Can cats swim?

A cat standing on the edge of a lake investigating the water

From hiding at bath time to staying indoors on rainy days, if you ask most owners whether their feline friends like water, you’d probably receive a resounding ‘No!’. But is that true? And if your cat does like water, are there any ways to keep them safe from harm? Find out the answers to these questions and much more in our guide to water safety for cats.

From bath tubs and paddling pools to ponds and rivers, whenever your cat is near water it’s important to be careful.

There’s always an element of danger when it comes to water. That’s why getting insurance your cat from Purely Pets is such a good idea.

Can cats swim?

Cats are notorious for wanting to avoid water and this has led many people to believe that they can’t swim. However, this is a misconception. Just because our pet cats aren’t quite as water-loving as their canine friends, it doesn’t mean they can’t swim. 

In fact, all cats are instinctively capable of swimming, it’s just most of them will do anything to avoid it.

Indeed, big wild cats like tigers and jaguars are known as particularly strong and graceful swimmers. So, the reason why domestic cats don't take to the water might have more to do with their up-bringing rather than any instinctive aversion to water.

That said, while a cat can swim instinctively, if they do fall in water they might be poor swimmers. And if they are unaccustomed to it, they could easily panic and drown if you’re not there to save them. Something that really doesn’t bear thinking about.

A cat leaning over the edge of a pool to investigate the water

Will cats stay away from water?

Our furry friends like to keep us guessing when it comes to many things in life. And one of the most enduring questions is to do with water.

Do they really dislike it? Or are they just faking? Why is it they are so fascinated by water dripping from a tap, but run for cover at the first spot of rain?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but here are a few suggestions to help confused cat owners get to the bottom of their pet’s contrary behaviour.

Water makes their coat heavy

Unlike your faithful pet dog, the fur of your pet cat has not been designed to repel anything more than a brief rain shower. So, if your cat gets wet their fur will soon become weighed down by water.

Cats hate this feeling as it means they can’t move with their usual effortless speed and agility. While cats are predators they are also prey and always need to be in the best of shape. Their ability to fight or flight will be severely affected by drenched fur.

A heavy water-logged coat is also likely to make it more difficult to swim, thereby increasing the chance they will panic and get into difficulty.

Domestic cats aren’t evolved for swimming

Scientists who have studied the evolution of many modern breeds of domestic cats have found they tended to come from dry, arid locations.

So, while they may have indulged in a spot of fishing from the edge of streams or pools, they probably never needed to develop their swimming skills beyond the very basics.

Certainly, large rivers or oceans were never obstacles they had to face in order to survive as a species.

Having survived for thousands of years, the modern cat probably sees no reason to indulge in bath time now. Even if their loving owner thinks otherwise!

Previous negative experiences

Despite their legendary curiosity, cats are also naturally cautious when it comes to change. So, if your cat wasn’t regularly exposed to water when they were a kitten, they are unlikely to embrace it as an adult.

That said, even if they have experienced bath time during kittenhood, they might never want to repeat the experience.

From being submerged under water to being caught in a violent rainstorm, an early stressful experience can affect their reaction to water for the rest of their lives. You really can’t blame them for saying ‘no way’ at the sight of a bar of soap and a full bathtub.

They don’t like the smell

Scents and smells are hugely important to a cat’s experience of the world. They use their sense of smell not only to communicate with you and other cats but also to gather information about their surroundings.

In fact, they have an estimated 45 to 200 million odour-sensitive cells in their noses compared to our paltry 5 million. This makes their sense of smell between nine and 16 times as strong as ours.

This incredible ability means even though we might not detect chemicals used in tap water, they can. Chemicals such as chlorine used for water treatment gives water a distinctive aroma that a cat’s sensitive nose will pick up on straight away.

Being covered in a liquid that smells nothing like their own coat is not likely to be a lot of fun for most cats. The smell can even put some cats off drinking tap water.

They don’t like being cold

Because their coats don’t naturally repel water, the water can easily soak through to their skin. This will soon make them feel cold – something that most cats simply can’t tolerate.

They don’t like feeling out of control

Just as many cats don’t like being handled, unless it’s on their own terms, they also don’t like being in water for the same reason.

Cats prefer to feel in control in any situation. So, they’ll much prefer to sit safely on dry land where they can easily get away from any threat, rather than being on a slippery wet surface with water getting into their eyes and making movement difficult.

For many cats, their natural feline instincts will be screaming to get away.

A cat standing on the ladder of an above ground pool

Cats who love water

All of the above reasons mean that your everyday family cat probably won’t go looking for opportunities to try out their natural swimming abilities.

