The answer to this one, as with many things in life, is subjective. It really does boil down to the cat. Some cats absolutely detest it and will run if even a single drop touches their fur. Others, as witnessed on hundreds of videos online, will lay down in the sink and let the tap run on them.
Domesticated cats were originally native to the deserts of the Middle East and as a result didn’t need to interact too often with water. Over time, as they were brought into our homes, they were exposed more regularly to water, and some cats aren’t really bothered by it.
So, where does the age-old myth of cats hating water come from? It could be from the fact that cats are such sensual animals. They use their five senses to such a high degree it is difficult for us to understand (for more information, see our blog on the senses of your cat), but it is how they have survived for so many years.
First of all, a cat’s fur helps determine what is around them and the directions they can walk. When their fur gets wet it can over stimulate them. Wet fur is heavier, an uncommon feeling for a cat, and can trigger a fear response.
Cats also have a strong sense of smell and if their fur smells like the chemicals in tap water, for example, and not their natural smell, it can make them very uncomfortable.
Another major factor is their individual history with water. If a cat was ever drenched in water as a kitten, or had another negative experience around it, they might go into survival mode when faced with a similar situation. The same thing goes for a cat who’s had a traumatic experience with water as an adult. These things are never easy to predict, but it’s why we should follow our cats’ leads when it comes to interacting with water. Forcing a situation can yield bad results that may have a lasting impact.
What’s with the Cats on YouTube who Love Water?
That’s just the luck of the draw. As cat owners, when we are adopting a cat, there really isn’t a way to know how they will react around water beyond what the shelter or previous owners can tell us.
One way to possibly introduce a cat to water and not overwhelm them is by doing so incrementally. Cats are smart animals and they will keep track of the parts of your home where they can get a drink. This is the association you want to build. If your cat is bold enough, they might be willing to sit on the sink in the bathroom and lap up some water directly from the tap. Don’t splash them or get them wet at first – this may overwhelm them.
Once they are comfortable hanging out by the sink, drip a couple drops of water from your fingers onto their back or the top of their head and see how they react. If they don’t like it, then you know not to do it again. If they aren’t phased by it, you may have a water-lover on your hands.
As we are seeing, over the many years our cats have evolved, there hasn’t been much of a need for them to interact with water beyond having a drink here and there. Many cats do, however, truly enjoy water and interacting with it. It’s easy to say one breed of animal behaves in a certain way, but the truth is, cats are individuals and they all come with their own needs/wants/behaviours. Spend some time with your cat to see if they enjoy playing with water, and, as always, take your time.