Yes, cats can swim.
That doesn’t mean all cats want to swim.
After all, everybody says cats don’t like water. Right?
If an unlucky cat finds themselves in a pool, lake, or any body of water, they’ll instinctively kick their limbs to stay afloat. And hurry on back to shore as quickly as possible.
Like many mammals, cats instinctively understand how to keep their heads above water.
How do cats know how to swim?
Most mammals know how to swim. Most mammals also have four legs which helps them paddle through the water.
Of course not all mammals are equal at swimming.
It seems almost not worth mentioning that seals and whales are better swimmers than pigs and cows.
But here’s the weird thing. While all of the above—including cats—may encounter water from time-to-time even camels have been known to swim, despite being typically bred in arid, dry, near waterless climates.
Mammals: Natural Swimmers (For the Most Part)
Now why is that?
It’s the way mammals are built. Big lungs, fur, and fat help keep them afloat. And the ability to float is the prerequisite for swimming.
But it’s also that the locomotion that mammals use on land works well in water too. When cats are swimming they’re moving in a similar fashion to how they do on land.
The doggy paddle seems to be instinctual, for animals on four-legs at least.
Of course this is all still speculation, and the verdict is out.
(Funny fact: chimpanzees are known to struggle as swimmers. Quadrupeds have all the luck.)
Then why do cats dislike water?
Whenever I take a shower Miles paws at the curtain, desperately trying to see what’s going on. But if one hot drop touches any part of his immaculate fur he scrams.
Once he gets over the shock he cautiously crawls right back to see what exactly is going on. He’s fascinated by water.
Turns out the old stereotype that cats hate water is wrong.
It’s one of those cultural tropes that’s taken for fact at face value, like “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks”—I’m still learning!
The truth is that some species of cats are more prone to enjoy going for a dip than others.
One in particular is even famous for it.
Turkish Van Cats love the Water
In far eastern Turkey, at what was once part of the Armenian kingdom Ararate, sits an enormous body of water called Lake Van.
If you stand by the shore long enough you may spot a curious site.
They’re called Van cats. And embrace their fascination with water by going for a dip.
(Actually, turns out, our cat Miles might be a Van cat.)
Quick Note: Van Cat vs Turkish Van
Don’t confuse the Van cat with the Turkish Van cat species as I did while Wikipediang for this article.
Van cats are native to eastern Turkey.
Whereas “Turkish van cats” are a breed specifically raised in the UK. They’re the offspring of Turkish cats, but not from the area of Lake Van. Confusing isn’t it?
Main Coon Swimmers
Maine Coon cats also love water—allegedly.
Thanks to their thick coat the Maine Coon enjoys sleeping in bathtubs and trying to turn on faucets. Although since I’ve never seen a Maine Coon do any of the aforementioned personally, I can only report what others have said.
My Cat Loves Water? Why won’t she swim?
Filling the Brita filter with water is the easiest way to summon Persephone. She hops right up to the counter to investigate. And often tries to nudge me out of the way as I’m holding the plastic filter with my bad wrist.
“Playing dangerous Persephone.”
But she can’t help it. Her attention is magnetized to the drip-drop-droop of water trickling through the filter.
As if, if she stares long enough she’ll somehow understand this mysterious force we call water.
Then again, just like Miles, if a single drop touches her fine fur she bolts faster than a slapped horse at a race. Gone into hiding. Until she finds the courage to face her curiosity once again.
Why is Persephone so fascinated by water if she’s so scared to get wet?
Experience is Everything
Just like people, a cat’s preferences are formed by their experiences.
If a cat is raised on a houseboat you can bet they’re more likely to take a swim—or at least not mind the occasional spray wetting their coat.
Whereas a cat who grows up in the Nevada desert, where sunny skies are the norm and rain a rarity, is unlikely to sing in the rain.
And environment isn’t the end of it. If you’ve used a spray bottle to discipline your cat then it’s no wonder they’re reluctant to take a bath. Water has been paired with a negative experience.
If cats form positive experiences with water they’re more likely to not getting a little wet.
Familiarizing Your Cat with Water
If you have a young cat and want to prevent the subconscious development of hydrophobia (the fear of water) there are a few steps you can take.
Start by using a damp cloth to clean your cat.
If they don’t mind you can eventually put them in the sink or the tub with a tiny bit of warm water.
And let them become familiar with it. Don’t force the association.
Given some time they may become comfortable enough to paddle around the tub. Just don’t bet on it. Every cat has their own personality and you don’t want to force them to do something they don’t want to do.
Cats Can Swim, Do Yours?
Now we know cats can swim, if they want to or are forced to. Our two cats aren’t fond enough of water just yet to even dip their paws in the tub. Maybe one day. Though they have no problem drinking plenty of water.
What about your cats. Do they take a dip, or are they as skittish as stereotypes make cats out to be?