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Picture of How to teach a cat to swim.
So you may wonder why someone would need to teach a cat to swim.  For me it's a safety issue, but it's also because I have one real cool cat.  Her name is Sassy.

If you look at the first photo you will see that our sliding door from our house is not too far from the pool.  All of our cats are strictly indoors, but some of them want to explore outside.  To get out, many times they will dart out of the door in almost a blind run and nearly end up in the pool.  Many pets will "panic swim" if they end up in the pool.  This is where they flap their feet basically trying to walk on the water rather than swim through it.  Often times they get worn out and drown.

I've got six cats and Sassy is the only one that will dart out of the door and is the only one I feel needs swimming lessons.  She also happens to be a very adventurous kitty who I was sure wouldn't have problems once she got use to the water.

Based on some comments I will add a couple pieces of information here.
1. The pool has a solar heater and was around 90 degrees F.
2. The chlorine levels in the pool are maintained to just above drinking water.
3. Sassy had been around the pool for many months prior to this and so wasn't really afraid of it anymore.
4. I changed to title to better reflect what is actually happening.  I'm not teaching the cat to swim, but simply giving her a safe and calm environment to develop what should come naturally to her.
 
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Step 1: Safely get the cat into the water.

Picture of Safely get the cat into the water.
This could be the trickiest part of all.  Most cats will "fight & flight" if they see you taking them towards a pool.  So the trick here is to not let them see the water while you are getting in.

Hold the cat comfortably in your arms and do whatever you can to keep the kitty calm.  Walk backwards in to the water so the cat cannot see you entering the pool.

Step 2: Comfort and calm the cat once in the water.

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This part is somewhat dependent on the cat.  How confident and trusting they are.  Once you are in the water, hold the cat close and firmly to your body.  Grasp the rear feet firmly in one hand.  This will reduce the chance they can turn around and scratch you if they to try  to get out of the water.

Use whatever petting stroke, or other type of touch that calms your cat.  Stay in the position until your cat is calm in your arms and does not appear to be bothered by the water.

Step 3: OUCH! What to do if the cat tries to escape.

Picture of OUCH! What to do if the cat tries to escape.
At the point when you think you cat is calm and relaxed enough, you are going to have to loosen your hold to begin the swimming lessons.  This is a necessary risk that the cat will try to climb on you to get further away from the water.

Don't be tempted to pull the cat from your body or you will have some nasty scratches.  The easiest way to resolve this is to simply kneel down so your body is under water while holding the cat out of the water.  The cat will let go.  Immediately come back up and cradle the cat in the comforting position you used in the previous step.

This was an unplanned step so the photographer didn't get the picture of me underwater while holding the cat out of the water.  Yes, that is a grimace of pain on my face

Step 4: Let the cat get use to the water.

Picture of Let the cat get use to the water.
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So now you have to get the cat in to the water.  Slowly lower the cat in to the water, but keep a firm grip on the body and be sure not to let the cat go under water.  If you notice the cat's eyes in the last photo, she is still a bit anxious about being in the water.  But she is trusting me enough not to panic.

Step 5: Start getting the cat to swim

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Once the cat appears relaxed in the water, loosen your hold(DO NOT LET GO) and let the cat's own instincts kick in.  Now, the problem I have is my cat is trusting me too much and has decided she just wants to hang out with me in the water.  I basically had to let her sink almost below the surface before she started to paddle her feet.

At first, the paddling will probably be awkward and not good for actual swimming.  So continue supporting the cat above the water but hold very loosely.  Look for the legs to extend as far as possible and look for the paws to be expanded.

Step 6: Teaching the cat how to turn while swimming.

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Once the cat is moving its legs pretty good, start guiding the cat in to turning. Instincts should help the cat figure out how to use her paws to navigate.  Notice the turbulence in the water in front of the cat.  That's her paws making that.

Step 7: Let the cat swim, but not get away

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By now Sassy is swimming well.  I am only stopping her from exiting the pool so that she can build her swimming skills.  She is also relaxed and almost appears to be enjoying the water.

So why do this?  To make her swim stronger.  naturally the cat will want to leave the pool.  Point her towards the edge, but lightly hold on so she can swim, but not get away.  In my case, Sassy was swimming very strongly and looking like she's been a water cat her whole life.

Step 8: Let the cat go.

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When you are sure the cat can swim safely, it's time to let go.

Give the kitty some love, point her towards the edge of the pool and let her go.

I've had Sassy in the pool a couple of times.  Although she hasn't, and probably never will go in on her own, she doesn't seem too bothered when I take her in.

Again, I want to emphasize that not all cats can be brought in to a pool.  I have six cats and there are only two that will go in the water.  Well, one of them will actually just sit on a boogie board while it's floating.

