Can Cats Swim – Even if They Hate Water?

cat fishing in pool with paw

We all know that most, if not all, cats dislike water and avoid getting wet at any cost.

But what if a cat has to swim to save its life? This begs the question that is asked a lot: “Can cats swim?

Cats can swim if their life depends on it. The reflex to swim is built into them to preserve life in emergencies. Although cats are not built for swimming, they will not directly sink and drown. On the other hand, they don’t have the stamina to swim for long periods.

Can Cats Float In Water?

Cats can float in water for a certain amount of time and swim safely if they find themselves in a body of water by accident.

If you would toss a cat into a body of water or if they accidentally fall into one, they can, under normal circumstances, float and swim to safety. The ability to swim is present in all mammals, whether they like to swim or not. This includes cats and saves them from drowning if they ever find themselves in water.

That doesn’t mean that your cat likes swimming or even getting wet, for that matter. Exceptions aside, most cats hate water. Without discussing swimming, cats generally hate getting wet, even if it’s just rain or dipping their paws into their water bowl.

Why do cats hate water?

Our feline companions do not like getting their feet or fur wet for several reasons.

This might also be the reason that, generally, cats are not very enthusiastic about the idea of getting bathed. If you have to bathe your cat, read our article about how to bathe your cat.

They’re Not Used To It

Most domesticated cat races evolved on dry land in arid places. There was no reason for them to deal with lakes, ponds, or other water bodies for survival or the hunt.

Even though cats like the taste of fish, it’s not part of their diet in the wild.

On the other hand, if you have a Turkish Van or fishing cat, you might want to provide it with a kiddie pool to cool off in during the summer. According to Pawesome Cats, several other feline breeds like water.

Bengal cats, for example, have been known to join their owners in the bathtub. Additionally, the Savannah cat is one of the other breeds that love to be bathed. Bengal and Savannah cats are more directly related to wild cats than many other breeds.

Some additional semi-aquatic cat breeds include Norwegian Forest Cats, Manxes, Japanese Bobtails, Maine Coons, and Abyssinians. All those cat races were originally bred or evolved near water or depended on for survival. When held as a pet, they might surprise you, join you in the shower, or pluck the fish out of your aquarium.

can cats swim - cat near a swimming pool
Cats can instinctively swim like all other mammals. Pools might pose a risk for them, though.

They’re Not Built For It

The above-mentioned water-loving cats have evolved and adapted to getting wet and being in the water. For example, the fishing cat has webbed feet to help it swim and double fur to protect it from cold and wetness.

Dryland cats do not have these benefits. Unlike a dog’s hair, cat fur will retain the water and risk the cat getting hypothermic, which presents a real danger to them.

Cats Fear The Unknown

Cats are very apprehensive creatures. They generally fear the unknown and would rather keep their distance because they might not be used to the water.

Another reason is that cats spend a great deal of time grooming and cleaning their fur. Healthy cats have excellent attention to detail when it comes to their cleanliness. Having wet patches or parts that might smell differently is not something they would enjoy.

Can you teach your cat to like water?

It depends. Most domestic cats will not grow to like water, but there are things you can do to train your cat to accept it.

Remember, a big part of cats disliking water is that it’s unknown to them. It is possible to train your cat that water is not something to be afraid of and make them see it’s perfectly normal.

If you plan on teaching your cat to accept water, the key is consistency and taking it step-by-step. Cats like to feel like they’re in control of what’s happening to and around them. If you push your cat, they will not entertain you and will keep away.

It works best if you take a little bit of lukewarm water and sprinkle it on their paw. Then reward them with a treat and soothing or encouraging words.

If that works, you can slowly but surely step it up and wet other parts of their body.

Keep it playful and fun for your cat. Stop if your cat gets annoyed or scared, as it will have an adverse effect on what you’re trying to achieve.

Cat getting paw wet under tap
It is possible to teach cats to get used to the water successfully.

What to do when your cat gets wet?

As mentioned, domesticated cats are not used to getting wet and will avoid it at any cost.

However, even though cats are masters at not putting themselves in risky situations, they might get into an accident, fall into a pool, or otherwise get wet.

Due to cat fur’s nature, it takes a very long time to dry, and cats are susceptible to hypothermia. So, when your cat is wet, you’ll want to help it get dry as soon as possible.

The best way of achieving this is by rubbing them with a dry and soft towel. You could use a hairdryer, but these usually get too hot for your cat’s sensitive skin. A cold blower, on the other hand, will make your cat even colder.

Secondly, make sure to dry their ears gently. Cat ears are very sensitive and quickly get infected when they don’t dry properly.

Finally, ensure they have a warm and comfortable spot to fully dry and groom themselves to get over this horrible experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can cats naturally swim?

Like all mammals, cats can instinctively swim when they, primarily by accident, end up in a body of water. Under normal circumstances, cats can get to dry land and safety. Most cats avoid getting wet and don’t enjoy swimming.

Can cats drown in swimming pools?

If a cat were to fall into a swimming pool accidentally, it would be able to float and swim to safety. However, it might not be able to climb up the high and slippery walls of the pool and still drown due to fatigue.

How long can cats swim?

Although cats can swim, they’re not very good at it and don’t have the stamina to swim for a long time. If a cat can’t reach safe and dry ground within a few minutes, it will risk drowning because of fatigue.

Do cats hold their breath underwater?

Cats won’t consciously know they cannot breathe underwater, but instinctively, they know they can’t breathe water. Just like humans will instinctively hold their breath underwater, so will cats. This is nature’s safety mechanism that is built into all mammals.

Is it illegal to drown kittens?

It is illegal to drown kittens in most countries. Committing animal cruelty is wrong, both from an ethical and legal standpoint. Depending on the jurisdiction, you risk being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Tom Alexander is a life-long cat parent and enjoys sharing a home with his cat Max and his family. Being a devoted cat person, his passion for everything feline and blogging is the driving force behind As the founder and editor at Cat & Friends, Tom aims to provide an interesting and great resource for cat owners.

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