Like oil and water, cats and water do not mix. Or do they? Since time immemorial, people held on to the belief that cats do not like water. Just ask any cat owner who has attempted to bathe her pet. More often than not, you will get the same response. So the idea of cats wading into the water, or even swimming, seems like a ridiculous idea.
Can cats swim?
Yes cats can swim. Domestic cats instinctively know how to swim. However, if your cat has not been trained to swim or is not allowed to get close to water, swimming may be the farthest thought on his mind.
Why do cats hate water?
There is some grain of truth in the idea that cats hate water. And there are a few reasons behind this.
Cats hate change.
Unlike dogs who are ready to please their humans and are willing to try or at least investigate new things, felines are less inclined to try something unique to them.
If you have not exposed your pet cat to swimming, he will not instantly jump into the pool to join you and your family.
However, it is possible to train cats, especially kittens, to jump into the water and swim with you.
Cats do not like the smell of the swimming pool.
Cats have a keen sense of smell that they use in a variety of ways, from tasting their food to detecting intruders to their territory.
One possible reason that cats do not like swimming is that they do not like the smell of water, especially pool water that has been treated with a variety of chemicals.
Additionally, cats are fastidious creatures. They do an exceptional job of cleaning themselves. When you bathe your pet, he is most likely thinking that you are doing something completely unnecessary.
Cats evolved from land-dwellers.
Domestic cats trace their roots from African wildcats that live in landlocked areas.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this simply means that domestic cats did not evolve to learn how to swim simply because they do not need to. Their ancestors did not live near bodies of water. They did not need to catch prey from a river or a lake.
Cat breeds that love the water
However, there are a handful of cat breeds that are the exception to the rule. These cats have a natural affinity to water and some have body parts that are well-adapted for swimming.
One perfect example is the Turkish Van, a semi-long hair breed that traces its roots to another breed of cat that lives in Turkey. This dog-friendly cat is known for its affinity to water. Some specimens will even follow their humans into water.
The Maine Coon, on the other hand, has a coat that naturally repels water, making it easy for him to dry his fur. Like the Turkish Van, most Maine Coons seem to love the water.
Other breeds that love the water include the Bengal, American Shorthair, Norwegian Forest Cat, American Bobtail, and Japanese Bobtail.
Can you teach your cat how to swim?
Like dogs, cats instinctively know how to use their bodies to swim. Technically, you do not have to teach your pet how to swim. The greater challenge is coaxing him to come to the water. In short, helping your cat overcome his aversion to water is the first step you need to take if you want to take your feline swimming with you.
But how exactly can you do that?
1. Start him young.
The chances of encouraging your cat to overcome his fear of the water increases when you train him as a kitten.
Unlike adults, kittens are naturally curious and are less afraid to try something new. When you expose your kitten to water, he will grow confident around it.
2. Make it fun for your pet.
It will be easier to coax your cat to go into the water if you make it fun for him.
For example, you can help your cat overcome his initial fear and wariness of water by filling a shallow container like a kiddie pool with water. If you go inside the pool, place his favorite toys inside, and offer him treats, your pet will come close to the water.
After a few tries, he will lose his inhibitions and even join you inside the kiddie pool. What is critical is to let your pet do things on his own and avoid forcing him to come into the water.
You can also use a watering can and play “catch” with your cat as you sprinkle water in an arcing pattern.
3. Bring your cat near the water.
If you have a swimming pool on your property and your cat does not mind you carrying him in your arms, you can attempt to walk around the water. This will give him the opportunity to become familiar with the water.
You can take things further by going to the pool while carrying. Your cat will instinctively paddle his legs even before he hits the water.
If your cat shows panic, bring him back to dry land.
4.A few other important tips
Although your cat may know instinctively how to swim, never let him wade in the water unsupervised.
It is also a good idea to ensure that the water is warm, whether you are using an inflatable kiddie pool or a swimming pool.
As much as possible, provide your cat with an exit point that he can use if he feels uncomfortable at any time while he is in the water.
Avoid splashing the water and making unnecessary noises that can scare your cat.
Keeping your cat safe while swimming
If you have successfully managed to get your cat to get into the water for a swim, make sure that his safety remains a top priority.
For starters, make sure that you set up exit points that your cat can use when he feels uncomfortable. A simple ledge or ramp can do that job adequately.
If your cat is going to swim in the family swimming pool, be sure to check the water’s chemistry. Excessive amounts of chemicals like chlorine can be bad for your pet’s health.
Once your cat leaves the water, be sure to dry his ears as soon as possible. If his ears are filled with moisture, he becomes susceptible to infections.
Avoid taking your cat for a swim in natural bodies of water. For one, he can swim away from you if he is not leashed. Second, he can be vulnerable to predators nearby. Finally, he can be swept by the current.
If you want to try swimming with him in a natural body of water, choose a shallow portion of a lake or pond. Alternatively, you can allow him to swim at the beach, but only if the water is calm.
Cats know how to swim
Although popular culture has sustained the idea that cats hate water and do not know how to swim, your pet knows how to instinctively. However, getting him to the water is an entirely different matter.
It is possible to coax your pet to go for a swim. However, it will take a lot of time and patience.
Image: istockphoto.com / mclemay137