Can Cats Swim?

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When we think of pets and swimming, many people’s minds will turn to fish in the bowl or the pond or dogs jumping recklessly into the ocean or river. Our minds wouldn’t really turn to cats and swimming in the same sentence. In fact, most cat lovers and owners would laugh at the idea of their cat enjoying a dip in the pool. But, that begs the question, can cats swim?

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Can Cats Swim?

These sassy companions have many abilities under their belt. They are accomplished hunters, can perform great feats of athleticism, and are stealthily quiet as they move through the house.

But swimming? It’s not something that cats are necessarily known for. The majority of people believe that cats hate water. However, that doesn’t mean cats can’t swim, does it?

In this article, we will explore our feline companion’s relationship with the water and answer whether they can actually swim.

Well, Can Cats Swim?

The short answer is yes, cats can certainly swim just like most other animals on Earth. It’s adaptive for them to be able to survive in water. Even if cats have never swam, they do have an innate reflex to swim, and will be able to manage in the water.

Some breeds may be more adept than others, but almost all species can learn to swim. The question then becomes; why do some cats love the water while most hate it?

Cat looking over the edge of a pond

Why Do Most Cats Not Like To Swim?

Cats don’t tend to enjoy being wet, cold, or in the water. This isn’t because they dislike the taste of saltwater or even the feeling of the water against their fur.

Rather, the main reason cats dislike water is due to fear. Many cats simply feel uncomfortable when immersed in the liquid. Most haven’t experienced swimming before.

If you can imagine never having swam before, and then suddenly experience the weightless weirdness that is water you’d be uncomfortable too.

Where Did This Fear Come From?

Cat flicking water

An interesting thing about kittens is that they can’t help but play in puddles. This comes from a psychological phenomena called motor drive, which describes how young animals take pleasure in trying out new sensory inputs and experiences.

However, over time, this wonder at water disappears as the motor drive wanes and is replaced with fear. So, what causes these fears?

From what we know about ancient history, cats were probably domesticated in Ancient Egypt. There, cats had been living alongside humans since prehistoric times. During this time, cats began developing behaviors similar to those seen today.

Cat drinking from the tap

One of these behaviors that has been commented on from this time is the fear of water.

This shows that it is probably not a learned behavior, but entirely instinctual, and it is a behavior that has remained consistent throughout history.

Today, there are several theories as to why this fear exists. These include:

Fear of Drowning

This theory suggests that domestic cats developed a fear of water due to an unfortunate incident during their upbringing.

When kittens first start exploring the world around them, they often spend hours playing in puddles—a natural source of water. Unfortunately, sometimes one of the kittens falls into the puddle and gets stuck. This could potentially lead to drowning.

Because of this, it might be that cats have learned to stay away from the water to ensure they don’t fall victim to such a fate.

Cat dangling over the edge to get a drnk

Fear Of Contamination

Another theory recommends that domestic cats become scared of water due to interacting with contaminated fluids.

If you think back to your time in school, you might remember learning about bacteria as part of your primary school curriculum. Bacteria are microscopic organisms which live everywhere. Cats have been shown to be quite sensitive to certain types of bacteria.

Some studies suggest that domestic cats don’t like the smell of human feces or other waste products. This can be seen in their feeding behavior, as cats will avoid eating the areas of the animals that contain the waste tracts, like the colon or intestine.

This could explain why cats become so fearful of water, as from their view, it is a hotbed of waste products.

Fear Of Pain

Fear Of Pain

A third theory proposes that domestic cats became afraid of water due to experiences involving painful events. According to this idea, domestic cats may have once encountered someone who was injured by water.

After witnessing this event, cats may have decided to steer clear of water for safety’s sake.

So, based on these three ideas, cats may try to avoid water because they fear:

  • Drowning
  • Being contaminated with bacteria
  • Painful experiences with people

Unfortunately, these are just theories for now instead of fact.

However, other studies published find these theories lacking, and they suggest all three explanations aren’t entirely accurate. In fact, researchers found that cats’ fears of water vary depending on the circumstances of the experience.

It appears that cats learn about their surroundings through trial and error.

Since large amounts of water often cause problems and accidents for small animals like cats, the trial and error theory would make sense, as their interactions with large bodies of water would normally be quite bad.

cat with mohawk in bath

Do Wild Cats Enjoy Swimming?

As mentioned above, there is no solid evidence that shows that wild cats enjoy swimming. In fact, some scientists believe that wild cats actually dislike water, like their domestic cousins.

For instance, research done has revealed that many species of cats actively avoid contact with open water. One reason for this is that most felids prefer to hunt terrestrial prey and there could be potentially dangerous animals in the water.

They do not eat fish or amphibians because they require a different hunting style than other carnivores. However, there are exceptions to this rule. The Tiger, the Jaguar, and the fishing cat are some exceptions.

Which Cats Like Water?

Tigers are the apex predators in their native ranges, outcompeting bears and other top predators. This means that they have little to fear from water predators as well as land ones.

They also make their homes in the jungle and woodland areas, and so use water as another way to ambush prey when they get too close.

Maine coon in the bath

The fishing cat is a very small cat, so it is more vulnerable than the other two, but hunting in the water gives it a huge advantage in the environment it lives in. This cat is native to south-east Asia, which is filled with huge waterways that regularly flood and jungles.

But aside from these wild cats, there are other breeds such as the Maine coon is also a water loving cat that you’re more likely to see in someone’s home. These cats have more water-resistant coats than normal cats, and therefore are less uncomfortable in the water


Cats can swim, and they can swim very well, but why most of them don’t like it is not entirely certain. We only theories positing why at this time.

However, what we can say is that it is likely instinctual and a habit that wild cats once used to keep themselves alive in a treacherous and difficult world.

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A cat swimming in a pool

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