Every cat owner knows the difficulty of giving cats baths. They meow loudly in defiance and scramble to leave the tub, even if that means sinking their claws into your skin to climb over you, dash out the door, and hide under the couch or on top of the refrigerator where you can’t reach.
Baths are not only stressful for you—no one wants to get clawed to death over something so harmless—but it is also stressful for your cat. Certainly there is something you can do to make the experience less traumatic.
Good news. There is, but first you need to understand your cat’s behavior before you can remedy the problem.
Cats and Water
Granted, not all cats hate water. A few breeds such as the Maine Coon, Bengal, and Abyssinian love water. Another breed, the Turkish Van, is best known for their skills in water. Dubbed as the “swimming cat,” Turkish Vans enjoy paddling around pools.
Yet, it’s hard to ignore that a lot of cats detest bath time. There isn’t a single answer to why cats hate water, but there are several theories.
According to Petful, because cats are sensitive to odors, they may not like the smell of the chemicals from tap water. Cats may also find the scent of shampoos too abrasive.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the ACMV for short, has another theory. Cats’ aversion to water, says the association, may be caused by the feline species’ evolution in arid desert climates. Throughout their history, cats were not exposed to rivers, lakes, and rain. As a result, they are not yet accustomed to water unlike other animals, like dogs.
Cats may also dislike the feel of damp fur. Cats are frequent groomers. If you ever see them licking their fur all day, you know that’s their way of keeping themselves clean. Because cats groom so often, skin oils don’t build up on their fur, making it fluffier and less waterproof. Fur like that feels heavier as it gets wet. So, when cats get baths, it’s possible that they don’t like the damp, heavy feeling of their furs.
There is yet another theory, but unlike the others, this one pins the cause on the cat owner. It’s possible that if a cat owner uses water to discipline, to provide an unpleasant bath experience, or if the cat owner didn’t introduce the cat to water while it was still a kitten, the cat will become aversive or uncomfortable with water. It makes sense: an previous unpleasant interaction will likely result in some sort of trauma.
What You Can Do
To help your cat grow accustomed to baths, try introducing it to water at a young age. Make sure those baths are as pleasant as possible. Place your cat in an empty tub or sink while speaking reassuringly. Rather than dumping water on the poor thing, begin by running a wet washcloth over the cats fur. If the cat proves to be calm, you can begin filling the tub with warm water—never hot—using a tumbler or a hose. Be gentle throughout the whole process, and give your cat a treat afterward for good behavior.
If your cat still hates water, don’t worry. The good news: you don’t have to bathe your cat that often because your cat already does a good job of cleaning itself! All the licking sure does pay off for the both of you.