Cat Behavior

Why Cats Are Afraid of Water: The Theories You Need to Know

why are cats afraid of water

Cats are mysterious creatures, aren’t they? Most of them prefer to be left alone and even the cats were taken in as pets mostly keep their distance from their owners unless it’s time to eat.

There are so many questions worth asking about our feline friends, and one of the most intriguing relates to their perceived fear of water.

If you’re a cat owner yourself or have just been in a home where one was kept as a pet, then you’ve likely noticed that these domesticated animals are not too fond of water.

Some will even leap a great distance the moment they feel water on their fur and many are so averse to water that bathing them is borderline impossible.

To find out exactly why most cats are afraid of the water, we will look into various theories that aim to explain this seemingly odd phobia.

Different Theories

Up to this point, there is still no definitive answer that explains why cats hate water, but there are compelling theories out there.

There are theories pointing to the makeup of the cat’s body as the possible cause for its aversion to water and there are also theories linking the phobia to mental hurdles that the feline has yet to overcome. Some theories even draw a link between cats fearing water and their ancestry.

All of these theories are interesting and we are about to discuss them in greater detail. We will start by talking about the theories which suggest that cats do not like water due to the nature of their bodies.

Having Wet Fur Makes Cats Uncomfortable

After we take a shower or a bath, it’s easy to just go grab a towel and dry ourselves off. At most, we’re waiting probably about five to 10 minutes for our bodies to completely dry, although hair does take its sweet time when it comes to drying up.

Things are different for cats because when they get soaked in water, they will still be dripping wet for a good amount of time.

According to Cat Health, even though the top layer of the common housecat’s coat is resistant to water to some degree, the same cannot be said for the rest of the animal’s fur.

Once the water bypasses that upper layer of coating, it gets a chance to really seep into the rest of the fur. When the cat’s coat of fur gets drenched in water, it also becomes difficult for the feline to move around in it.

If you’ve ever tried walking around in wet pants or socks, then you can kind of get a sense of how uncomfortable it must be for cats to have their fur drenched in water.

That may not be the only reason for why cats despise having their fur getting wet though as there is a belief that they also dislike the feeling of being bogged down by the additional weight they are carrying.

Cats are known to be agile creatures that can react to anything instantaneously and it will be harder for them to do so with all that added weight.

Cats Are Not Fans of Cold Water

Have you ever noticed your pet cat preferring to sleep in certain spots even though they look uncomfortable to you?

For many cats, adjusting to an uneven sleeping surface is more than worth the trouble for as long as they can keep their bodies nice and warm. That desire to find warmth could also be hinting at why they hate water.

The normal body temperature is higher on average for cats than for humans. What that means is that cats often have to do more just to enjoy the same level of cozy comfort that we humans enjoy.

Now, imagine what it’s like to already have a hard time getting warm and then suddenly having that ability impaired further by a wet coat of fur.

Beyond that, the undercoating of a cat’s fur is also not meant to protect the animal from any kind of moisture. As a user on Quora explained, when that undercoating gets wet, the water is not quick to evaporate.

Instead, the water clings tightly to the undercoating and also to the body of the cat itself making it more difficult for the feline to get warm.

Warmth is a valuable resource for cats and water is something that works to take that away from them. Many people already hate taking showers when it’s cold outside because it’s so difficult to get warm again.

Cats face that challenge every day so you can understand why they may want to steer clear of some cold water.

Potential Issues Can Develop with Their Ears

Another theory attempting to explain why cats are not the biggest fans of water points to the way their ears work.

The same Quora user I referenced above noted that the interior of a cat’s ear is pretty small and the animal’s ear canal is also quite deep. As it turns out, that is a combination that does not work well with water.

Because of the way the cat’s ear is constructed, any amount of moisture that gets in there will have a tough time getting out.

It doesn’t really help that the cat’s ear canal is also angled in a way that makes it even more difficult for the trapped moisture to evaporate.

Humans typically feel uncomfortable when water gets trapped in their ears and the moisture may also prevent them from hearing clearly.

Those are annoyances for sure, but people can live with that. In cats, moisture getting caught in their ears has a chance to lead to the development of an infection sometime in the not too distant future.

Their Sensitive Noses Give Them Pause

Cats may not be known to possess a sense of smell that is on par with what dogs have, but they can still sniff out a great deal of more detail than what we humans can.

Thanks to that heightened sense of smell, they can also sniff out something unfamiliar in the water.

The tap water that flows into people’s homes is fortified with certain chemicals that improve dental health.

