Why Does My Cat... Hate Water?

Cat getting a bath
Cat not a fan of bathtime? Teach her to tolerate getting bathed by using positive reinforcement techniques every time she's in the water.

While it’s true many cats seem to dislike water, many others also seem to show a tolerance or preference for it. The theory that all cats dislike water might be something of a myth.

Some cats may not necessarily seek out water but are not bothered by it. Others may actually show individual preferences for water, regarding it as something of a toy. The Internet is full of these amusing videos. For example, some cats like to play with water in their water bowl or in the sink, bathtub or toilet. Some cats even like being sprayed with water.

Super Swimmers

There are some breeds of cats that enjoy being in water, such as the Turkish Van, which is renowned for its swimming abilities. Other breeds of cats that may display an interest in water are Bengals and Maine Coons. Some of the presumed feline aversion to water may be due to an individual cat having a negative experience with it. For example, when I was a child, I inadvertently surprised my friend’s cat, who was perched on the toilet getting a drink out of the toilet bowl. The poor cat fell in the bowl, had to be fished out by her owner and never drank out of the toilet again!

Cats also usually have limited exposure to water since most cat owners do not bathe their cats as often as they do a dog — if at all. I have bathed my cats in the past and will tell you that some appeared traumatized by the experience and others appeared to enjoy it. How do I know that the cat enjoyed it? My Birman purred the entire time and made no move to try to jump out of the bathtub or escape my clutches, whereas I have had some cats vocalize pitifully the entire time they were in the tub or try their darnedest to escape. It is very likely that kittens who are acclimated to regular baths when they are young and are taught to enjoy them as positive events may grow into adult cats who enjoy baths. This can be helpful if you ever have a medical or health reason to need to give your cat a bath. Most owners don’t take the time to do this, however, since most cats are adept at keeping themselves clean and seldom need bathing.

Water Play Can Be Enjoyable

If you want a cat who enjoys a little splash time, how do you teach a kitten or older cat to tolerate or like water? You need to use positive reinforcement to reward any interactions with water. You can certainly use toys and lure your kitten or cat closer to water by dragging a string or feather toy closer toward a sink or tub with a small amount of water in it. Reward any movement your cat makes toward the water using food, praise, attention or any rewards your cat likes. If you follow this method, eventually your cat will get closer and closer to the water source and may inadvertently touch the water. Once she makes contact with the water, make sure you offer large amounts of treats and praise.

While it’s true many cats, like many people, have an aversion to water, don’t assume that your cat is the same or can’t be taught to enjoy an occasional bath or some play time.

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