It's a common belief that cats hate water. They don't beg to play with the hose or jump in a pond or pool like dogs do. Just sprinkling cats with water seems to irritate them, right? Or maybe cats are just always a little irritated.
But what makes them hate one of the most plentiful substances on Earth? They have to drink it to survive, so what's the big deal?
The easy answer is that they're just not used to being wet. Cats clean themselves by licking, so humans don't usually bother to introduce them to bathing in water the way we do with dogs. Show cats, for example, learn very early on to take baths and be groomed for the judges, and they don't have that stereotypical fear of water. If you want a cat that likes water, introduce it as a kitten to the idea that water is nice. Ideally, you start introducing them to water during their socialization period before they reach 16 weeks old.
The cat's preference for bathing itself without any help from humans is another factor in its dislike of water. All that fastidious licking means cats have little oil buildup on their fur. Oil helps repel water, so when cats do get wet, the water soaks all the way down to their skin. It makes their fur feel heavy and waterlogged, and they can feel less quick and agile. And, you know, wet.
We also use water for punishment, which is not going to endear cats to being wet. When they jump on the counter, or lick our bowl of yogurt, or scratch the arm of the couch, we often spray them with water. It works because it's an unpleasant surprise. It's cold and uncomfortable, so they stop the behavior we don't want them to do and run off to stare at us disdainfully from a distance.
But not all cats hate all water. Big cats — like tigers — often even go for a dip. Even housecats like to drink from running faucets or play at the edge of a filled bathtub. They seem to enjoy the splashy noise and the sparkling of light on the water's surface. Some breeds of pet cats even like to swim (gasp!). The Maine Coon, the Turkish van, the Bengal and the Manx are known to splash and play in the water.