Are Our Dogs & Cats Seaworthy?

While dogs are known to instinctively swim from birth, cats are one of the few animals who don’t particularly cotton to water. Yet oddly enough, both of these pets have a long history of being seafaring souls.

That’s due to their best friends — namely man. From war to global exploration to leisurely cruising, dogs and cats have often been our best mates to take to the high seas.

15,000 Years Ago

When scientists first began studying ancient animal DNA, they found that our four-legged pals were domesticated some 15,000 years ago. Starting in the Near East and Egypt, they later spread to Europe thanks in good part to seafarers. This included the Phoenicians and the Vikings, who purposely boarded them to ward off rodents (another frequent human companion at sea, though not by design).

Maritime Pet Stories

Patricia Sullivan, founder and curator of the online Museum of Maritime Pets defines a ‘maritime pet’ as one that works on or near water and works with man in times of “peace and war.”

“For some reason a few years ago many maritime museums from the United Kingdom to Australia and the United States were hosting exhibitions about pets at sea, so I decided to start gathering information on this,” notes Sullivan.

With this endeavor, she studied dogs, cats — and birds too. In addition to sea-loving chickens, Sullivan points to a little known fact that cormorants have been domesticated as fishing birds in various parts of Asia.

“One of the most famous stories here in the U.S. is that of Sinbad, a Coast Guard mascot that served in World War II,” Sullivan says. Sinbad was a mixed-breed dog that served aboard USCG Campbell, a 327-foot vessel that defended American convoys during World War II.

Following a 1943 U-boat attack that almost sank Campbell, Sinbad became a media sensation. According to Eddie Lloyd, editor of Coast Guard magazine, he was the canine incarnation of a true sailor. “Sinbad was a salty sailor, but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hash marks nor good conduct medals,” Lloyd wrote. Sometimes the dog ran amok in ports or caused trouble in foreign countries. “Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad—He’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us,” added Sullivan.

Floatable Felines

For those who’ve tried to bathe one's cat, and have the battle-scars to prove it, you’re probably unaware of the cats that actually like water.

For instance, the Ethiopian Abyssinian is said to be one of the world’s oldest breeds of cat. According to, “daring, boisterous and with a distinctive ‘tick’ patterned coat," the Abyssinian is smart enough to turn the tap on or quench his [or her] thirst. They also love to play in running water.

Also, the Snowshoe cat that is found mainly in the USA loves water.. Despite it's chubby predilection, these attractive cats are surprisingly buoyant when it comes to swimming in water.

So, how about your dogs and cats? Or chickens? Are they seafarers or strictly landlubbers?

Primary Source: The Little-Known History of Seafaring Pets