While I expected this would be a topic frequently discussed by vets and other pet experts on the net, there don’t seem to be all that many quality resources online referring to cats and their ability (or inability) to swim.
I’m not a fan of using hearsay as a reference, because even with the best intentions, common knowledge still sometimes gets things very wrong. Thus, the vast majority of the conclusions I’ve come to, I’ve scraped together from the very few quality resources I’ve managed to find.
I’ll be starting off discussing whether cats can swim, then move on to how many can, why most domestic cats dislike swimming, and finish off with whether domesticated cats can actually like swimming. If you have any more questions on cats in relation to swimming, or if you have any corrections to my article based on personal experience, information you’ve read in books or on the net, questions you’ve asked your vet, etc. – do let me know in the comments below. Always happy to change my articles to make them more accurate!
Now time to delve in…
Can Wild Cats Swim?
Wild cats like lions, jaguars, leopards, and tigers can all swim, though some better than others. Many wild cats don’t avoid water at all, and some, like jaguars, even go so far as being proficient hunters in water – an impressive feat!
So where do our regular-ol’ domestic house cats stand?
Can Domestic Cats Swim?
If the question is simply whether it’s even possible for a cat to swim, let me direct you to the ever-so-addictive side of YouTube that consists of videos of cats swimming.
Are these videos faked? They don’t appear to be. And while it’s entirely possible a video or two of a domestic cat successfully swimming on the net is faked, there do seem to be enough of videos of cats swimming around to mean it’s unlikely they’re all fake.
So based on video evidence alone, it seems pretty certain cats can swim, or at least some of them can. Maybe with some training or self taught with some practice. But what about the majority of domestic cats?
How Many Cats Can Swim? Do Most Cats Know How To?
There seem to be two schools of thought on the topic of how many cats can swim, but since I have so few references from experts and pet care professionals discussing either, I have no idea if one is more likely to be right, and haven’t been able to find references to any scientific studies done on this topic either.
Let’s start with the first school of thought, that suggests domestic cats can pretty much all swim, like their wild cat counterparts. One article on near drowning in cats on PetMD tips its hat to this theory indirectly:
Although most cats do not choose to go swimming, they are capable swimmers nonetheless. Drowning and near drowning usually results when a cat falls into water and cannot find a place to climb out.
(I’ve added the bold myself for emphasis).
Based on this PetMD article, it would seem all domestic cats, for the most part, know how to swim, but that they don’t primarily because they choose not to.
This choice makes sense considering the next sentence describes how incredibly dangerous it can be for a cat to find its way into a body of water, as if he or she gets stuck, trapped and unable to find a way to climb out, that cat would then drown if he or she wasn’t rescued.
Cats aren’t particularly tall creatures. It makes absolute sense that even if they were able to swim proficiently, they wouldn’t want to swim, and would evolve to avoid bodies of water, since it’s one thing to be able to swim, and it’s quite another to be able to get out of what’s essentially a wet death trap when you have such a small body that’s so easily and heavily weighed down when it becomes drenched.
So this theory also has an excellent explanation for why we don’t see cats swimming, even if pretty much all can or are born know how to. Fear of swimming being there for good reason.
What about the other side of the coin? That’s of course experts who believe it’s pretty much impossible most cats can swim. Catster asked certified cat behaviour consultant Ingrid Johnson about cats swimming and she told them:
“In 19 years of working with cats, I haven’t seen one who swims.”
This could be because cats can’t swim, as most believe. Or this could be because they absolutely will do anything to avoid swimming, because they have an evolutionary gut instinct to fear getting close to bodies of water they could drown in. But without studies, no one can really know for sure.
Now, I don’t blame scientists for not having studied this topic to help us figure the answer out. The only experiment I can think of to test out these theories is to drop cats into water individually, putting them at great anxiety and distress, and even at a small risk of drowning, then save them before they actually did drown. Doesn’t seem like a very ethically sound experiment to me.
I think most cat lovers would say: at that expense, we’d rather not know. Unless someone comes up with a genius way of finding out (computer prediction to the rescue, maybe?) we’re likely to be living with our theories a long time.
Why Most Cats Don’t Like to Swim
Whether or not cats can swim may be up for debate, but the fact that most don’t like to swim certainly isn’t. As I briefly got into in the last section, why makes one heck of a lot of sense.
- Large bodies of water could easily equate to drowning if cats can’t manage to get out.
- Cats are small creatures whose legs are not tall enough to simply walk over ledges like the ones we have in pools.
- Cats can jump very well, but their fur holds an incredible amount of water when they become drenched, and thus the weight of their bodies in water would make it incredibly difficult for them to simply hop up as they would easily be able to do if they were dry.
Cats may also dislike the sensation of being wet, and may have evolved to disdain water – even in the form of rain – because of the potential for getting hypothermia when they are soaked. There are ever so many reasons cats likely hate water, but whether or not all those theories are true, it’s pretty obvious that when it comes to swimming, the risk for domestic cats must be far greater than any reward, and thus, it makes perfect sense they’re not fans.
Can Cats Like Swimming?
Yes, cats can be trained to like swimming, and can be acclimated or can self-acclimate themselves to swimming for fun or exercise. But it isn’t common, and quite honestly, because of the fact that cats can so easily get stuck in a body of water and drown if they happen to dive in when you’re not watching them, I wouldn’t recommend this be something you train your cat to do.
Have a cat who loves water, and want to encourage that cat to interact with water in a way that’s fun but also safe? I’d recommend slightly filling a tub or sink, making sure the water stays shallow – not deep enough for a cat to swim, but deep enough for him or her to splash around, drink, and entertain him or herself in.
As Ingrid King from Conscious Cat pointed out in the article I referenced earlier from Catster: the one time it really seems to makes sense to try teaching your cat to swim is if you live on a boat, where it may save your cat’s life to know how.
Now It’s Your Turn: Thoughts on Cats Swimming?
What are your thoughts about cats swimming in water? What did you think before you read this article – have your thoughts changed at all between then and now?
Do you believe most domestic cats can swim and simply don’t because of a very wise innate fear of drowning? Do you think most cats can’t swim unless they are trained or train themselves to do so? Can you think of a good way to test out our theories without subjecting cats to anxiety, distress, or potential harm?
Would love to hear all your thoughts in the comments below!