Just know that Sassy is an unusually adventurous and brave cat. So teaching your cat to swim may not be something you can do.  You will have to use your own judgement if you think it can be done.


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dave.round.99 months ago
There's nothing sadder than an indoor cat. Let 'em free.
rsmaudsley (author)  dave.round.99 months ago

Two times we have had cats get out and go in to the neighbors yard and both times they were attacked by their dog and hurt, one of them very seriously. There's nothing sadder than a dead cat because people are irresponsible.

HammE1 year ago

I have a new idea now!

YvenaM1 year ago

lol niceee

rsmaudsley (author) 3 years ago
Well, so much for being able to take Sassy in to the pool, at least for the next few weeks.

When I say that Sassy is "very adventurous", I meant it. She's also one tough cookie.

Last week I went to do our bi-monthly nail trimming on the cats and discovered Sassy had pulled off a claw and the tip of one of her toes. Basically she "declawed" a toe. We didn't find any blood in the house, so we are assuming it happened a few days prior when she had gotten out for a few hours and that by the time she got home the blood had clotted and the toe stopped bleeding.

She showed no signs of being injured and is running and jumping as if nothing had happened. She's on antibiotics now, but no long term exposure to water until the wound heals over.
Amiga5003 years ago
Every cat I've seen fall in water, whether it was a pool or a bathtub, has basically bounced off the surface, given an evil look to anyone nearby, and run off. I really couldn't see the point of this Instructable, until I remembered my late boy cat, who was one of the sweetest, dumbest creatures I've ever met. He'd charge out the front door (indoor cat), panic, and run to the neighbor's house, trying to get in. More than once. Point taken, and I see no cruelty here.
rsmaudsley (author)  Amiga5003 years ago
Thanks Amiga,

As I have said in a few other comments, if Sassy ever had ended up in the pool by accident, she probably would have gotten out on her own. But she is such a brave and adventurous cat that I thought she'd be up to swimming. I will try to get her to get ner the water on her own this summer.
Arsonista3 years ago
One of my all-time favorite Instuctables. Thanks for sharing!
rsmaudsley (author)  Arsonista3 years ago
Glad you enjoyed it. I'm going to be doing some more work with Sassy to see if she has the potential of going in the water on her own. She is so food\treat motivated that I think I will be able to get her to
Excuse me but this is nonsense, I've had cats all my life, sometimes they have fallen into the pool and they just came out.
You can't teach a cat to swim, cause they already know, like all animals, even elephants.
If a cat or dog get drowned is only because they dint reach the border or the ladder.
So, if you providea WAY OUT it will be just enough, and it WONT drown (panic or not).
I have 7 cats and they all panic in the tub if I fill it to full for them to stand and don't hold them and calm them down and if I left them unattended they would probably panic into exhaustion I am sure and that is where they would drown. what he is doing is teaching the cat to rely on its self and to be confident in a bad situation which means life or death none of this is nonsense for example lets take human beings if not taught to swim most likely we would not be able to deal with a bad happening in water and drown but it is in or nature to swim that's why our fingers and toes have webbing but my 60 year old step mom still can't swim and panics in water even though she has a higher capability of logic processing than a cat.
I understand why he does it, but again, >>it's enough to provide a way out from pool<<
Personally i don’t think it’s necessary to bathe a cat neither, only in several cases of fleas.
They do a nice job keeping themselves clean. (My vet supports this also).

I've never heard of a drowned cat, I mean NEVER. Have you? in that case did the cat had a way out?

I'm sorry I don't consider adequate the comparison with your step mom or any human.
This is what this all the controversy of this instructable is about; People humanize pets. They should be treated with all love and respect. But they are not humans. There isn’t such thing as a good or bad cat/dog. It’s instinct.
rsmaudsley (author)  SamuraiGoose3 years ago
As I said before, if Sassy fell in the pool before I showed her she could swim, she probably would have made it out. I can't find specific numbers, only a generalization that approximately 5,000 pets drown every year. (www.petplace.com) .
We also keep the pool filled to just a few inches below the lip so it is easier and more likely for any animal to get out.

As for never hearing of a cat drowning in a pool, most people would probably never report this to anyone that would make the incident public.

But there is no harm in doing this and it's only result is I now KNOW my cat can swim.
Cats this, cats that, its surprising the level of generalisation in some of the comments here, in my experience cats are as individual as snowflakes. 

Our current cat (who is now over 17 yrs old) would have taken my arm off if i had gone anywhere near a pool with him, yet he does not mind walking in the rain and getting wet (so long as it is his decision..) as much as most. One of my old cats would not have minded at all - didn't mind being washed - was even happy travelling in a car, and was totally trusting. Another was so neurotic he was scared of his own shadow, would scream the house down if he had to travel, trying to teach him to swim would have resulted in a complete mental meltdown.

