The Real Reason Cats Hate Water and How Some Learn to Love It

The Real Reason Cats Hate Water and How Some Learn to Love It

Given the choice, most cats would do just about anything to avoid getting wet.

While this phobia might seem a bit extreme, our cats have a good reason to steer clear of water — and it all comes down to science.

Cats Don’t Have Blowdryers

“Cats as a species tend to avoid water,” says Malini Suchak, an anthrozoology professor at Canisius University in New York.

This aversion isn’t due to an instinct for survival; cats can both swim and float if necessary.

Instead, experts believe that this hydrophobia comes from the way water affects their fur coats, though Suchak isn’t aware of any formal investigations of the behavior.

Whether a cat is long- or short-haired affects how long it takes for them to dry, but generally, cats have an insulating undercoat and a protective outer coat.

Suchak explains that a soaked cat feels very uncomfortable with a wet undercoat, even if the outer coat dries more quickly.

She compares this to activewear layers, with a water-resistant outer layer and an insulating inner layer that, once wet, can be very uncomfortable to wear.

Cats’ fur isn’t as water-resistant as other animals’ outer layers, like a duck’s feathers.

This lack of weather-proofing comes from their ancestor, the Near Eastern wildcat.

This small feline hails from dry, arid climates throughout Africa, southwest and central Asia, India, and Mongolia, so it’s not equipped for wetness.

You’ve probably noticed that your cat prefers warmer spots, like sun patches, the heater, or your laptop keyboard.

This love for warmth can make water even less appealing, says Monique Udell, professor of agricultural sciences and director of the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at Oregon State University, since it cools them down.

Cats also meticulously groom themselves, even when there’s not a drop of water near them.

“Half the time after you just pet them, they sit there and groom and get everything back into place and smelling how it should,” Suchak says.

If your cat insists on licking itself after you muss its fur with a quick snuggle, imagine how upset it would be if its coat were dripping with water.

Cats Need Therapy, Too

Some cats may not only dislike water but have a deep-seated fear of it, which may stem from a previous bad experience.

If they accidentally fell into a full bathtub or were forced into a bath after being captured — an already stressful and scary situation — that can leave a lasting impact.

Cats, being the brutally honest animals that they are, will make it very clear when they feel anything from displeased to terrified.

While a distaste for wetness may be common in cats, there are always exceptions.

“Some love playing in water and getting wet,” says Udell.

Some cat parents even include turning on and off the sink or bath faucet as part of their daily routine with their kitties.

This preference varies with each cat, and potentially by breed.

Water can even serve as an enriching toy for some cats; they might be fascinated by its flow or enjoy toys bobbing on the surface.

“I guess it just goes to show that like anything else, cats are okay with water as long as it’s on their own terms,” Suchak says.

While it may be unlikely that your cat is a water lover, it’s worth paying attention to whether they prowl around running faucets.

Your cat just might surprise you.

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