Not all cats like water. Cats that have had positive experiences around and in water, especially during their key socialization period (early socialization occurs between 3 and 8 weeks, late socialization between 9 and 16 weeks), often like water. There are also specific breeds that love water! It is important to treat your cat as an individual with no expectations.
Many Cats Don’t Like Water
It is believed that cats were domesticated 9,500 years ago in the Middle East. They evolved in arid desert climates and were not exposed to rivers, lakes and rainfall. This resulted in today’s cats avoiding bodies of water. Even community cats often seek shelter from rain and thunderstorms. Hiding from water has become an instinct in today’s cats.
This is not true for all breeds, as some cat breeds enjoy being in the water because of their own evolutionary background. The Turkish Van and Turkish Angora, for example, are known for their love of water and their swimming skills. They adapted to their climate in the Lake Van region of Turkey by shedding their fur in the summer for swimming and fishing. Some other breeds that are more likely to enjoy the water are the Bengal, Maine Coon, and American Bobtail.
Cats are Sensitive to Odors
Cats have an extraordinary sense of smell, fourteen times more sensitive than ours. The strong odors associated with shampoos and conditioners can contribute to a cat’s aversion to water and bathing. Some have also speculated that your cat may not like the smell of chemicals in tap water.
Cats love to be clean and warm
Cats are meticulous in their natural cleanliness and spend a great deal of time grooming themselves by keeping their fur clean, untangled and well-conditioned. Cats also maintain a higher body temperature and cleaning themselves helps to maintain and regulate their body temperature. When a cat’s coat gets wet, it becomes quite heavy, making it difficult to quickly return to a warm, dry state. A wet coat can also make the cat feel slow and not as agile as usual, resulting in an uncomfortable feeling of not being able to get out of a situation quickly.
Many cats’ experiences with water are not positive – being caught in a rainstorm without shelter, being sprayed with water, and forced bathing are some examples – so it’s understandable why many cats don’t like water.
Do cats need to bathe?
As mentioned, cats do a wonderful job of keeping themselves clean and can spend up to 40% of the day cleaning themselves, so you may never have to bathe your cat.
Cats may need a medical bath due to a skin problem and older, arthritic and overweight cats may have difficulty reaching certain parts of their body. Bathing may also be necessary if the cat rolls up in something sticky or smelly.
How can I make my cat enjoy the baths?
Before the bath
Acclimatize to space. To make your cat comfortable in the water, try to acclimate her to the tub weeks before bathing so she gets used to the space. Place your cat in an empty bathtub or sink with toys, catnip or treats to make positive associations with the space. Try treats for spreading, such as a small amount of squeezable cheese, whipped cream or anchovy paste, and spread them in the tub for your cat to lick.
Once your cat is comfortable playing and eating treats at the sink or in the tub, fill the tub with an inch or two of warm water and spread the toys around the tub so she can have fun with them. Encourage your cat to play with the toys and reinforce with praise and treats when she does.
Have everything ready before bathing the cat. Make sure you are prepared with everything she needs. This includes shampoo made specifically for cats, special treats and toys your cat loves, hot towels, a plastic cup for pouring water on your cat, and a non-slip surface, such as a rubber lining, and a bath mat or towel to place in the sink or bathtub for your cat to stand on.
Create a calm environment. Close the door and keep noise to a minimum. Stay calm and talk quietly. If your sprayer is noisy, rinse your cat with cups of water. If you are stressed, your cat will be too!
During the Bathroom
Use a minimum of moderation and positive distractions. Avoid scrubbing and holding your cat. Instead, be gentle, watch your cat’s body language and provide positive distractions, such as a special treat for spreading and/or a magic wand toy.
Be especially careful not to spray the face or let water get in the ears or eyes. Avoid washing whiskers. A cat’s whiskers are the location of many of the cat’s contact receptors and it is natural for cats to hate it when these receptors are rubbed by water, food, and dirt. Be sure to rinse shampoo thoroughly to prevent skin irritation.
After the Bathroom
Dry with a towel. Gently pull your cat out of the water and immediately wrap her in a warm towel to dry, or if your cat does not prefer to be carried, allow the water to drain and towel dry while she is in the tub. Your cat will dry naturally within a few hours and during that time you should keep her warm and away from drafts. End this with a cat hug or play session and your cat’s favorite treat!