Domestic cats don’t universally hate water and some wild cats like water. It depends on whether they are wild or domestic, the individual cat, whether they are a wild cat hybrid or not, and possibly what breed of cat we are discussing. The idea that domestic cats hate water has been promulgated in a misleading way. It requires a more detailed analysis.
Two ways to get wet
There are two ways for a cat to get wet, (1) they can be outside in the rain or (2) they can be dunked into water to be bathed. The vast majority of domestic cats (not all as some like it) won’t like the latter i.e. being dunked into a bath. They might find it quite distressing but probably accept it without struggling too much. As for the former, many domestic cats in the UK and elsewhere are caught in the rain when they are outside. In my experience, it doesn’t particularly perturb them. They just carry on and come inside the home to dry off. They might wash themselves but there’s no indication that they actively dislike or even hate water under these circumstances.
For example, my cat even goes out in the rain and he comes in soaking wet sometimes without any signs of being upset by it. A neighbour’s cat does the same thing without a problem. I just don’t believe the stories that cats hate water except possibly when being submerged in it! They don’t normally like that.
Reasons – their wildcat inheritance
I think we can find out the reason why they behave like this. We should all know by now that the wild cat ancestor of today’s domestic cat is the African-Asian wild cat, otherwise known as the Near Eastern Wildcat. This small wild cat species lives in dry grassland and scrubland. It’s an arid, rocky and scrubby landscape. You will also find them in woodlands and a wide variety of habitats up to 3,000 feet above sea level. They require cover for hunting and to rest in a secure area. But above all it is not rainforest or damp and wet conditions but the opposite. This is why they are poor drinkers. They get their moisture from prey animals (70% water content).
Therefore, the domestic cat because of its inheritance is not adapted to wet or dampe conditions. They can find it distasteful. Although, of course, over 10,000 years of domestication you have to question how much remains that has been inherited from the wild. A lot has obviously because the domestic cat behaves very similarly to their wild cat ancestor and I would include the fact that they are unfamiliar with living in a wet climate.
One website says that they don’t like water because they don’t want their coat to become wet. Yes, that might be an instinctive reaction but I don’t think this is a rational decision! Domestic cat coats are quite waterproof in any event.
Many years ago I was staying at a large cat breeding facility in Oklahoma. It is A1 Savannahs. They are still there under different ownership. I had the opportunity to discuss the Savannah cat with the then owners: Mr and Mrs Stucki. Kathryn told me that this wild cat hybrid occasionally liked to join her in the shower. I have heard the same about Bengal cats. It appears that the DNA of the serval which is the wildcat element of the Savannah cat, and the DNA of the Asian leopard cat, which is the wildcat element of the Bengal cat, has an influence over the behavioural traits of these two cat breeds.
The serval lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Its territory overlaps with the North-Eastern wildcat. However, they also like to live in habitats where there are reedbeds and marshes. This makes them more adapted to a wet landscape. This is brought forward into the domestic cat hybrid, the Savannah cat which as serval DNA. The Asian Leopard cat a.k.a. leopard cat has a broad geographic distribution but lives in Asia in lowland tropical evergreen rainforest and plantation forests at sea level to moist temperate and dry coniferous forests in the Himalayan foothills. There is the answer: they are habituated to living in wetter climates than the Near Eastern wildcat. This history is carried forward in the cat’s DNA and therefore the Bengal cat inherits this characteristic making it more accepting of being wet and even liking joining their own in the shower.
In conclusion, you have to argue that domestic cats don’t always hate water. They might dislike it depending upon the cat’s individual characteristics. Most cats don’t mind getting wet in the rain but then again most cats tend to dislike being bathed or put into water which covers their body. The exceptions are the wild cat hybrids for the reasons stated above.
It is said that the Turkish Van, a cat breed with origins in Turkey near Lake Van, likes to swim. This is untrue. The original Turkish Van no more likes swimming than any other domestic cat. Most don’t like to swim but when they have to they swim well.
Tigers and jaguars
Of all the big cats the tiger is the most fond of water. They are excellent swimmers and can swim for about 4 miles in open sea. They spent a long time partly submerged in water in hot climates. They like it. An example of how a cat can like water. The jaguar is very similar.
There are a few small wild cat species who spend a lot of time living near and hunting in and around water. The fishing cat is one such species. This is another example of a cat species that likes water and finds benefit in being associated with it. The point I’m making is that you can’t generalise about “cats hating water!”. This is simply incorrect and misleading. It’s about time that the authors on these Websites got to grips with this particular aspect of the cat’s character and reported on it more accurately.