Most people, when asked about cats and water, would conjure up an image of a terrified feline, with its claws out, desperately trying to avoid a dreaded bath. It's a commonly held belief that cats despise water. But does this mean cats can't swim? In this post, we dive (pun intended) into the curious question: Can cats swim?
The Biological Perspective
From a purely biological standpoint, yes, cats can swim. Like many animals, cats have the physical ability to paddle and stay afloat in water. Their evolutionary ancestors had to cope with various environmental challenges, and swimming, albeit not as common as with dogs, was within their set of survival skills.
Can Cats Swim?
Let’s start with the main question of whether cats can swim. The short answer is that yes, cats can swim. On an instinctive level, all cats can swim they just choose not to.
They may not be as naturally strong swimmers as most dogs are, but cats can still hold their own in the water.
In fact, some big, wild cats such as tigers love the water and are regularly seen swimming and playing in bodies of water in both captivity and the wild.
You may even find some domesticated house cats that are willing to step into a bathtub or pool.
Why Do Cats Stay Away From Water?
If cats have the ability to swim and water isn’t any more dangerous to them than it is to other animals such as dogs, then why do most cats avoid it so much?
There are a few reasons why cats prefer to avoid water and swimming.
Their Coats Aren’t Made For Water
Cat fur isn’t designed to be waterproof or water-resistant. It can cope with a brief shower but will become waterlogged and heavy when exposed to heavier amounts of water.
This is a big contrast to dog fur, which remains light and dries easily. Cats don’t like the feeling of their fur becoming waterlogged and heavy as it prevents them from being as agile and quick as they would be normally.
A wet coat will also make them feel cold and cats prefer to feel warm instead of cold. There are a couple of cat breeds that have water-repellent coats, however, such as the Turkish Van Cat and the Maine Coon.
Domesticated Cats Aren’t Made To Swim
Although cats have the instincts to swim, it doesn’t mean that they are instinctively skilled at it.
Most breeds of domesticated cats evolved from dry climates that didn’t have many bodies of water for cats to contend with.
Cats may have needed to dip their paws into water occasionally to catch something to eat, it’s very unlikely they would have ever needed to swim.
Modern domesticated cats have even less reason to cross rivers and streams so it's simply not in their personalities to even try.
Lack Of Experience
Cats can be very brave and curious, but they can also be very cautious when it comes to new experiences.
If you’ve ever moved home with a cat, you will know that it takes several days for your cat to adjust to its new environment.
A cat that has never been exposed to water previously will be extremely cautious of it and unlikely to give swimming a try.
In contrast to the last point, even cats that have experience with water can still be reluctant to go swimming if their experiences have been bad ones.
If a cat was caught outside in a bad rainstorm or fell into a pool as a kitten, this might make them more reluctant to approach water in the future.
Lack Of Control
Cats like to be in control of their surroundings. They like to know where they are and to be able to get away from any perceived threats quickly.
Being submerged in water that acts against them and slows them down is not a good feeling for many cats in the same way that being handled isn’t, either.
Many cats will prefer staying on dry and stable ground where they can quickly get away if they need to.
Do Some Cat Breeds Like Water?
There are some breeds of cats that are naturally more drawn to water than others. The Turkish Van Cat, for example, has a different type of coat from many other cats.
Their coat is water-repellant and allows them to stay in water for a long period of time. As the breed originated in very hot and humid climates, Turkish Van Cats would dive into water to keep themselves cool.
Maine Coons have a semi-water-repellent coat that dries quicker than the coats of most other breeds.
If you have a Maine Coon, you may have found that they have a fascination with water that most other cats don’t have!
Can Cats Swim In A Pool?
Yes, they can. However, you should never leave a cat unattended in a pool, even if they are strong swimmers and like swimming.
Getting out of a pool can be very difficult for a cat due to the slippery sides and most will struggle to get out. If the cat begins to struggle it may start panicking and this can lead to dangerous situations.
If you have a backyard pool and a cat that likes to explore, it’s always best to cover your pool for similar reasons.
If your cat accidentally falls into the pool, they may also begin to panic instead of allowing their instincts to keep them afloat.
The same may happen if your cat falls into a bathtub or any other body of water that is larger than they are.
If you're considering introducing your cat to water or testing their swimming abilities, remember:
Training Your Cat to Like the Water: Navigating Feline Aquatics
Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained to tolerate or even enjoy water. While not every feline will transform into an aquatic enthusiast, with patience, the right techniques, and understanding, you can make water experiences less stressful for your kitty. Here's how you can guide your feline friend towards a more positive association with water:
1. Start Young (But It's Never Too Late): If possible, start introducing your kitten to water early on. Young animals are generally more adaptable and receptive to new experiences. However, older cats can also be introduced to water; it might just require a bit more patience.
2. Gradual Introduction: Rushing can lead to a traumatic experience, reinforcing the cat's aversion to water. Start slow:
3. Create a Positive Environment
4. Proper Equipment
5. Know Your Cat: Each cat is unique. Some might naturally have an inclination towards water, while others might be more apprehensive. Understand your cat's temperament and work at their pace. Some cats may only ever tolerate water, and that's okay.
6. Regularity is Key: If you're trying to make water a consistent part of your cat's life, regularity helps. This doesn't mean frequent baths but rather frequent positive experiences with water, whether it's playing with water toys or having fun with a dripping faucet.
7. Safety First: Always prioritize your cat's safety. Never leave them unattended in water, and ensure they have an easy way to get out if they want to. If they seem extremely stressed or scared, it might be best to take a step back and reassess.
While it's possible to train many cats to tolerate or even like water, remember that every cat is an individual. Respecting their boundaries and ensuring their comfort should always be the top priority. With patience, love, and persistence, you can help diminish the stereotypical feline fear of water, making bath time or aquatic play a more enjoyable experience for both you and your kitty.
If absolutely necessary, cats can swim. A few breeds such as the Turkish Van Cat like to swim and are fond of water, but the majority of domesticated cat breeds will do all they can to avoid water as much as possible.
Although cats can swim, they can still drown or get into trouble if they accidentally fall into a pool. The shock of the fall can override their instincts so always cover your pools and be mindful of where your cat is at all times.
At Love4Cats, our practice involves consistent collaboration with licensed veterinarians and reputable industry experts. However, it's important to note that the content provided on Excited Cats is not intended as veterinary advice. While we strive to enhance your understanding of feline care, the information presented on this blog should not replace professional veterinary guidance.