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Why are cats scared of water?

tabby cat drinking from a bowl of water in a forest

It is a common myth that cats are scared of water. This isn’t actually true at all and some cats love the opportunity to stretch their sea legs and will eagerly jump in voluntarily. It’s less of a fear, and more of an aversion.

Cats are actually natural born swimmers. If a cat was to fall into a body of water, its instincts would take over and it would swim automatically. Cats do not have to be taught how to swim. Many cats choose to avoid water out of personal preference and lack of necessity rather than fear. If a cat was in a dangerous situation and the only way out was to swim, it would jump straight in.

If you look at the relatives of today’s house cats, there are some that enjoy a good dip to help keep them cool. For instance, tigers, leopards and lions that live in hotter climates will happily get in the water to cool off. Some cats, like jaguars, are happy to enter the water to catch their dinner and are actually quite accustomed to swimming. The fishing cat of Southeast Asia is another good example. Living in wetlands alongside rivers, streams and mangroves, the fishing cat has no trouble diving into water to catch their prey and are said to be able to swim quite long distances, even underwater.

tabby cat drinking water from a pipe

However, taking a look back at the ancestors of our domestic feline pets will give us a better insight into why our furry friends prefer to avoid water. Originating from the dry, arid lands of Egypt and the Middle East, cats would have had very little contact or experience with water and almost no need to go near it at all. Cats do not require water for keeping clean as they are able to do this themselves using just their tongue and they would not have relied on water for survival, as their owners would have provided sufficient sustenance.

While they are natural swimmers, a cat with longer fur would avoid getting wet as their coat isn’t waterproof and would become heavy and make it difficult to stay afloat and a cat with shorter fur may get cold very quickly as the water would be in direct contact with their skin. Cats are also very sensitive to smell and they would soon sniff out any chemicals in our water supply or any funky odours coming from a natural source that may cause them harm.

Much like humans, a cat’s love of water is a personal choice. If your cat enjoys playing with running water from the tap then let them carry on but don’t try chucking them into a bath or you might get a less than favourable response!