Can Cats Swim?

Many people believe cats hate water, and some think it is because they can’t swim. However, many owners have cats that love to play in bathtubs and pools. So, can cats swim or not?

Cats can swim in water. This is an instinct that all cats possess. Most cats automatically start paddling when they enter the water. Young kittens may be less skilled than adult cats and have difficulty swimming well. Still, they have this instinct and become more adept at swimming as they age. However, many domestic cats avoid water because it makes their fur heavier and causes discomfort.

Some breeds of domestic cats do not mind swimming. In fact, they are excellent swimmers.

However, this may vary depending on the cat and traumatic experiences with water in its past. Nevertheless, it is possible to teach your cat to swim.

Can Cats Swim Instinctively?

Cats have an intuitive knowledge of how to swim.

Like horses, dogs, and other mammals, their survival instincts tell them to paddle as soon as they enter the water.

Depending on the cat’s experience and age, the swimming technique may not be particularly graceful or very efficient. However, almost all cats know they can swim when needed.

However, many cats prefer not to swim. Some cats even have physical disabilities that prevent them from kicking their legs or keeping their heads above the water’s surface.

Very young kittens are least likely to swim when they need to.

Since they are still learning to walk properly, swimming requires too much skill and energy, so they risk drowning.

Older cats have a more developed instinct for swimming but have difficulty maintaining the strength to swim.

Many wild cats swim to cross rivers or streams to hunt prey or stalk prey when necessary.

In domestic cats, swimming is rather a survival instinct than a recreational activity. They avoid the water but will start paddling rather than drown.

Can a Cat Drown?

Although cats are good swimmers, they can still drown. Cats drown when liquid gets into their airways and interferes with breathing.

So cats do not have to be in water to drown. If enough fluid has entered their airways, they can even drown on land.

This happens when the cat does not receive help or medical care. It is a slow and painful death.

So be careful if you have large ponds, lakes, or rivers nearby. It would be best if you always supervised your cat near them.

Most cats can swim well enough not to drown, but it can still happen.

As mentioned earlier, young or older cats may not be agile enough to stay afloat and avoid inhaling water.

Even an adult cat may have trouble in rough water or lack the strength to reach dry land.

If you haven’t observed your cat swimming before, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How Do Cats Swim?

Cats, like dogs, swim by paddling their legs while keeping their heads above water.

Even though swimming looks easy, don’t expect your cat to be able to swim underwater!

She doesn’t know how to do it. A cat is under a lot of stress, and there is a risk of drowning if forced under the water’s surface.

According to brain research, cats have similar movement patterns when swimming as they do when running.

There are two common movements that cats perform in both:

  • The left forelimb moves forward, then followed by the right hindlimb.
  • The left hindlimb moves forward, then followed by the right forelimb.

These two movement patterns occur symmetrically on both sides. Thus, each movement pattern is performed similarly with the left and right limbs.

However, the movement patterns are coupled asymmetrically on the right and left sides of the cat.

For example, if the left front leg moves forward, the right hind leg also does. If the right front leg moves forward, so does the left hind leg.

However, the front and hind legs on the same side do not move forward simultaneously. Both swimming and running alternate between these patterns to move forward.

In this way, cats only have to expend a small amount of energy and can still move very quickly.

In water, this is even more helpful. The diagonal pattern allows them to keep their balance and pull more water with each movement.

Watch your cat’s gait closely if you find this hard to imagine. You’ll notice these frequent movement patterns.

How Far Can Cats Swim?

Large, non-domesticated cat species like tigers, jaguars, and lions can swim up to 10 miles (15 kilometers).

This is because they rely on the water to regulate and maintain a healthy body temperature this way.

These predators are also known to forage for prey along the edges of bodies of water in their natural habitat.

However, this is not necessarily true for native species. The reason is:

  • Domestic cats are much smaller than their wild ancestors, so they don’t have the strength or energy to swim that far.
  • Domestication over the years may have changed your cat’s ability to swim longer distances.

In particular, domestic cats no longer need to swim due to domestication.

This can affect how dedicated your cat is to swimming and how long she can swim before giving up and returning to shore.

This makes it difficult to determine her maximum range, as she will not try to reach that point.

Therefore, how far your cat can swim can vary greatly. It depends on whether she likes the water, how big, and what breed she is.

How Fast Can Cats Swim?

Cats’ swimming speed has not been studied in depth.

However, their swimming speed is usually relative to their body size. Like their wild ancestors, swimming is always slower than running on land.

Cats run at an average top speed of 30 mph (50 km/h). Therefore, cats can be expected to swim at half that speed, or 15 mph (25 km/h).

But this depends on their general health and size.

It is worth noting that cats also rely on their balance to reach higher speeds.

In one study, three cats underwent bi-labyrinthectomy, which affected their inner ears.

They could compensate for the partial loss of balance with their vision but still had difficulty walking in a straight line.

In water, cats do not have to struggle with perfect balance. Therefore, older cats can reach higher swimming speeds even if they have difficulty maintaining their pace on land.

Do Cats Like to Swim?

Some cats like to swim, others do not. Most domesticated cats do not like water, let alone swimming, and are even afraid of it.

However, a handful of cat species don’t mind water and even enjoy swimming when given the opportunity.

Why Do Cats Hate Water?

Cats don’t hate water per se, but rather what water does to their fur. This specifically includes:

  • Soaked fur feels heavy to the touch
  • Wet fur takes too long to dry
  • Water-soaked fur limits a cat’s ability to hunt or move properly

Cat fur becomes heavier when it is soaked with water. Healthy and well-groomed cat fur can absorb more than 30% of its weight in water, but this percentage can increase dramatically in sick or damaged fur.