In the end it is the responsibility of the owner to decide whether this instructable is applicable - or worthwhile - for their individual pet. Only the owner (or custodian as we prefer to call it) of the cat knows their own animals traits and thresholds, and can weigh up the benefits of this type of 'training'. Personally, i would not even consider it for our current cat, though if we had a younger pet and percieved a potential pussy in pool problem perhaps..
instead of owner or custodian I think of myself as dad I am there parent they my kids and as far as training a cat or any animal to do anything especially something out of there comfort zone it can be done you may have to be more patient or take a different approach with different cats but they all could be taught to swim I have 7 children and they are all extremely different in how I teach them to do things but I can teach them all to do the same things.
rsmaudsley (author)  mrcurlywhirly3 years ago
Yes, cats are all very different. Of the 7 cats I've owned, 6 still with us, only two are suitable to being taken into the water. A third cat, won't touch the water, but loves to sit on a boogie board and float around the pool when we are in it.

I got Sassy when she was only about 6 weeks old. I knew from the very beginning that she was going to be one cool kitty, and she is.
Narimasu3 years ago
One of my cats loves to go out on the paddle boat with me, and of course one time while pacing around the edge he fell overboard. I thought he would be panicked when he surfaced, but he wasn't. Turned out he was a very good swimmer and headed back to shore on his own. (We weren't very far out and it's not a lake, but rather a pond.) When I got to him on shore, though, he was madder than a wet hen!! The looks I got!! He still goes out with me in the boat, but hasn't fallen over the side again; though he does jump off when we get near shore and wades the rest of the way in.
Cutest Instructable ever.
tsanford3 years ago
Awww this brought tears to my eyes. I LOVE that you love your cat enough to want to make sure if she does ever fall in the pool she will be able to swim enough to get herself out. Thank you for sharing this. Luckily my 2 cats have no desire to go outside(anymore) so I don't have to worry about it.
basefilm3 years ago
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, thank you.

I'd love to be able to get our cats to the point of really loving swimming, like so many dogs do. Tigers and some other large cats naturally swim, see http://www.wimp.com/tigerspark .

You have some lucky cats, nice job!
pris543 years ago
The last picture is brilliant, Sassy's face says all... I can almost hear her thoughts "What the h*** is going on?!"
psargaco pris543 years ago
Really?! Because what I read in her eyes is more on the vicinity of "MAMA!!!" :-)
hardmandone3 years ago
ushuaia3 years ago
You, sir, is the bravest cat owner I know. I'll save this for future reference (I have 9 cats, but we don't have a pool. Maybe I can start with an inflatable one).
rsmaudsley (author)  ushuaia3 years ago
First try the bathtub. Maybe with just one or two inches of water. Let them investigate and see if any are willing to get in. If they have a favorite treat, put it on a plastic plate that can float in the tub. They will have to get in to get to the treat.

If you have a WalMart or Target near you, get a plastic kids pool, this way the kitty claws won't be able to puncture it.
Yeah, I was worried about the inflatable and it's prone-ness (is there such a word?) to punctures.

I don't have a bathtub, but I think I have a plastic tub somewhere here that my little cousin used before. Thanks!
pris543 years ago
What a brilliant instructable! Thank you rsmaudsley, I can tell you really love your cats.
I came across these instructions as I'm looking for information about cats and their swimming habits and instincts, I will soon be moving aboard a narrowboat (a canal boat, very common here in the UK), it will be a huge transition for my cat who is 2 years old and has lived always indoors, more than the swimming it worries me that she won't find a way out of the water, let's see how it goes!
rsmaudsley (author)  pris543 years ago
I think one of the other contributors here lives on a river boat. I would definitely make sure your cat is comfortable around water. i would start now using a bathtub with a a few CM of water to start. Put their food in on a floating plate so they have to go in to the water to get the food.

Look in http://www.gamma2.net/skamper-ramp.htm and see if it is something you could use where you will be living. You may also want to see about building a floating dock that basically just floats on top of the water and surround your boat with it. The cat will likely swim towards the boat if it fall in to the water. PM my in private, I have some ideas that would make it easy for you cat to get out of the water.
wblack33 years ago
Amazing instructable! Very funny, too. Yes, it does pay to be careful which cats are trained. I would suggest that very young cats (not kittens, however) may be more amenable, especially if the water is quite warm, as also the weather, and a nice sunny spot with warm bricks and without breeze to dry off in. I had a pair of Abassynians that loved water, and would actively hop into the bath with me. They were a bit demented. They also loved chasing streams of water from the garden hose all over the back yard until sopping wet.

