Your cat may love water. It’s a genes thing after all

Many domestic cats, with their mixed lineage, will have a built-in urge to follow their owners into the shower.

Bob Urano, animal lover and pet store operator
Bob Urano
Furry Friends

Amid Alberta’s catastrophic flooding last summer, a few uplifting stories emerged. One of the most heartwarming involved a cat and her owner swimming to safety after the pickup truck they were in was swept downstream. As the truck kept sinking, Kevan Yeats, driver and owner of Momo, the cat, was unable to open the driver’s window and so in desperation smashed the rear window of the pickup. Momo instantly took off swimming so adeptly that Kevan was barely able to keep up.

Momo the cat swimming to safety (Photo credit: cbc.ca
Momo the cat swimming to safety (Photo credit: cbc.ca)

Someone from Canadian Press by chance was nearby and recorded the hair-raising event. While everyone was glad the pair had swum to safety, the cat’s swimming ability captured the greatest attention and was even reported in the British newspaper, The Times. Most people, it seems, still believe the myth that cats hate water.

Although cats don’t like to be sprayed with water or thrown into the water (likewise for many humans), they are not afraid of water. Many breeds, such as Turkish Vans, Bengals and Maine Coons, love water and have a strong genetic desire to swim. Since so many of our domestic cats have a mixed lineage it isn’t surprising that owners often report that their cats follow them into the shower.

This also explains the fascination some cats seem to have with water, from watching the swirl of water in a just flushed toilet to drinking from a faucet. So many cats demand drinking from running water that there are now water fountains designed for cats. Often owners whose cats don’t drink enough water find that the sound of moving water attracts their cat to drink.

Cats’ fascination with water is also evident when they scoop water with their paws. Paw pads are one of the most sensitive areas of a cat’s body and the cats use their paws to test the water’s temperature. They rely on their sense of touch as well as smell, since close objects are not very clear to them. For many cats water requires investigation not avoidance.

Our household cats trace their ancestry to the African wildcats, many of whom cool down from the jungle heat by swimming in rivers and go into the water to hunt prey. If we had remained aware of their heritage, we would not assume that our little cats do not like water. They may not like the loud sound of running water, the temperature of the water or the smell of the water, but left to their own resources, cats do and will play with it. And as eight-month-old Momo proved, they don’t even need swimming lessons.

Robert Urano was longtime operator of a Winnipeg pet store.

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