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Ask A Vet: Why Do Cats Hate Water?

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Actually it may not be the water that your cat hates. We see lions in the wild regularly swim in water to cross to the other bank and big cats can use water to stay cool, but everyone knows that domestic cats really do not like having a bath. Consider the bath experience from the eyes of your cat.

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First, the whole bathing process is YOUR idea. Your cat thinks that her own self-grooming is very adequate. Cats tend to resent loss of control. Being obligated to tolerate your idea is within itself distasteful to a cat and she instinctively knows that she is vulnerable when she is under your control. Even if she trusts you completely, the act of being subdued and restrained goes against her instincts.

Cats tend to be very reactive. Because they are tiny predators, they need to be tuned in to their environment all the time, in case a bigger predator comes along. They have to be poised to act to remove themselves from harm’s way. Loud noises (which running water can be to your cat’s sensitive ears) evoke a flee response.

Cats are sensitive to sensations. There are certain spots they prefer to be touched (and others they do not) and they are particular about temperatures too. They often like to lie in warm sunbeams and snuggle in fleece bedding. A cat’s normal body temperature is much higher than ours, so bath water that seems perfect to you might feel cool to your cat. When you scrub your cat, you might be touching her in ways that she does not like or making her feel cold.

Cats use pheromones (chemical messengers) to signal to themselves and others. Your cat might resist having these pheromones washed away and since we know that feline facial pheromone calms cats, washing it away may have a direct impact on your cat’s mood and calmness.

There may be some occasions when a bath is necessary, but if you have to bathe your cat, ask your vet to help. Anxiety medications and techniques can make this experience much better for your cat and you!

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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