Why Do Cats Hate Water?

by Robert Stephens

This is called a panic attack, according to Jerilyn Ross, founder of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. "It's irrational," she says, "but it often runs in the family."

Perhaps Dr. Phil could help - Dr. Phil Brown, senior vice president of research and development at Nutri-Vet in Boise, Idaho. He helped concoct Pet Ease, a calming product that uses ginger root, sweet orange and clove - a virtual aromatherapy for pets. A closer inspection finds that it also includes taurine (found in Red Bull) and brewers yeast (Budweiser).

"It isn't a tranquilizer to make them stoned," he says. "It works on a cat's inner self, kind of like having a beer before going to the vet."

"Or before getting on a boat?"

"I wouldn't take my cats on my boat," says the doctor. "They'd probably bolt off the side. They just aren't … boat savvy." Remember that. A skilled captain does not run back and forth in the boat at the dock, threatening to jump overboard.

Marilyn Krieger of Redwood City, California, is one of about 30 certified cat-behavior consultants worldwide. Known as The Cat Coach, she's trained her own cats to fetch keys from her jeans and literally jump through hoops. But they will not be boating anytime soon.

"I just don't condone it," she says, her ears seeming to perk and twitch at the very thought. "From their whiskers to their tails, even the fur between the paw pads, cats are very sensitive to the environment. They're designed to hunt, which is why they might be fascinated with anything that moves, including dripping water."

"Could they be trained to like boating?" I ask.

"Again, I don't condone the boat thing," says the coach, about to hiss. "A cat needs to know every nuance of its surroundings. The water is generally unfamiliar territory."

Cats haven't been able to shake this unfamiliarity for thousands of years. In 2007, a group of genetic researchers traced the origins of house cats to the wildcats of what are now Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iraq - the desert. Around water, Fluffy's ancestors turned into scaredy-cats. And so today, a warm spot on the concrete or a nice dusty litter box, well, that feels right at home.

Reprinted from Boating Life, November/December 2008