You wanted to know: Why do cats hate water?

  • Tigers and other big cats that fish for food are not bothered by water. But many breeds of small domestic cats don't like it.

    Tigers and other big cats that fish for food are not bothered by water. But many breeds of small domestic cats don't like it. Photo courtesy Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Soci

Posted7/28/2010 12:01 AM

You wanted to know

A student in Gregg Thompson's sixth-grade social studies class at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee asked: "Why do cats hate water?"


It's a contradiction: Water is essential for life, but so many domestic cats are almost catatonic when it comes to the wet stuff. Their bodies fly into emergency mode if even a few drops of water land their way. Fish-eating cats turn into fraidy cats when it comes to getting wet.

"Cats don't have the oily fur that dogs have," said Jay Petersen, curator of mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society. Fur helps regulate body temperature for both cats and dogs.

As unlikely as it seems, there are a few domestic cats that seem to enjoy batting drips from the faucet and a few have been trained to like water. Some even take swipes at unsuspecting fish in home aquariums.

Big cats have a bigger contradiction when it comes to water. Many species need water to forage for their food - like fishing cats - but that water can be tainted or polluted. Tracts of swampy lands where fishing cats and tigers live have been drained for development, minimizing territories and making life very challenging. As a result, the fishing cat is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's "Red List."

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"Some cat species enjoy and depend on water for food," Petersen said. Leopards, tigers and lions will forage for food in water, and some even swim and splash in the water when temperatures run high.

But even the wild counterparts to these animals are challenged by their surroundings. Tigers in India and Asia have protected land but are impacted by climate change and human encroachment. Lions are considered vulnerable in Africa and critically endangered in Asia. Even big cats that are at home in cold temperatures are affected by environmental destruction. The Amur leopard, which makes its home in the far north regions along the harsh, frozen, Russian-Chinese border is one of the most endangered species in existence with only 45 animals remaining in the wild.

Brookfield Zoo exhibits contain a large variety of cat species - fishing cats, clouded leopards, Asian tigers, black-footed cats, lions, Amur tigers, Amur leopards and caracals.

Petersen cautioned that water-related environmental issues affect all animals that depend on water for survival. "Polar bears at the zoo's Great Bear Wilderness are hugely dependent on frozen water. Experts are saying that global warming will make the tundra habitat disappear over time, reducing the polar bear population from 24,000 to between 2,000 and 3,000 in the near future."

Cat conservation and conservation for all species is a genuine concern at Brookfield Zoo. Kids and adults can become conservation leaders through zoo programs. See the link for conservation leaders at