Why Are Cats Afraid of Water? Is it due to instinct?

Why Are Cats Afraid of Water?
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Cats are usually very composed animals, who rarely show an emotional outburst unless they cross paths with another cat that is. When it comes to cats and water, however, and you are likely to witness a complete abandonment of their composure. You will see anything from teeth showing, flying fur, a windmill of claws, to a docile reaction where they just won’t move. 

The Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology institute the University of Bristol. John Bradshaw, Ph.D., and the author of Cat Sense says there is more to the phobia than just the fact that cats are scared of water, getting wet and matted fur. Cats may actually have an ancestral fear of getting wet. He says, 

“Domestic cats were descended from Arabian wild cats, Their ancestors lived in an area with very few large bodies of water. They never had to learn how to swim. There was no advantage to it.”

A cat’s dislike of water goes far further than the physical sensation of being drenched. Cat’s have an oily coat and according to Shaw, an oily coat won’t shed water as easily, which makes it more difficult for them to get dry, and warm quickly. Cats are nimble and agile animals and they thrive on this. In water, their motion is sluggish and much less nimble, thus, leaving them feeling anxious and on edge. Cats scared of water will avoid it at all costs, they don’t want to be left feeling vulnerable. 

However, not every species of cat avoid swimming. Then van cars that live on the shore of Lake Van in Eastern Turkey are reared to dive in the waters as kittens. You can see their mothers encouraging and even nudging them in. There is also the conflicting behavior of many cats who appear to be fascinated with trickling faucets. Some will even dip their paw into a lake, river, puddle, etc, and start to drink from it. 

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Photo by Timo Volz

The water, however, isn’t what the cat is interested in. Bradshaw says that’“That flickering pattern, the light coming off the water, is hard-wired into their brain as a potential sign of prey. It’s not because it’s wet. It’s because it moves and makes interesting noises. Something moving is a potential thing to eat.” This is one of the biggest reasons cats don’t like water, as far as they are concerned, a little is a lot when it comes to water. 

Although it’s a common myth that cats are afraid of water, it’s more of an aversion than a fear. They feel less agile and in control so they prefer to steer clear. But, you do see some species of cats enjoying it as part of everyday life. Cats are natural-born swimmers, and their instincts would take over if they were to land in water, but, most do try to stay away if they can. If the only way out was to swim, a cat would jump straight in.

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