.
Theory 2: Their fur absorbs water
Another reason cats don’t like water is because their fur simply doesn’t react well to it.
Cats groom so much that they leave almost no oils on their fur, which makes it fluffier but less waterproof than a dog’s coat.
Without these oils to repel water, their fur absorbs water and becomes heavy. In addition, their fur takes too long to dry.
Cats also have an undercoat that has no protection against water. This means the water clings clings to their skin like a wet t-shirt.
Cats rely on being quick and agile, therefore it’s easy to understand why a heavy, wet coat makes them feel vulnerable.
Fun Fact: Turkish vans have oily fur and do not have an undercoat, which is why they handle water much better.
Theory 3: Water interferes with pheromone signaling
Cats have multiple pheromone-producing glands all over their bodies. These glands are very important to cats because they produce the pheromones used for communication and marking territory.
Baths, particularly baths that involve scented soaps, shampoos, and other chemicals in general, could interfere with pheromone signaling.
Pheromones play a huge role in helping cats make sense of the world around them. If this process is interrupted by something like water, they become very anxious.
Theory 4: Cats have deep ear canals
Even though their ears may be large, their ear canals are tiny, narrow, and are positioned at a downward angle. Why is this important?
Because anything that enters a cat’s ear is tough to get out. Any moisture or water that gets trapped in the ear canal can easily lead to infection.
Cats are always positioning themselves to avoid getting the inside of their ears wet. Their narrow and deep ear canals are also why they are so prone to getting ear mites.
Theory 5: Cats like to be in control
Cats are kind of control freaks. They love routine and don’t want to do anything that wasn’t their idea. Cats love to feel in control of their surroundings.
A sudden change like a splash of water is jarring to them. The feeling of “wetness” is unfamiliar, and they don’t like unfamiliarity.
According to a 2014 study from Texas A&M, cats are only partially domesticated. This means they still have wild instincts and are constantly on the lookout for potential danger.
This is important because if a cat is weighed down by water, it makes a potential escape from a predator more difficult.
Cats want to remain in good condition so they can be prepared to flee without physical obstacles.
Theory 6: We’ve taught cats to hate water
According to the University of Wisconson-Madison, cats hate water because we’ve taught them to.
Because cats constantly groom themselves, we don’t really have a need to bathe them. Since they’ve never been exposed to water, water might be unfamiliar and even frightening to them.
This is especially true if you use the “spray bottle” method as punishment. Your cat will associate water with bad behavior.
Should I give my cat a bath?
Cats really don’t need bathes under normal circumstances. They are very tidy and groom themselves obsessively.
The only time your cat might need a full-body bath is if they have gotten into something messy and their full coat is dirty.
If the majority of their coat isn’t dirty, only take a wet paper towel and wipe off the area that needs attention. Your cat will take care of the rest.
**WARNING** Another reason to bathe your cat is if your cat has a substance on their coat that you don’t feel comfortable with them licking off of themselves. This applies to substances that might be toxic to them or make them sick.
For example, if your cat gets chocolate or coffee on them, you will need to wash that off of them yourself. Chocolate and coffee are very poisonous to cats.
SURVEY: Do You Consider Cats Family?
Your opinion matters!
Alternatives to giving your cat a bath
If odor or excess litter/debris on your cat’s coat is your main concern, try some deodorizing grooming wipes as an alternative.
Pick some that are fragrance free and hypoallergenic, like the ones pictured below.
How to make your cat like bathes
If your cat doesn’t like water, don’t force them to take a bath unless it is absolutely necessary. Be respectful of your cat’s boundaries.
Ideally, you should only train a kitten to like bathes. Bathing will be more traumatic and uncomfortable for adult cats.
However, there are some steps you can take to encourage your cat to enjoy water on their own. Approach these steps with sensitivity and caution.
Try these steps below to encourage your cat to like water!
**GOLDEN RULE** Always remember to reward your kitty with treats and praise to teach them baths are a good thing.
Early Exposure: If you can, gradually start exposing your cat to bath time when he/she is a kitten. The earlier they are exposed to water, the more willing they will be to bathe down the road.
Familiarity: It is recommended that you get your cat used to the area where bath time will take place. Throw some catnip and toys in the area and let your kitty explore and check it out.
Toys: Once your kitty feels confident in the bathing area fill it with an inch of water or less and throw in toys for him/her to play with.
Protection: Don’t risk being scratched or injured if your cat has a bad reaction to water. Invest in these scratch/bite resistant protective gloves to keep your hands and arms protected.
The final answer – Why do cats hate water?
Why do cats hate water? We don’t know for sure! There are probably a combination of reasons cats hate water.
Many kitties are fascinated by water and enjoy dipping their paws underneath the water faucet; others may even enjoy going for a full-on swim!
Experiences also play a big role in your cats reaction, so whether or not they like or dislike water just depends on your cat.
Just like every human is different, cats are unique too!
SUMMARY: Why do cats hate water?
- Their fur absorbs the water and makes it heavy.
- Water interferes with pheromone signaling.
- They have narrow and deep ear canals that traps water and leads to infection.
- Cats like to be in control.
- Cats were domesticated in dry, desert like environments where water was not common.
- Most cats have never been exposed to water and don’t like the sudden change.
QUESTION: Does your cat hate water? Comment below with your answer!