In addition, coat length can increase by 2%, and hair diameter can increase by up to 15-20% larger than when dry.

However, this is highly dependent on the health of the coat and hair follicles. Therefore, it is not surprising that wet fur can be quite troublesome.

Maintaining an appropriate body temperature is essential for cats. Wet fur can interfere with this optimal temperature, making them extremely cold.

This can lead to severe illnesses like hyperthermia if your cat can’t dry itself off quickly.

Why Are Domestic Cats Afraid of Water?

Domesticated cats are afraid of water mainly for the reasons mentioned above. This can also be considered fear, as cats show disgust for water and try to avoid it if possible.

Since fear is a survival technique to avoid dangerous situations, some cats show an actual phobia. However, most react only with an aversion to the effect water has on their fur.

Some studies have hypothesized that the fear of water is due to evolution. The ancestors of the domestic cats we know and love today were desert cats.

Since they lived in the desert, they had few watering holes. Therefore, their descendants developed a fear of water because it was something unknown to them.

However, a pronounced fear of water can also be caused by past experiences or by the nature of the breed.

For example, if a cat has had bad or traumatic experiences with water, it will likely grow up fearing water.

Negative associations with water can be anything from minor inconveniences to major traumas. Perhaps the cat was once splashed with water or could not escape a heavy rain.

The aversion to water is not so easy to overcome in these cats. So don’t try to force it unless you have an essential reason.

If you want to help your cat overcome its fear of water, you should seek the help of animal behaviorists.

Which Cat Breeds Like to Swim?

Specific cat breeds are more tolerant of water than others. This is a generalization based on the particular physical characteristics of cats.

There is no reason to assume that this applies to all animals of that breed, as each cat is different.

Also, the fact that many of these cat breeds generally like water may be overridden by bad experiences.

Some cat breeds that are more likely to swim include:

  • Abyssinian cat
  • American Bobtail
  • Bengal cat
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Maine Coon cat
  • Manx
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Savannah cat
  • Turkish Angora
  • Turkish Van

Why Do Some Cats Like to Swim?

The cat breeds that like to swim also have different coat qualities.

The Turkish Van, for example, is known for its cashmere-like, almost water-repellent long coat. It is an excellent swimmer with strong hind legs and large paws, allowing it to move well in the water.

Other cat breeds, such as the Maine Coon, Turkish Angora, and Norwegian Forest Cat, also have water-repellent coats. This allows them to enjoy swimming much more.

Of course, this may be coupled with their ancestral experiences. The Manx, for example, is a breed that descended from a cat that lived on the Isle of Man, an isolated island.

Since their ancestors lived on an island surrounded by water, the Manx may not fear water.

Bengal cats are an interesting case because they are usually only four generations removed from their ancestor, the leopard cat. Unlike other cats, this could be why they are not afraid of water.

They have only recently moved away from their ancestor, who doesn’t mind the water as much. In fact, leopard cats are frequent swimmers. They even hunt in the water occasionally for fish and crabs to eat.

How to Teach Cats to Swim

You’re lucky if you’re interested in teaching your cats to swim. It’s actually possible!

However, you need to know a few things about how to teach cats to swim:

  • Older kittens increase the likelihood of success.
  • It requires a lot of patience and time to teach cats to swim.
  • Cats are likely to complain by fidgeting, biting, and scratching. Don’t take it personally, but pay attention to their body language.

Kittens are much more malleable when teaching them behaviors and tricks. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach older cats to swim.

Regardless of what age you teach a cat to swim, training requires a lot of patience and time. Remember, these animals are not usually used to water!

You must teach them to overcome their fears and swim willingly, which is not easy to do in a short period.

Introduce the Cat to the Water

It would help if you started by getting the cat used to the water. If you have a pool, either a regular-sized one or even a kiddie pool, start with this.

Get the cat to approach you while you are in the water.

If the cat doesn’t seem receptive, you can use your bathtub and leave the door to the bathroom open. This will allow the cat to explore the bathroom. It is also helpful to have treats ready.

However, please do not touch the cat with wet hands or splash water.

Let the Cat Take a Bath

You can carry your cat in once used to you and your pool or bathtub. Slowly submerge small parts of the cat’s body.

If you put them in a pool, ensure no chlorine is in the water. This will also reduce the likelihood of the smell putting off your cat.

Start by immersing the cat’s paws, tail, or belly. Make sure you have a comfortable and firm grip on the cat.

Observe her behavior and reassure her because she will complain. When she seems comfortable, sit in the water while still holding her.

Always make sure her head is still above the water level.

Let the Cat Swim

After some time, loosen your grip around the cat, but don’t let go of her entirely yet. Instead, gradually let her go and get used to being away from you and alone in the water.

The cat will learn to swim pretty quickly. If your cat panics, you should take it out of the water immediately and dry it off.

Don’t be discouraged; be patient, and always have a towel handy.

Conclusion: Can Cats Swim?

Many domestic cats have the innate knowledge of being able to swim and can swim quite well. However, this is mainly a survival instinct.

Regardless, under no circumstances should you expect your cat to be able to swim without supervision. Cats can still drown.

If you have a pool in your yard, you should cover it or prevent your cat from going outside when you can’t watch them.

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I, Daniel Popovic (Place of residence: Germany), process personal data to operate this website only to the extent technically necessary. All details in my privacy policy.
Data protection
I, Daniel Popovic (Place of residence: Germany), process personal data to operate this website only to the extent technically necessary. All details in my privacy policy.