Cats are not aware of that though and when they smell something different, they may just assume it’s something they do not want to deal with.

Eventually, the cat may get used to the smell of tap water, but they likely still won’t be comfortable enough to swim in it. Being fearful of the unknown is reasonable and it is just one of the possible reasons why cats do not like water.

Getting Rid of Water Is Tough for Cats

As noted earlier, the water that gets into the undercoating of a cat’s fur does not evaporate quickly. However, that’s just one of the reasons for why they struggle with separating themselves from unwanted water.

A video from LifesBiggestQuestions highlighted the fact that cats also struggle with just shaking off the water that gets into their fur. That is why they prefer to clean themselves using only their tongue and their paws.

Cats already have to deal with the unpleasant feeling the cold the water brings. On top of that, a feeling of panic may also start to well up inside them as they realize that the cold is not going away no matter how hard they try to shake it off.

They Don’t Know if Tap Water Is Harmful

Cats always like to be keenly aware of their surroundings so that they are never caught off guard and put in a compromising position.

Speaking to Chewy, Dr. Jennifer Maniet theorized that cats likely put their guard up around tap water because they don’t know exactly what that substance is.

Once again, it’s the chemicals in the tap water that are throwing cats off. They don’t know what to make of what they are smelling and naturally, they want to avoid it just in case it turns out to be dangerous.

It’s also possible that cats are afraid of water simply because it looks odd when it’s not flowing. They may even slow down to check out a puddle of water that looks unremarkable to us but may appear like a mysterious substance to them.

Past Experiences May Cause Cats to Become Fearful of Water

Dr. Maniet also theorized that cats may be afraid of water because of past experience. Trauma is not something exclusive to humans and if a cat’s life has been put in danger in the past due in part to an abundance of water, it becomes easier to understand why that feline is not thrilled about going near that stuff again anytime soon.

At that point, cats may no longer have just a fear of water. They may just simply hate it. If you want them to get back on board with being near substantial amounts of water again, then it’s up to you to initiate the reintroduction process gradually.

Their Ancestors May Have Influenced Them

Ever since they’ve been domesticated, many cats have already displayed some level of dislike for water, which is why some are suggesting that their ancestors may have influenced this type of behavior.

Speaking to Mental Floss, John Bradshaw, Ph.D., author of the feline psychology-focused book “Cat Sense,” and Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol theorized that being descendants of Arabian wild cats may explain why the domesticated felines of today are afraid of water.

According to Bradshaw, those older cats lived in a place that was not exactly covered in water and thus, they never had to interact with it. Now, their descendants are still behaving the same way even though water is more plentiful in their environments.

Another theory put forth by an Animal Planet article suggests that people may also have something to do with why modern cats are not too fond of water.

It’s possible that the first people who started taking cats in as pets were very protective of them, to the point that they would even shield them from something like water.

The earliest owners of cats may have been making honest attempts to shield their pets from harm, but they may not have helped that much in the long run.

Not All Cats Are Afraid of Water

Throughout this article, we’ve talked about the different reasons why cats are afraid of water, but it’s worth pointing out that the aforementioned fear is not universal.

Some domesticated cat breeds are even fond of playing in the water, though their opinions of bath time may still vary.

Per the Pet Health Network, examples of domesticated cat breeds that have no real issue with water include Abyssinians, American Bobtails, Japanese Bobtails, and Manx cats. There are even cats out there that love swimming in the water such as the Turkish Vans.

Of course, it’s not just those breeds that are free from dealing with issues related to water. Even if your cat is not among those breeds, you can still teach your pet to take a liking to water. You will need some help to make that happen though.

There are items you can purchase that can help make it easier for you to introduce your cats to water and even to bath time.

ASOCEA Cat Grooming Bag Cat Restraint Mesh Bag Restraint Biting

For instance, you can get this Cat Grooming Bag from ASOCEA that will keep your pet calm but in a place, as you start to bathe him or her while simultaneously keeping yourself protected from scratches and bites.

Aquapaw Pet Bathing Tool

This Pet Bathing Tool from Aquapaw is also quite clever, and if your cat trusts you enough, it should prove to be an effective product.

Conclusion

We have grown so accustomed to seeing cats jump away from water that we often don’t even pay attention to it and just shrug it off as one of their quirks.

As the theories detailed above point out though, there are likely some very good reasons for why most cats simply do not like water.

It may still come off as weird sometimes to see your cat scurry away from water, but the next time he or she does that, you will be able to sympathize with your pet along with offering some comforting pats.

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