Many domestic cats utterly despise water and may even fret if you’re submerged even partially in water (such as in a shower or bath).
Giving a cat a bath often means a real fight on your hands and can result in scratches, a soaked bathroom, and a very angry cat and owner by the end. And the reason, many speculate, for why cats hate water is that they cannot swim and so will avoid water to prevent drowning. But is this actually the case?
Can cats swim naturally?
Short answer: Surprisingly, yes! Most cats possess a natural instinct for swimming and if they are in deep enough water, they will automatically start paddling and head straight for dry shore as fast as possible.
Why Don’t Cats Swim More Often?
If cats are natural swimmers, why don’t they do it more? And if they are natural swimmers, what makes most cats avoid water if they aren’t worried about drowning?
Most cats avoid water for the simple reason that the water will make their coat heavy and uncomfortable, not something a cat really wants to put up with. It would be like us humans swimming in a full outfit, plus jacket and shoes, and then having to wait while it dried naturally on us – not something most people care to do.
Water also gets trapped in a cat’s coat, making it take even longer to dry, and their ears are extra sensitive to water and can easily get infected.
Keep in mind that cats are natural hunters and waterlogged fur will really slow them down, while water in the face can make it hard for them to see or hear. For these reasons, a lot of cats just don’t bother much with water, and with domestic cats, this is often reinforced by the fact that they just don’t have much exposure to water.
This of course is going to vary, depending on the breed. Some breeds of cats were born, evolved, and raised near water, so they tend to do a lot better with it. Others were evolved in deserts, so their own skin oils will get stripped away if they get wet which can be harmful.
Most domestic cats fall somewhere between these two extremes, with some cats loving it and other cats hating it. Other issues like proper training around water versus being traumatized by it will also play their part in determining how comfortable a cat is with water.
All things being equal though, most cats don’t swim in water because their fur gets waterlogged and uncomfortable and takes a long time (and a lot of grooming) to get back to normal. Not something most cats will happily subject themselves to.
Can Cats Be Trained to Swim?
While most cats have a natural instinct for swimming, it’s basically paddling and getting away from the water as fast as possible.
It works just fine (cats can swim pretty fast!), but if you’re worried about your cat getting hurt by your pool or being harmed on an adventure, you might want to take the time to train your cat on how to be better around water, just in case. The main goal is to help your cat overcome their fear of water.
Kittens are going to be a bit better about this than adult cats – they tend to be a bit more malleable – but adult cats can learn to overcome their fear of water too.
If you’re going to teach your kitten about water, it’s important to be supervising them even more closely, as they don’t have the same natural skill at swimming as adults and may flounder around a lot more. It’s important to be patient and ready to be scratched sometimes!
You should start by letting your cat explore water, either in your bathroom or with a small kitty pool. Have lots of treats on hand and be encouraging. Let the cat go to the water, don’t bring the water to the cat (in particular, don’t splash it or touch it with wet hands as this will probably freak your cat out and then you’ll have to start all over again).
Once the cat is ok with approaching the water, slowly dip very small portions of your cat in like the paws, tail, or belly, and then work towards letting it swim. Be ready with lots of towels to help it dry off quickly!
It’s important to always supervise your cat while it is in the water. Cats may have a natural instinct for swimming, but they can still drown if their fur gets too heavy for them to keep their heads above water or if they inhale too much water. Cats also have no real skill in swimming underwater, so if they end up with their heads below the water, they can quickly drown.
Are There Any Cats Which Enjoy Swimming?
Most cats have a reputation for hating and avoiding water, but this may not be true either. There are some breeds of cat which have evolved close to water and as a result, are not really bothered by it. And some even enjoy swimming! Breeds of cats that love water:
- Bengals. Which makes sense as they are closer to their wild relatives and most wild cats can swim and be around water just fine. Bengals often have a lot of fun with water!
- Maine Coon. Maine coons have a water-resistant coat, unlike many other breeds, and they used to work on ships, so they don’t have much fear of water.
- Turkish Angora: This cat loves water and will even play in showers while you have one!
- American bobtail. American bobtail cats evolved near lakes, rivers, and coasts, so they aren’t too worried about water. The lack of a tail also means less fur to get waterlogged.
- Norwegian Forest Cat. This breed, like the Maine Coon, has a water-resistant coat and has, unlike many other cats, evolved with a very keen skill for fishing! So, water really doesn’t bother them. (they might bother your aquariums though…)
- Snowshoe. The Snowshoe cat, native to the US, enjoys water and will even turn on faucets to watch running water. This makes sense as they likely evolved around the many lakes and rivers found in their original home.
- Abyssinian. Like the Bengal, being a bit closer to their ‘wild side’ means a higher enjoyment of water. They are also very curious, so they may go for your taps!
- Turkish Van. Turkish Van cats originated near lakes, so it makes sense that they’d be more used to water. They also have a coat that dries quite quickly, compared to most other breeds.
- Japanese Bobtail: Like the American bobtail, no tail, no worries. Plus, they evolved near a lot of water, living on an island.
- Manx: Like the Japanese Bobtail, this cat also evolved on an island (Isle of Man), so being near water isn’t a problem for most of them.
If you have these breeds of cats in your home, you may not see them being very afraid of water at all! But personality will also play a part, as will their upbringing.
Much of the time, cats don’t like water because they aren’t raised around water, and then their humans assume they hate it and that they cannot swim, so they are never taught how to enjoy it.
But cats actually have an instinct for swimming and can swim quite well and at good speeds. The trick is to give them that exposure, safely, lots of encouragement, and then supervision to make sure they don’t drown.
And many breeds of cat will dive right in, no problem, while others will be more hesitant. But all cats can swim, unless they have a particular injury, and most of them can be taught how to do it better. It’s just a matter of confidence.
Does your cat like the water and to go swimming? My cats have never shown much interest (not much fear either, but definitely not a lot of interest), except one of my cats when she was a kitten used to go in the tub with my dad, but she outgrew that.
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.