Skip to main content

Why do cats hate water? The reason may surprise you

If you’ve ever tried to bathe your cat or watched him come racing back into the house when the rain started, then you’ve seen just how much he hates water. Cats and water rarely mix well, and if your cat is tolerant of puddles and rain, then you have a pretty rare kitty. For most cats, water is a thing to be dreaded and avoided, but there are actually many reasons behind that behavior. Your cat’s aversion to water is caused by a combination of instinct, physical reactions, and experiences. So, why do cats hate water? The answers can help you better understand your cat’s behavior.

Two cats drinking out of a puddle
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Lack of preparation

The answer to why cats and water are such a bad match may lie in the cat’s evolution and ancestors. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association theorizes that cats owe their dislike of water to the fact that they originated in dry, desert climates. In these climates, cats were never exposed to rivers and lakes, and rain would have been a rare occurrence. They learned to conserve water during dry spells and didn’t rely on access to bodies of water the way that other species did.

As a result, bodies of water are still somewhat foreign to cats. Sure, our modern cats are exposed to water regularly, but their instincts, which they’ve inherited from their ancestors, are telling them there’s no good reason to mess with water.

The sensation of being in water, such as when your cat gets a bath, can go against his natural instincts to stay safe and in control, too. Your cat can’t easily get out of a slippery tub, and when his coat is weighed down with water, it’s much more difficult to jump or climb away. Your cat will naturally want to avoid all those sensations.

Cold, uncomfy coats

Water can make cats uncomfortable. They spend lots of time grooming themselves and perfecting their coats — and if you’ve ever seen the way that a cat will fastidiously start grooming himself after you pat him, you’ve witnessed this firsthand.

Water messes all that up. A wet coat is heavy, uncomfortable, and even cold. Cats are all about staying warm and cozy, and getting wet goes against those instincts and preferences. As a result, your cat will probably strongly protest if you try to give him a bath, and he’ll quickly retreat if he’s outside when it starts raining. In reality, he may be saving himself extra grooming efforts while ensuring that he stays comfortable by not getting wet.

Cat walking on a railing in front of a bay of water
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Bad experiences

If you’ve ever had to give your cat a bath, it probably wasn’t a positive experience for him. His instincts tell him to avoid water, and getting wet isn’t comfortable, so he probably didn’t enjoy the bath at all. Chances are, your cat remembers that experience all too well, so if you try to give him another bath, his reaction will be even stronger than it was for the first bath.

You don’t necessarily have to be the one to have given your cat a bath and established that negative association. Sometimes kittens have to be bathed for health and hygiene reasons, and that negative memory would have been established early on.

If your cat hates water, there’s probably not much that you can do to change his mind. When you do need to bathe him or get him wet, keep in mind that multiple factors are influencing how he feels about water and how he’s behaving. If he’s squirming and trying to get away, remember that it’s not a personal insult against you — it’s just his instincts and him fighting against something that he feels he needs to avoid. When bathing your cat, try to keep the process as quick and as easy for him as possible. Have all your supplies ready to go, and consider wearing thick gloves to protect your arms from scratches. It’s best to also have a second person available to help. Finally, be patient and gentle with your cat, even if he’s upset and trying his best to get away. Nothing about having a bath is natural to him, so try to be patient and just support him through that process.

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
How to help cats inside car engines … before it’s too late
Use these tricks to prevent your cat from getting into a car engine
Cat hiding in engine compartment of car.

Overdrive was only a 2-month-old kitten when he hid inside the engine compartment of a car parked at a rest stop in Arizona. The unsuspecting tourists who owned the car were alarmed when 200 miles later, they stopped at a restaurant in Utah and heard desperate meows coming from under the hood of their car. The tiny buff-colored tabby was successfully rescued and taken to the nearby Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Although traumatized by the experience, he miraculously didn’t sustain any injuries. He's just one of numerous cats in car engines that have survived.

Every year, there are stories of cats getting trapped in vehicle engine compartments. Once a car engine starts, things can quickly take a turn for the worse for a cat hiding under the hood, say veterinary experts at the Chastain Veterinary Medical Group in Texas. The sudden vibration and roar of the car’s engine can cause a stowaway cat to jump or fall into the fan or fan belt and pulleys. The results are often disastrous for the cat, causing trauma, lacerations, and on occasion, death.

Read more
How to cat-proof your balcony before the unthinkable happens
Tips to keep your kitty safe while on the balcony
Cat sitting on a sunny balcony railing

It's tempting to spend some time outside with your cat whenever the weather is nice, and taking your cat outside can give him a nice break from indoor-only life. If you love to spend time on your balcony, it's natural to consider letting your cat join you, but balconies can be dangerous for cats. In addition to the potential for a fall, balconies have several other risks that you might not be aware of. Understanding how to cat-proof a balcony can help you to make the space safer, so you and your cat can spend a little time outside together.

Will a cat jump off a balcony?
Balconies can be very dangerous for cats because of the possibility of "high-rise syndrome." Always Compassionate Veterinary Care explains that high-rise syndrome refers to the occurrence of cats falling out of high-rise buildings and needing veterinary treatment. The term originates when the Animal Medical Center in New York City treated more than 100 cats who fell out of high-rise windows. That occurred during just five months in the 1980s and highlights the fact that cats can and do fall out of high structures.

Read more
How to tell if your cat is a Maine Coon mix (and why you should care)
Should you consider a Maine Coon mix? Here's what you need to know
Closeup of a Maine Coon's face

There are plenty of big and fluffy cats out there, but one of the best-known breeds fitting this description is the Maine Coon. These cats are not only impressive in size, but they also tend to have fantastic personalities that make them beloved family pets. While purebred Maine Coons are a little more uncommon in rescues and shelters, it's possible to adopt a Maine Coon mix that still has some of the breed's distinctive characteristics.

While telling exactly which breeds your cat is can be a little tricky, it's worth doing some investigative work to better understand your feline's background and what that might mean for the care he needs during his life.
Where do Maine Coon cats come from?
You may have heard that the Maine Coon Cate originated from a fantastical cross between a feline and a raccoon. Of course, this didn't really happen, but it could be where they get the name. (Another option, from a ship's captain who brought the first of these kitties ashore.)

Read more