In the Tub with Tabby

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 guaranteed."