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Myth Buster: Cats and Water

A Tufts behavior expert discusses the myth that cats donít like getting wet

[From Tufts March 2011 Issue]

Editor’s note: This article launches a new Catnip series that debunks common misconceptions about cats.


Some cats are fascinated by running water and are drawn to water play.

In spite of their reputation for tolerating only dry land, a surprising number of domesticated cats not only tolerate but love pawing water or swimming. Some like to play in standing water; others are fascinated by running water and prefer to drink from a faucet rather than a bowl.

“I’m not sure how these myths that cats hate water or don’t swim ever got started,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, veterinarian and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Some indoor cats prefer drinking from inside a flushed toilet bowl rather than a water bowl. It may reflect an adaptive behavior from their wild cat ancestry. Wild cats that preferred to drink from streams or waterfalls rather than from standing water or puddles may have had a survival advantage, because running water is less likely to contain contaminants.”

He continues, “As for the notion that cats don’t swim or like to swim, well, that is also unfounded. Certain breeds, like the Turkish Van, do swim. This breed was raised in a mountainous area near Lake Van and learned to get in the water to capture fish as their main way of surviving. These fishing cats are very skilled swimmers. Most of the swimming cats originated from warm climates with warm bodies of water. Conversely, some breeds originating in cold regions like the Maine Coon or from desert regions in Africa tend not to have a great affinity for swimming. ”


Certain breeds, like the Turkish Van, originated near lakes and learned to survive by swimming to capture fish.

Certain breeds drawn to water play
Certain lines of the American Shorthair breed display a compulsive desire to splash water from their bowls and even tip their water bowls over.

“Professional breeders of the American Shorthair know not to leave these cats alone with water bowls inside cages at cat shows,” notes Dr. Dodman. “Or, they come with an alternative arrangement of cutting a hole in a gallon plastic jug and tethering it in place so these cats can’t spill the water, but can still drink.”

Their curious nature can lead some cats to perch on the sides of a bathtub or walk into showers when their owners are bathing. Dr. Dodman explains that some cats are attracted by the sound and the motion of water pouring out of the faucet.

He adds that the paw pad represents one of the most sensitive areas of a cat’s body. Some cats scoop water with their paws to test the temperature and check for possible dangers that may be lurking under the water.

“You can teach some cats to get in a warm bath and wade or swim if you gradually introduce them and nothing bad happens to them, like being splashed,” he says.

Comments (1)

We rescued a tiny kitten - maybe 5 or 6 weeks old, that some unkind person had "thrown away" many years ago, and named him L.C. Pussycat, standing for Lucky Critter, because he definitely was. Any cat coming into my home is the most loved member of my family, and spoiled to pieces, because I just care that much for them. Pussycat (for short) was such a love that he had to be anywhere I was and that included the shower. He would start out sitting on the edge of the tub in between the outer shower curtain and the inner one, but would end up pretty quickly right in the water, not a bit afraid of it. My adopted cats are turned into complete "hot-house-flowers", meaning they never go outside again unless on a leash, and that's only if they want to go out - most of my rescued kitties never want to leave their new home again for any reason. But Pussycat was special; he not only didn't mind going outside on a leash, he would also walk in the water when we took him to a nearby beach with us. Of course, he then had to get a real bath before he took his own bath so he wouldn't eat too much sand. We were quite a sight and educated many people to the fact that some cats really do like water.


Posted by: MOMCAT | March 22, 2017 11:25 AM    Report this comment

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