You’d be forgiven for thinking that cats and water go together like oil and water, however, this isn’t true of all felines. Some of the bigger species, such as tigers, commonly take a dip to cool off or to hunt their prey. This isn’t exclusive to big cats and even some domesticated breeds are known to enjoy a swim if given the opportunity.
In general, however, domestic cats will go to great lengths to avoid getting water and many theories have been developed to help us understand why.
One theory suggests that because the feline species evolved in drier climates, they had little to no exposure to lakes, rivers, etc and therefore they tend to avoid due to the unfamiliarity and fear of the unknown.
Cats are fastidious animal and spend much of their day grooming their fur and as such the effect water has on their fur is extremely undesirable. Wet fur can be extremely uncomfortable for cats and often takes a long time to dry. Aside from that, wet fur slows the usually nimble creature down due the extra weight, making them easier for predators to catch.
Understandably, another theory is quite simply the shock factor. Accidentally and unexpectedly falling into water, whether a bathtub or river for example, can be really frightening and have a long lasting impact on said cat for the remainder of it’s life, just like it would for a human who had an unexpected and unpleasant experience.
Cats Don’t Like Change
Cats are creatures of habit and usually somewhat intolerant to change. So, if a cat has not been exposed to water before, the likelihood is, it will not enjoy the feeling of being drenched in it. However, a cat who has been exposed to water since it was a kitten is likely to be much more tolerant of it.
Sensitivity to Odours
Other behaviourists would suggest that their aversion to water is down to their sensitivity to odours. So, by giving them a bath, you may actually be creating more work for them due to their dislike of having unfamiliar smells and scents on their fur.
On the flip side, many cats appear to enjoy playing with running or dripping water, e.g. a running tap. Behaviourists believe cats are attracted to the movements of the water as well as the sound it makes, which could stimulate it’s natural instincts to switch to predator mode!
As mentioned, some domestic breeds actually enjoy the occasional swim and are much less fearful of water, such as the Maine Coon, Bengal and the Turkish Van. The key differentiator here with these breeds is the texture of their fur, which makes them more water resistant that other breeds and thus re-affirming the theory that cats’ general dislike of water can at least partially be attribute to their grooming routine.