It’s a “tail” as old as time: cats prefer land over water! Splashing through puddles, dipping in the pool, or getting excited over bath time are not activities typically associated with our feline friends. So why would cats rather stay dry? Research has uncovered fascinating reasons behind the mysterious relationship between cats and water.
Getting a glimpse into cats’ evolution helps us understand why they seem to steer clear of the water. Domestic cats evolved from a single ancestor from the Middle East, the Near Eastern Wildcat. Because the Middle East has a dry desert climate with scarce water, cats’ ancestors were rarely exposed to rain, lakes, and rivers, so all other water (besides drinking water) were unfamiliar to them, according to Pet Health Network. Even though many of their kitty descendants come in contact with water much more often, their ancestral reluctance lives on.
As cat parents know, our felines love to frolic at full speed. Most cats have coats that trap water, which can weigh them down when they get soaked. Inherently, cats prefer to be in control and have the freedom to escape if danger arises. But with a water-logged coat, they feel at a disadvantage. Not to mention, a wet coat can also take a long time to dry, making cats cold and uncomfortable.
Cats are meticulous self-groomers. In fact, they spend about 30 to 50 percent of their waking hours carefully grooming themselves, according to Cornell University. It makes sense they don’t want their coats to get drenched and all their hard work to go to waste!
Cats’ strong sense of smell also helps explain why they don’t appreciate water. Our feline friends are especially sensitive to the odors and chemicals found in water, so they don’t enjoy the smells lingering through their groomed coat.
Though kitties have many reasons they avoid getting their coats wet, this does not mean that you can’t ever give your cat a bath. If they get into a sticky or muddy mess, you will want to assist them with cat grooming!
Cats’ relationship with water is not completely black-and-white, and our fur friends love to keep us guessing with their fascinating cat behavior. Have you ever wondered why your kitty avoids going in the water but enjoys sticking their paws under a running faucet? This is because cats are intrigued by the noise and reflection that moving water makes, which activates their prey drive, according to Reader’s Digest.
From an evolutionary perspective, a cats’ instincts deem moving water as more likely to be fresh and uncontaminated than still water (such as how a stream would be safer to drink from than a puddle in nature). Cats may also feel more at ease when playing with the faucet water because they’re in control and safely on dry land.
Believe it or not, there are some cat breeds that like water. Of course, not every cat is the same. Just how their tiger relatives appreciate taking a swim to cool off, so do some household cats. Examples of cat breeds that revel in the water include the Maine Coon, Bengal cat, Abyssinian, Norwegian Forest cat, and the most well-known water lover—the Turkish Van, or as it is often referred to, “the swimming cat.”
These cats are fond of the water due to a variety of factors such as having water-resistant coats, ancestors who were known swimmers living near bodies of water, or just overall familiarity in their feline lineage with water. For example, the Turkish Van has a waterproof coat and their ancestors originated from the Lake Van region of Turkey, where they swam in lakes to cool off during summer, according to Animal Planet.
The age-old belief that cats prefer land to water is mostly—but not fully—true. It is more so that cats have a complex relationship with water and some are even natural-born swimmers! Each of our feline friends has their own unique personality and always surprises us in the most wonderful way.
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