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Cats hate water, and although it may not seem like it, this behavior responds to a series of ancestral evolutionary adaptations of the species.
The fact that cats hate water is one of the most widespread preconceptions in the world’s popular culture. Although there are evolutionary mechanisms that could justify the feline’s fear of water, the personality of each animal seems to condition this fear more than the genetic code.
In addition to fearing the unknown, cats may be afraid of water because of negative experiences, the unpleasant sensation that wet fur generates, or even their ability to detect chemicals in water through smell. This is the reason for this widespread behavior in the feline world.
The evolutionary history of cats
The domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus, according to archaeological studies, is a direct descendant of the African cat Felis silvestris lybica, a subspecies of feline, native to North Africa and the Middle East.
It is believed that farmers in countries in the near East came into contact with these wild cats about 10,000 years ago. One reason for domestication could be that the agricultural villages suffered from rodent infestations, which is why they allowed and encouraged the presence of these cats on the streets and agricultural fields.
This would be a case of symbiotic relationship, because cats have obtained food and human settlements have gotten rid of pests, with all the benefits that this entails. Close contact for hundreds of years would support the emergence of the relationship we know today.
Why is this relevant to understanding cats’ fear of water? Well, as I said, domestic cats are direct descendants of a typical species in the east, a region with a landscape dominated by arid areas, deserts, and meadows.
It is clear that we are facing an area where water is scarce, so the closest relative of the domestic cat was not forced to approach the water naturally. In addition, since her diet was mainly based on rodents and birds, she did not have to venture onto the banks of rivers in search of prey, with few exceptions.
The natural habitat of the African cat is the savanna and steppe, areas characteristic of their lack of water. She never learned to swim.
Reasons why cats don’t like water
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Unlike other felines, some cat breeds have the tendency to stay away from water imprinted in their genes. This is the case with cats from the desert regions of the Middle East, where access to water is not so common.
Cats, even apartment cats, are wild animals by nature. That’s why they always like to feel free. When their coat is wet, the weight of the water can create great discomfort, affecting their mobility.
Cats feel at ease especially when they can control what is happening in their environment. So, being extremely curious, before she throws herself into the water, the feline will touch it gently with her paws and nose, then she will approach her head even more. Give her time and let her discover the unknown by herself, without forcing any gesture.
Felines have a very developed sense of smell and can distinguish fresh water from chemically treated water which is totally disliked. That’s why it shouldn’t surprise us if we see a cat enjoying discovering an artesian well or a puddle left by the rain.
There are also situations when cats can be attracted to water and we can catch them, for example, while watching carefully the raindrops that knock on the window. The reaction of felines is similar to that of people who contemplate the fascinating expanse of endless water.
Do we wash cats or not?
In some cases, yes!
Washing your cat is intended to clean the dust and impurities from your cat’s fur, remove already loose hair, and thus reduce the negative effects on allergic people.
Veterinarians’ recommendation to wash the cat more often refers especially to cats who need extra help after spending a day in mud or dust, have fleas or other external parasites, have an accident, have an operation, are overweight, or are sick. These cats are not able to take care of their fur as they should, so it is recommended to give them extra help.
In others not!
Except in the cases mentioned above, veterinarians recommend that we avoid it as much as possible washing the cat for a number of reasons.
Most importantly, your cat’s skin contains a layer of sebum on the surface that protects the skin from temperature changes and external factors. If that sebum is removed, the cat is exposed after bathing to colds and skin diseases.
Another reason is that the stress and strain during bathing can be so great that it causes massive fur falls, behavioral changes, or other problems related to the cat’s mental health.
Make bathing a pleasant experience for cats
Unlike dogs, cats do not need to bathe so often because, as a rule, they do their own toileting, are known for their self-care, and have impeccable hygiene. But if it happens to get dirty with something sticky or smelly, or if it suffers from a skin condition, and bathing is mandatory, make sure the cat does not panic and encourage her to become cooperative.
It is very important that the first bath of the cat be a pleasant experience. Here’s how you can do it:
- Get your cat used to bathing from an early age.
- Put the feline in the sink or bathtub, gently pet it and talk to it in a calm and soothing tone.
- Wet her coat with a wet cloth, using warm water, and when the cat is calm enough, fill the tub or sink, or gently pour lukewarm water onto the fur.
- Apply a small amount of shampoo for cat purposes, and start washing her from head to tail with gentle movements.
- Rinse the coat twice to prevent irritation from the shampoo remaining on the skin and to prevent ingesting it when the cat licks herself.
- Use a soft towel to wipe your cat and praise her at the end for being obedient.
There are exceptions to the rule
While it is true that most cats do not love water exposure, there are breeds such as Norwegian Forest Cat, Maine Coon, Abyssinian, Bengal Cat, and the most well-known water lover the Turkish Van, which have a much more waterproof fur and therefore you should not hesitate to take them a bath from time to time if you have such a cat.
This adaptation is the product of human selection, but it is not a general defining characteristic of the species. Cats come from arid and dry environments, so their contact with water has been very limited, according to their history.
So, keep these tips in mind if you want your cat to always be happy.