June 10, 2009— -- You haven't seen angry until you've seen a cat with his head under a faucet.
If there's anything the stereotypically haughty house pets despise it's being wet.
"I think it's the closest you can see in the animal world to someone giving you the finger," said veterinarian Marty Becker, co-author of "Why Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" "That look is unique in the animal world of total disgust. ... It's just a classic."
And yet that look is taking the Internet by storm. As feline photo blogs continue to draw millions of visitors each month, the wet cat sub-genre is taking on a life of its own.
"They make such great drama, it's like watching daytime soap in a bucket," said Ben Huh, CEO of ICanHasCheezburger.com, one of the most popular cat photo blogs on the Internet. Each month, he said, about 3.6 million unique visitors check out his site for a daily dose of the feline funnies.
Of the millions of photos featured on his site, he said tens of thousands are of wet cats.
So, what's the draw?
"I think it's a little bit of payback," Huh suggested. If the cat sits on your favorite black sweater and leaves fur all over it, a bath is a way to retaliate, he quipped.
He's also observed water endow cats with super species skills.
"There's a famous picture of a cat grabbing a faucet and trying to stay out of the water," Huh told ABCNews.com. "I didn't know they could do that."
Wet cat pictures are also featured on the photo-sharing site Flickr and WetCatClub.com, which sells postcards, magnets, greeting cards and decals of the drenched animals.
Mario Garza, the blogger behind StuffOnMyCat.com, received so many pictures of wet cats, in October 2008 he published a book devoted to them.
Culled from the hundreds upon hundreds that were sent to him, "Stuff on My Cat Presents: Wet Cats" features dozens of cats, with their fur sticking to their ribs, glaring at the camera.
Launched in 2005, Garza's blog has amassed about 24,000 cat photos and receives roughly 115,000 unique visitors each month.
Putting Them in Their Place?
"After all this time, I just realized that I'd been getting so many wet cat photos. Everyone thought they were hilarious," he said.
Like Huh, he thinks part of the appeal comes from watching the infamously proud pets get humbled.
"I just found with this site, in general, cats are just the inherent, snobby domestic animals. They do what they want, when they want to," he said. "So whenever something brings them down a peg -- nothing harmful or anything -- I think people get a kick out of it."
But, he added, "They're so adorable but it's also sad. You're sympathetic to them, too."
As for his own cats, he said he only washes them when absolutely necessary.
A few years ago, he said he was forced to wash his long-haired calico, Love (now deceased), when she managed to cover herself in something resembling oil or "black gunk or goop."
As expected, she didn't respond too well to the underwater treatment.
"Oh, my god, she was absolutely terrified," he said. "Their eyes get huge, they're on alert. They have no idea what's going on. They think you're punishing them."
Animal experts say that's because, unlike dogs, which as a species are more adapted to water, cats have not evolved to be comfortable in the water.
"Cats in the wild, they grow up hunting birds and mice, which are land animals," said animal behavior expert Rolan Tripp, founder of AnimalBehavior.net.
If cats have not been socialized to accept water at a very young age, they'll likely be frightened by the whole experience, he said.
He also said that, on average, felines are more fearful than canines because they've evolved as both prey and predator as opposed to just predator.
In their book, "Why Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" Becker and Gina Spadafori write that though domestic cats are descended from desert dwellers and seemingly have no desire to swim, they are perfectly good swimmers.
They also point out one breed of cat, Turkish vans, that like to swim and are even known as "The Swimming Cats" in some circles.
But for most felines, veterinarians caution against aquatic activities.
"Just on a routine basis, I don't recommend bathing cats," said Gary Norsworthy, owner of the Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio.
If You Bathe Them, Be Gentle
If they roll around in the dirt or in a pool of engine oil, or if they have a health issue, such as fleas or ringworm, then it might be time to ease them into a tub or sink, he said.
In those cases, he urges pet owners to spray the water into their hands and then on the cat, as opposed to hosing them down as one might a dog. Becker also recommends laying a towel on the floor of the tub or sink so that the surface isn't as slick under the cat's paws.
But for the most part, Norsworthy emphasized, cats do a pretty good job of keeping themselves clean on their own.
"Cats are like ovens," he said. "They're self-cleaning."