Cat drinking water is the simplest and the most complex of subjects. We put water down and the job is done. Not quite. There’s quite a lot going on. It is quite a big and important topic. The paradigm food item for a domestic cat is a mouse, which contained 70% water. Dry cat food contains about 10% water. As dry cat food is very popular nowadays drinking water has become more important. Domestic cats need to be encouraged to drink water because innately they tend not to compensate enough when fed on dry cat food due to their wildcat inheritance. You can use different tricks and tips to encourage cats to drink water. I discuss this below. Domestic cats like water because they like to be around watercourses due, once again, to their wildcat inheritance. This is perhaps why cats sometimes play with water in a bowl and why they sometimes like to drink from a running faucet. Like I said is a big topic and I try and cover the points below.
The first topic is what does our cat like? What are his or her preferences?
One thing that my cat does is to drink from grotty, small puddles that have collected in a manhole cover in the garden! She prefers this over clean tap water, sometimes. And the reason is probably obvious to readers – it smells and tastes better due to the sanitisation of tap water. The fact that it is “processed” makes it unnatural, and we know that cats are very natural creatures.
Tap water often contains chlorine to kill bacteria and sometimes fluoride to maintain teeth. A cat’s sense of smell is 8 times more sensitive than ours and these chemicals are more noticeable to a cat (they are even noticeable to us). Obviously, cats adapt to it and drink tap water but that does not mean it is their first choice. Often it is their only choice. Do give your cat bottled water as a consequence?
Pawing at water
Some cats like to fiddle with their water and paw at it, as if to smooth it so that they can see under it. Are they trying to see under the surface of the water? If they are, it is a throwback to fishing. A number of wild cats fish and claw fish from the water (one is a specialist, Fishing Cat). I have written about this briefly.
RELATED: Do Maine Coons like water?
Dipping paw in water and licking paw
I have read a lot about cats who like to do this. Why should a cat do it? There is not definitive answer and I am sure that there is no research on it so I will have a guess. Thinking about what a wild cat would do (and that is always a good starting point) licking a small amount of water on a paw that has been dipped in water allows the cat to test it by taste having already smelled it.
It is probable that having sucked a bit of water off the paw, the cat will then drink from the glass or bowl if satisfied with it. In fact, the cat will have to do this to drink enough. Sometimes a cat might simply be playing with water, another legacy of its wild past. A number of wild cats like water, the tiger being the best known. Playing with water can be entertaining. Maine Coons are prone to do this and as they are nearly always full-time indoor cats perhaps they do it because they are under-stimulated.
Bowl or glass?
My cat prefers a glass of water tucked away from the area where the food is usually placed. In fact, I can have more than one glass of water on the floor. This sort of simulates a wild habitat!
If it is not a glass it is a piece of kitchen ware that is similar in shape to a glass. I am not sure why she seems to prefer this. Perhaps it is the fact that the water is in a clear container and looks more like water in its natural state. That is probably the reason.
Leaving it somewhere else other than near her food also simulates looking for water, something that happens in the wild.
Keeping cat drinking water separate from food
Is there something in the idea of keeping water separate from the food? There might be. Water is very important to the modern cat as he or she eats more dry food these days. Dry food is a modern convenience phenomenon. Although convenient for us it has pitfalls. It contains carbohydrates (it has to be in the food as it is part of the manufacturing process).
Sometimes cats don’t drink enough when provided with dry food as the cat is used to not drinking that much as its natural diet is mammals and mammals are made up of a lot of water. The Sand cat can survive without drinking water; obtaining all it needs from its prey. For example, the human body is made up of 60 – 70% water. The human is a mammal.
Will your cat compensate for dry food by drinking more water? Perhaps not. Placing glasses of water away from food might encourage drinking.
Adding water to food
One useful way of providing water to a cat that is a poor drinker and susceptible to urinary tract problems is to add some water to the food (see also urinary tract cat food and FLUTD). A classic is to add a bit of water to some microwaved or boiled fish.
A visitor, Vivien from the UK, says this:
A vet once told me that you need to make sure that your cat drinks enough water and one of the ways of doing this is to always remember to add small amounts of water to their food with each and every meal that they have. I personally add about 3 tea spoons of clean water to every meal they have. – and cut down or out dry food, – a few biscuits should not be a meal – but an occasional treat.
I expand on this theme on this page: UTIs – natural cure
Running water is a favourite type of cat drinking water and my mind immediately turns to wild cat hybrids and particularly the Bengal cat. Bengal cats are descended from the Asian leopard cat and the leopard cat likes water courses and living near water as it is a source of food and water.
This is why the domestic Bengal cat likes to drink from a running tap or even the toilet (see picture) but not all Bengals like this and not all cats who like running water are wild cat hybrids. All domestic cats are descended from wild cats.
Drinking from a running tap is fun but can be dangerous. Please be aware. The water can run into the lungs of the cat because of the peculiar angle of drinking and cause the cat to choke. Is the desire to drink running water simply a habit or a throwback to the wild cat or is running water better? It might be.
The only immediately apparent difference between still and running water is that in the wild (and in fact in the home) running water is liable to be healthier because it is constantly renewed. It is constantly refreshed. There is less chance of bacteria forming in the water. It is commonsense, really.
Another factor might be that the water is slightly and pleasantly aerated. Which conveniently leads me to water fountains.
I bought a water fountain about 6 months ago and my cat never used it. She couldn’t figure it out and it frightened her, plus she is a creature of habit and old. I threw it away!
This a product that simulates fresh running water as if in a stream. It all sounds very natural. But the water is simply recycled from a reservoir in the machine, the machine can be offputtingly noisy (for the cat and the human), it requires maintenance on the water pump, it requires regular cleaning and it occupies a considerable amount of space. It could harbour bacteria unless cleaned regularly defeating the objective of providing good water. And we can so easily get lazy with this sort of thing in our busy lives. Keep it simple, I say.
All that said they are relatively popular and some cats will very much like them. But see water fountains for cats.
Peeing in cat drinking water
Yes, you read it correctly! Bengal cats (and perhaps some other wild cat hybrids) pee in their water bowl or container. Why? In the wild the Asian leopard cat both pees and defecates in water streams etc. to hide scent. The leopard cat is as mentioned the wildcat ancestor of the Bengal cat.
For some Bengal cats (yes, it them again) and other cats like their cat drinking water straight from the bottle via a kind of dispenser. Umm yummy…!
Cat Drinking Water – photos: published under Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic creative commons license.
Got any clever ideas on drinking water for cats? Please tell me 👍.