However, while many cats don’t seem to actively seek out water-based activities there are some breeds known to be keener.

If you own one of these then you really need to consider water safety.

Maine Coon

With a very thick, shaggy, water-resistant fur coat the hardy Maine Coon breed of cat is known to love water and can be found happily splashing around every chance they get.

They are also known for some strange drinking techniques – using their large paws to scoop up water from their bowl. Interesting to watch but makes an almighty mess.

Some owners have even reported that such is their intelligence they will turn on taps to get access to the running water they love so much. And if you think you can take a shower on your own with a Maine Coon around then think again.

It’s the perfect example of both their obsession with running water and their inability to leave their precious human alone!

Turkish Van

The Turkish Van or ‘swimming cat’ is a rare and ancient breed with a notable affinity for water.

Legend has it that their surprising swimming abilities developed around the region of Lake Van in Turkey. They apparently used to swim out to returning fishing boats in the hopes of a free meal.

Their stunning waterproof coat doesn’t hold water which makes swimming a more enjoyable experience than for most cats.

Although it will need a bit of grooming on your part. If you don’t live near water then a cat pool would be a wise investment so they can paddle and swim in safety.


With the looks of a tiny cougar, these majestic cats are truly dazzling.

Thought to be descended from the sacred cats of Ancient Egypt (although DNA suggests they originated on the Indian Ocean coast) they have a natural lithe grace and a well-known fondness for water.

Their playful and curious nature means your Abyssinian won’t hesitate to investigate everything water related.


Another exotic looking short-haired breed, the confident and playful Bengal was created by crossing an Asian Leopard Cat with a domestic feline – and you can really tell.

While the breed enjoys its home and human family, its wild heritage is probably why it’s so comfortable around water.

A Bengal cat sitting on a windowsill

Water safety for cats

Whether you choose one of these water loving breeds or not, water safety should be a priority for any cat owner. As inquisitive creatures they can often get themselves into some serious scrapes if you’re not careful.

  • Invest in a pool or pond cover.

  • Always make sure there are plenty of exit points. If you have a pond or swimming pool then there needs to be a ramp or other way for your cat to get out if they fall (or jump) in.

  • Make sure any chemicals you use in the pool are checked regularly. Too much chlorine or other substances could harm your cat.

  • Don’t let them drink from the pool, those chemicals can be toxic.

  • Dry their ears. Cats can be prone to infections if they get water inside their ears.

  • If you live near water then it might be useful to get your cat acclimatised gradually to it from a young age. That way if they do fall in, they are less likely to panic.

  • Rinse and dry them to make sure any chemicals or bacteria are removed from their coat and skin.

  • If they are playing in water then make sure you keep an eye on them at all times.

  • If you rescue your cat from drowning always make sure you still take them to your vet to have them checked out. Even near-drowning can result in a life-threatening situation.

Remember that having cat insurance will help you to protect your friendly feline against any water injuries or illnesses. They’ll be back in perfect shape in no time!

Cats who show how it’s done

When it comes to the internet, cats are some of the biggest stars out there. Even when it comes to swimming! If you’re looking to give your water-hating cat a bit of inspiration then look no further than these little daredevils!

Nathan_the beach cat is a social media sensation with over half a million likes on Instagram. She loves nothing more than swimming at the beach with her sister Winnie and their human parents. Both cats were rescues who just can’t get enough of seaside adventuring!

Fisherthemainecoon does what Maine Coons do best. Cooling off both on and off the water never looked so relaxing. 

Merlin the Cat is a Turkish Van cat who shows off the breed’s incredible water skills on North Pond, Norway in Maine.

Backpackingkitty is living a life full of adventure. From kayaking, swimming, rock climbing and hiking, there’s nothing he can’t do!

Get a cat insurance quote with Purely Pets

However adventurous or not your cat is, you’ll want them to have fun and explore the world around them – while also keeping them safe from harm.

Vet bills can quickly add up when a cat becomes ill or is injured. But what can you do if you want them to receive the very best care?

The best way to achieve this is to get insurance cover to make sure you can continue to have adventurous times together. The team at Purely Pets know this and will work hard to get you cover to suit your budget and your cat’s particular quirks.

Whatever the problem, if you’ve taken out award-winning cat insurance through Purely Pets you’ll can get cover for vet fees from £1,000 to £15,000 per year. You can even choose an excess level starting from just £60.

Our team of specialists have designed 15 levels of lifetime cover to give you the freedom to decide what’s right for you and your cat.

We also offer a 24-Hour Vet Helpline as well as an online policy management portal.

Purely Pets can provide you with a quick online quote for cat insurance within minutes. Talk to the team today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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