Every other pet parent knows that most cats loathe water. A majority of pet parents, however, do not know the reasons why. Understanding the reasons most cats “hate” water will help you determine the actions to take to convince your kitty to enjoy a bath.
Water is Not an Important Part of the Cat’s Evolution
The ancestors of modern felines are those that lived and thrived in the arid regions of the Middle East. These places were barren, often scorched places where there aren’t many bodies of water around. Because of this, the very first cats never experienced dipping into a body of water, let alone try swimming. As one would put it, there was no evolutionary need for ancient cats to learn to swim.
Throughout the millennia, this trait got passed down from one cat generation to the next. And since all modern domestic cats can trace their origins to these desert-living creatures in the Fertile Crescent, you can still expect this aversion to water to remain strong.
Do take note that there are cat breeds that are especially fond of water. A good example of this is the Turkish Angora. Another water-loving feline is the Turkish Van. One has to understand that the ancestors of these kitties lived in Turkey where the climate is not as harsh as that of the Middle East. As such, these ancestors are already accustomed to a “wet” experience.
One may also think about tigers and lions. There are stories of tigers “bathing” in a pond or river. While lions do not share a tiger’s enthusiasm for the water, it is also not afraid of taking an occasional bath. These large cats live in areas where there is a body of water. It is where many of their prey also live. If a prey goes into the water, these large cats are not going to let the water be an obstacle to their next meal.
It’s in Their Coat
Another reason why your kitty may be averse to taking a bath is that its coat is not well-suited for it. While there are cats with thick double coats, they often lack the waterproofing that is common in dogs’ coats.
A waterproof coat means the animal is able to maintain its ideal core body temperature. That is why Chesapeake Bay Retrievers do not mind swimming from one boat to another. They will retrieve fishermen’s nets and help them retrieve anything from the icy cold waters of the Atlantic.
This is not the case with most cats. Many of them do not have the necessary fur anatomy to protect them from the bitter cold. When they get in the water, this will drench their coat. This will lower their body temperatures and make them feel very cold. A cold and wet kitty is an unhappy and anxious kitty.
Hampers their Fight or Flight Responses
In addition to the body temperature-lowering effect of water, it can also have a negative impact on the cat’s survival. Cats, regardless of how “domesticated” they are, still have the instinct of both prey and predator. As a predator, they will always look for signs that will indicate the presence of a prey.
As prey animals, on the other hand, cats will always have to be on the lookout for predators. Oftentimes, they are larger cats like tigers and lions. These apex predators will not eat cats but they will kill their smaller cousins if they encounter one. There are other wild animals that can also make a cat their next meal for the day. As such, cats will always have to be very vigilant, both as a hunter and as a prey.
It is for this reason that they have learned to never venture anywhere near bodies of water. If they get wet, their coat gets all soaked up. Their coat is not waterproof, yet it has the ability to hold water. The added weight of water or moisture in their coat can have an adverse effect on their fight or flight responses.
To put it in simple words, having a wet coat will weigh them down. They will not be able to run as fast as they would want to from a large predator. And if they do decide to face and fight their predator, they will not be as nimble as they should be. Their wet coat is slowing them down.
A Negative Experience or Lack Thereof
It is also possible for cats to “hate” taking a bath because of a negative experience. For example, if a cat got caught in a heavy downpour, it will feel cold. This is a very unpleasant experience for the kitty. When it sees you preparing its bathtub, it will be able to recall that fateful day when it got drenched in the rain.
Sometimes, pet parents who squirt water into the cat’s face as a form of punishment can also have a similar effect. It is not a pleasant experience. For one thing, the cat does not know why it is being punished. That is why trainers and fanciers alike always use positive reinforcement techniques to teach pets what they should do.
Negative experiences are not the only reasons why your cat may dislike bathing. Not experiencing it all can also have the same effect. A kitten that has never taken a bath will grow up to be a cat that is very unfamiliar with the idea of bathing. So when you do decide to give an adult cat a bath, this new experience will startle it and make it very anxious.
It’s in the Cat’s Personality
In line with the argument above, cats are very independent creatures. Most of them prefer doing things the way they see it. Cats also like to do things at their own pace. They also prefer routine over variety. As such, if you are going to give the cat its first-ever bath, it will not be happy. This sudden change in its life is something that is unwelcome. Hence, it will try to resist and put up a fight.
Goes Against Cats’ Fastidious Nature
Cats are very meticulous when it comes to keeping themselves clean. While most people think that this constant grooming behavior is a sign of a cat’s sense of cleanliness, there is another more “useful” purpose for it. This is related to a cat’s hunting instincts. When it goes out on a hunt, it has to blend into its environment as naturally as possible. If it gets wet, there is a chance that its pet odor will get amplified. If you give it a bath, the scent of the pet shampoo can stick to its coat. This is “unnatural”. Its prey will sense this “unnatural” scent and alert it to the presence of the cat. This can make it quite challenging for the cat to hunt.
Very Heightened Sense of Smell
A cat’s sense of smell is greater than that of humans. While they are not as acute as hounds, their scenting abilities are far more sensitive than what we have as humans. As such, you may smell the scent of a pet shampoo as being mild. For the cat, however, the scent can already be irritating. They can also detect the presence of chemicals in tap water. That is why felines would rather drink from a puddle of water than from a water faucet. When bathing, they can detect the hint of these chemicals in the bath water, too.
How You Can Convince a Cat to Take a Bath
It is true that almost all cats have this predisposition to dislike water. However, it does not mean you cannot help them to learn to like taking a bath. First and foremost, it is important to start bathing a cat while it is still very young as a kitten. This will help acclimatize it to the experience of having water splashed onto its body. It is always best to incorporate principles of positive reinforcement in bathing a kitten. This can help the kitten to associate the bath time with pleasant experiences.
Using scent-free and pet-safe shampoos can also help. They have a very sensitive sense of smell so you do not want to agitate them by using shampoos with offensive scents. Using warm water can help cats feel cold. Warm water also tends to make them feel more relaxed and more amiable to the bathing process.
One thing that pet parents can learn from all of these is to never shove any activity in the cat’s life. Take it slow. If you have to teach your cat to play with water first, then this should be your first goal. Once it is comfortable playing with water, you can start using unscented wet wipes to clean its body. Take your cue from your pet. It will tell you when it’s ready for its first-ever bath.
It is not entirely accurate that cats don’t like water. Evolution did not prepare them for it. They may also have bad experiences with bathing. With due diligence, patience, and perseverance, you can still convince your pet feline to like water. This will help you bathe it in a more comfortable and safer manner.
- Here’s Why Cats hate Water – And What to Do About It – Catster
- Why Do Cats Hate Water? – Cat Health