While many cats aren’t big fans of swimming or bathing, it’s a myth
that all cats have an aversion to water. Many are fascinated by it.
“Some will play in water, splash around with their paws or drink
directly out of the faucet or toilet if given the opportunity,” says
Kirsten H. Jeffers, DVM, a senior veterinarian at the Animal Medical
Center in Orland Park, Ill. In fact, tigers, one of the largest members
of the cat family, actually swim in rivers and lakes in the wild.

While domestic cats will usually avoid deep bodies of water, many
like to play in the shower or bathtub when their owners are done. Still
others can swim in shallow pools if they’ve received training. There is
no need for your cat to become an Olympic swimmer, but getting your cat
used to water can help if you need to bathe your kitty due to severe
flea infestation, pet dander problems or for other reasons when your
vet may feel that a nice, warm bath for your feline is in order. Here
are seven tips to help your cat become a little more water-friendly.

Start young Ideally, you’ll want to get your cat into the
water when it’s a kitten. By familiarizing your cat with water at a
young age, you’ll have better success as your pet ages. “If the cat is
introduced to the bathing process as a kitten, the whole experience
can, and will be, better,” says Dr. Jeffers.

Never force water on your cat If you have a full-grown cat,
introduce it to water slowly and gently. “Try letting a trickle of
water run in a sink and see if your cat plays with it or drinks from
it,” suggests Dr. Jeffers. “Never force the cat near the water if it
appears to be frightened. Let the cat approach it at its own pace.
Forcing the cat can result in injury to yourself or to the cat, which
may bite you out of fear.”

Add rewards If your cat remains hesitant about being bathed,
break the bath-time process down into small steps, says Suzanne Hetts,
Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Denver, Colorado. To
start, rub the cat with a damp towel with one hand. In your other hand,
place some cat food. The cat will associate the feeling of skin
dampness with a treat and it will be more apt to try it again.

Try placing your cat in an empty bathtub Next, pick the cat
up and allow it to eat from a bowl of tuna placed next to the tub. Pet
the cat repeatedly. “Owners should brainstorm ways to make the bath
experience more comfortable to the cat,” says Hetts. “The idea is to
expose the cat in a gradual way instead of running water in a bath and
having it yowl and scratch at you.”

When in doubt, add medication If your cat can’t stand the
water, yet your veterinarian recommends that you bathe your pet for
medical purposes, consider asking your vet for a short-acting anxiety
medication to help make the process go more smoothly. “If you have to
do repeated baths, they’ll get progressively worse if the cat hates the
water,” says Hetts.

Be safe in the pool Cats should always be supervised when
they are near bodies of water, even a slightly full bathtub. If you
have a backyard pool and your cat could access it, however, constant
supervision may not always be possible. As a safeguard, consider
getting a pool alarm. This safety device consists of a speaker-like
base station and a lightweight pet collar that your cat can wear. When
the collar gets wet, the base sounds an alarm. Hetts concludes, “No
matter what, it’s up to you to make sure your cat’s safety is