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Can Cats Swim? Breaking Down the Myths Around Cats & Water

Cats are nimble, agile, and incredibly curious. However, they can also be accident-prone, especially when startled. They can be nervous, shy, and even scared of things that they are not used to.

One myth that tends to surround cats is that they have a natural fear of water and are unable to swim. The reality is quite different. Cats are not born with a fear of water, and in fact, many cats instinctively know how to swim. They just choose not to go near water.

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Why Cats Are Afraid of Water

Cats are not born with a fear of water, which means that it is learned over time. Most experts suggest that this fear stems from a lack of exposure to water.

Your cat is a domesticated animal. They have spent their whole life in a house, so they will not have come into contact with rivers, lakes, oceans, or other water sources. We owners are discouraged from bathing or showering pet cats, so your cat simply hasn’t been exposed to much water. If they are plunged into water when they slip into the bath or a pond, their instinct is to get out as quickly as possible.

Cats are clean and tidy animals — the area surrounding their litter tray notwithstanding, of course. Cats especially look after their coat, and it takes a long time for the fur to dry after it has been soaked. Therefore, if your cat knows the negative impact that a bath of water will have, they may simply be looking after their coat.

cat about to go to the pool
Image Credit: Maxence, Flickr

Can Cats Naturally Swim?

Some breeds of cats are not only well adapted to going in the water, but they also enjoy it. The Turkish Van, for example, is nicknamed “the swimming cat” because they have a more suitable coat for swimming. They also enjoy getting out and taking a dip in any body of water. No matter the breed, though, if your domesticated cat has never experienced water before, they are unlikely to take to it straight away.

Do Cats Enjoy Swimming?

Some cats do enjoy the water. They will actively seek out water that is deep enough for them to paddle around in. All cats have partially webbed feet, stemming back to their big cat ancestors, and some have almost fully webbed feet.

How Long Can a Cat Swim?

Big cats can swim for distances of several miles, but no matter the breed of your domestic cat, they are unlikely to achieve these kinds of distances. The exact distance that your cat can swim will depend on their breed and their experience in water. Like humans, cats can swim greater distances with practice and training.

Can I Get My Cat to Like Water?

In most cases, there isn’t too much reason to encourage cats to like water. They should not need regular bathing. In fact, regular bathing can strip natural oils from a cat’s coat and may do considerably more harm than good. They rarely live in locations where swimming is essential; otherwise, they would have been exposed to water when young and would be unlikely to be scared of it. If you do need to get your cat used to water, consider introducing it gradually. Start with an empty bath, and have them play with their favorite toys. Once your cat gets used to the bath, add a little water to the bottom. Some cats like to play with drops of water from the faucet because they see the movement and treat it like a toy. You can gradually increase the depth of water in the bath until your cat is covered.

cat under water
Image Credit: rectorhughes, Flickr

Which Breeds of Cats Like Water?

Numerous breeds of cats are known to like water more than others, although the likes and dislikes of an individual cat will outweigh any breed-based tolerance.

  • Turkish Van: Known as “the swimming cat,” the Turkish Van has semi-long fur that is water retardant, so the feline will come out of the water quite dry. Because they don’t get waterlogged, the Van tends to like water more than other breeds.
  • Turkish Angora: Another Turkish breed, the Angora will paddle in streams and ponds, and if you own an indoor Angora, you may find that they try to join you in the bath or jump in the shower when you run it. The breed is known for their intelligence and love of playing.
  • Maine Coon: The Maine Coon is best known for being a giant breed of domestic cat, but they have a water-resistant coat that enables them to withstand very cold temperatures. This cat is known for being clever and was once used for rodent control aboard ships, which may be the cause or the effect of their affinity to water.
  • Bengal: Named after a breed of Tiger, the Bengal loves to get in water and splash around. They especially enjoy chasing things that live in water, but they will make do with chasing the drops of water coming from taps and showerheads.

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Can Cats Swim?

Cats can indeed swim, and far from being afraid of water, many cats actually enjoy spending time getting wet, especially those with naturally water-retardant coats that will not get water logged after a quick dip. Cats that are afraid of water have usually picked up this fear because they have never been exposed to large bodies of water or have had a bad experience in the past.


Featured Image: Irina Kovynyova, Shutterstock