Spraying Water at Cats: Abuse or Effective Discipline?

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Dumping a bucket of water on a trapped cat would be pretty cruel. But what about spraying them with water – is that considered animal abuse?

The Short Answer

In general, water spraying a cat is not considered abuse. It’s unkind and ineffective at best, and you’ll probably be training the cat to resent the person doing it, which isn’t good for you if you’re the owner. However, it is not typically considered animal abuse.

While some people employ spray bottles against cats, the only thing blasting water at a cat does is teach your pet that you can’t be trusted.

Similarly, water-spraying stray cats to keep them away from your in-house cat would irritate an already neglected animal.

brown and white cat in focus

Is It Okay to Spray Cats With Water?

A spray bottle sprayed in the cat’s general direction when it exhibits unpleasant behavior may not be beneficial, but it is most likely not animal abuse. It’s simply unkind and ineffective in training cats, and it may deter undesired conduct.

The main problem with bottle sprays is that the cat will associate its bad behavior with the sprayer rather than the water. You may be able to redirect behavior this way, but the cat will grow distrustful of you. If it’s a stray cat, you’re just being unkind to an already neglected cat.

Interestingly, while cats have an aversion to water on their fur, many are fascinated by moving or dripping water. Instead of using a spray bottle, consider redirecting your cat’s behavior by providing a water fountain for play and hydration.

Generally speaking, it is preferable to teach and reward your cats for being where they should be instead of punishing them with water squirts. Similarly, to prevent strays from attacking your cat, keep it indoors or on a leash.

Should You Discipline Your Cat With Water?

Punishing a cat with water is usually ineffective and unkind. Punishment does not work on cats in general. If you wish to change a cat’s behavior, you must be consistent and provide another option in place of the unpleasant behavior.

When you spray them, you are teaching them to be afraid of the person holding the bottle, not the bottle itself or where it came from. Most other forms of negative feedback/punishment will have the same effect.

Cats learn from bad experiences and can tell the difference well enough to dislike the person punishing them. 

Cats learn quickly, but it’s hard to control what they learn. Anything you do, positive or unpleasant, that the cat recognizes as coming from you will be linked with you predominantly.

Spraying your cat teaches them to fear you rather than motivate them to do it or go elsewhere. They will link you to punishment. Redirecting is always preferable. Therefore, clicker training is a good alternative. Here are some clicker training tools on Amazon you could use.

In reality, water sprays can be a double-edged sword. Some cats might get momentarily deterred, while others could get more determined, challenging boundaries even further.

There are, however, various ways to let the cat know you disapprove of its behavior, such as using unpleasant smells, sounds, textures, and tastes. Placing something sticky on the counter to stop the cat from doing it again is a good example. It’s uncomfortable for a cat, but it is not cruel.

Using citrus smells or cayenne pepper in places you don’t want your cat to go is called a “remote correction” and is a far better (and kinder) substitute for your pet.

holding a water gun in front of a kitten

Can You Throw Your Cat in Water?

You don’t want to give the cat the sense that you’re ready to drown it. Most cats will panic if dangled in midair over water; we consider this cruel.

Cats should only be placed in water in special circumstances. Cats are generally exceptionally tidy animals who spend most of their time grooming and mending themselves. It’s part of their daily routine.

Only for medical reasons should you immerse a cat in water or if the cat is filthy and can’t clean itself. However, even a dirty cat can be cleaned differently than throwing them in water. 

Beyond the Bottle: Effective Ways to Guide Your Cat

Spraying water is a quick reaction, but let’s dive deeper into effective ways to communicate with our feline friends.

  1. Positive Reinforcement. Cats, like most creatures, respond well to positive feedback. Reward good behavior with treats or affection. This not only reinforces the desired behavior but also strengthens your bond.
  2. Environmental Deterrents. Cats dislike certain textures and smells. Double-sided tape on surfaces can deter them from scratching furniture. Essential oils like eucalyptus or rosemary can keep them away from certain areas, but always ensure they’re safe for pets before use.
  3. Interactive Toys. Distraction is a powerful tool. Keep your cat engaged with toys that stimulate their hunting instincts, like feather wands or motorized mice. This can redirect their attention from undesired activities.
  4. Scheduled Playtimes. Cats are creatures of habit. Establishing a routine playtime can reduce spontaneous bursts of unwanted behavior, as they’ll look forward to their structured play.
  5. Consult a Behaviorist. If a particular behavior persists, consider seeking advice from a cat behaviorist. They offer tailored solutions and can provide insights into what’s triggering the behavior.

Remember, patience is key. Cats are sensitive to their environment and any changes within it. The goal isn’t just to correct behavior, but to understand its root cause and address it compassionately.


Will cats dislike you if you punish them?

Cats don’t have the structures in their brains that deal with negative reinforcement. You can’t punish a cat with consequences and expect the cat to remember it. You are teaching the cat to despise and fear you. You may still be able to have a relationship, but it will be colored with suspicion.

What things are abusive to cats?

Aside from hurting them physically, intentional abuse includes:

  • Not taking a sick cat to the vet.
  • Not giving them any opportunities to learn.
  • Keeping them in boxes or cages.

Additionally, keeping them in small rooms separated from everyone and even not treating a cat with fleas is also a form of abuse.

Do cats ever forgive?

If it is an accident, cats will usually understand and forgive. Cats do not understand hatred or dislike, but they will recognize who is harmful and who should be avoided. They may become distrustful of those who are unkind to them. They can change their attitude, but it may take some time.

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