Water training cats isn't as crazy as it might first seem. My last cat (Bill Clinton III) was very nearly 18 years old when he died. He needed occasional baths when he was unwell and not grooming himself properly. Getting him used to water earlier would've been better. He definitely minded the hotter water a lot less than cooler or tepid water!

Yes, an emergency cat-ladder is highly recommended, even in empty pools esp. if you are going away, unless you have good stairs all the way from the bottom to the top that an injured animal could climb.
rsmaudsley (author)  wblack33 years ago
The one advantage with Sassy is she is very treat motivated, more than some dogs I know. And with the right motivation you can get a cat to do just about anything.
I have another cat that is leash trained. His motivation was the ability to go outside and meet people. He loved going in to the kiddy area at a nearby park. it was enclosed with a 3ft fence, so I could let him off-leash and he'd just hang out and play with the kids.
I wouldn't be able to go in a pool with my Lucy unless I was wearing a suit of armor. You are one brave cat daddy!
rsmaudsley (author)  leannkaattari3 years ago
Sassy is an awesome cat. She's actually pretty good about letting me introduce her to new things. She's pretty tolerant of what anyone does to her, short of actually hurting her.
Toxoplasma gondii, a mind-control parasite is carried by many cats: http://is.gd/anEjmS
rfakhre3 years ago
I would love to see a video of this. even put some incentive in there so the cat jumps in a swims on her own to get it. that would be cool.
rsmaudsley (author)  rfakhre3 years ago
Sassy is HIGHLY treat motivated. I will be working with her in the summer to see if I can get her to go in on her own.
floatchick3 years ago
I'd just like to add my two cents. I agree that the main point is reducing the fear, not teaching how to swim. A kind of exposure therapy, if you will. And it seems very clear to me that you wouldn't have attempted this if the cat had a different temperament and/or didn't trust you and freaked out.

I'd like to share my story. I live in a floating home, in a marina. While I never wanted either of my two cats to have to learn to swim, a few times they have fallen in and managed to get out almost as soon as they hit the water. I figure it was pure adrenalin! (The fight or flight response).

The river has almost zero visibility (silty) and a strong current and it scared the heck out of me. Btw, I was outside with them, and they'd be out before I got to them.

The only time I got really worried about them becoming tired, was when Peanut actually jumped into the water because an off leash dog was charging towards her and she was too scared to come out! You can bet I had words with the dog owner!

After each time they fell in, it would take them about 2 hours to thoroughly clean every inch of themselves, even when I tried to towel most of the water off.

If I fell in, I don't think I'd have the strength to pull myself out without a ladder or help! Despite the adrenalin rush!

Also, I thought there were bylaws that you needed to have a fence with a self closing gate between your house ans your pool, but maybe not where you are. Just sayin', not judging.
There is a breed of cat that naturally loves playing with water (can't remember the name). A former next door neighbor owned a Siamese that would swim across the river when they walked down to the beach.

Definitely, this needs to be taught young. I don't have a pool and (with the nanny-state regulations that surround them) I'm unlikely ever to have one.

One of my former cats, the most feral of the litter, used to develop an unhealthy smell. So he was used to being bathed once a week in the laundry tub. Current cat doesn't seem too fussed about water either. There may be a tray inside, but rain will not deter him from going out for his ablutions.

I think this instructable is an excellent demonstration that cats and water can mix but I would still have a good plank available rather than reach into the pool for the cat!
The cat you are thinking of could be the Turkish Van.

Suzanne in Orting, WA
rsmaudsley (author)  floatchick3 years ago
Thanks r0ygb1v.

Yes, cats will usually get out of the water on their own. And when I do take a cat in the pool, I towel dry them as best I can then let them take over. At least the pool water is probably a bit cleaner than river water. :-)

New pools installations do require a fence, if you have children or are planning on fostering children. If you have an older pool without a fence, and want to foster children, you do need to get a fence installed. This pool was installed in the mid 70's long before and fence laws came about. And we have considered putting a fence in, but in order to do so, we will have to replace the segments of the patio where the fence is to be anchored. The patio is not thick enough to handle having holes drilled in it, according to the pool fence company we contacted.
lemonie3 years ago
"Instincts should help the cat figure out how to use her paws to navigate"

Yes, cats can usually look after themselves; and if they are forced to deal with being in water they will, I've seen it happen.

That's what you're doing, forcing the cat to swim rather than teaching it. You're not doing any teaching; the cat is having to learn how to escape for it's self.



Next time see if you can encourage a cat to get in the pool without physically holding it in the water.



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