Google images of dogs taking a bath and you will see a plethora of photos showing Fido having a blast in the water—getting lathered up, rinsed off, and shaking the water off on his owner. But, what happens when you change your search to cats lounging in the tub? Try it. You will see that the images aren’t so warm and fuzzy. Most of them look completely miserable. Cats seem to be notorious for hating the water. Is it fact or myth?
For the most part, cats are not willing participants in swimming and bathing—and wouldn’t get caught dead out in the rain. Did you ever wonder what cats really think of the water? The answers may surprise you. Scientists believe that cats’ aversion to water is actually a result of their owners shielding them from the elements of nature since they were first domesticated.
Felines seem to have a range of emotions when it comes to getting wet. They are generally not as tolerant of new experiences than their canine counterparts. They do not embrace change. A cat that has not been regularly exposed to water will not enjoy the feeling of being immersed in it. Secondly, cats are extremely fastidious animals. They spend a great deal of time grooming themselves and most likely won’t like anything that interferes with that. Getting wet would surely ruin all of their hard work!
Interestingly, it’s not just emotions that rule a cat’s dislike of water. We can also blame it on biology. Domesticated cats are descendants of felines that lived in dry, arid parts of the world. They never had to learn to swim because there was no need to. This behavior has been passed down through the generations.
That said, there are exceptions to any rule. One domestic breed—the Turkish Van cat—loves to get wet! Biology indeed plays a role in this feline’s behavior. Its ancestors likely plunged into cool bodies of water to cope with the excessive heat in the Lake Van region of Turkey. Its nickname is “the swimming cat” for this very reason. The Asian fishing cat also delights in getting wet while swimming for its dinner. It even has partially webbed paws to help grab its prey.
If there is no way to avoid giving Fluffy a bath, be sure to protect yourself with long sleeves and dishwashing gloves. Ideally, you should have started when she was a kitten. However, don’t despair if the thought never occurred to you. Just take it slow. Begin by placing her in an empty sink or tub. Make sure the room is warm. Gently rub a wet washcloth with room temperature water over her body, speaking to her throughout the process in a soft, reassuring voice. If she tolerates this, fill the sink or tub with warm water. Start at Fluffy’s head, slowly lathering her up with some gentle cat shampoo and work your way down. Finish at her tail, rinse thoroughly, and dry her with a plush towel. You might want to finish with a blow-dry—and her favorite treat!