Do cats like their water bowl at a distance from their food bowl?

People ask: Why do cats like their water separate from their food? They are asking if cats like their water bowl at a distance from their food bowl. And if they do; why? You see some pretty fancy arguments as to why cats like this but I’d bet my bottom dollar that these are all stories circulating around the internet which are not based on science. I am not saying that these stated reasons are incorrect but I am questioning them.

Distance between food and water for cats. Why?
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Distance between food and water for cats. Why? Image: MikeB

The general information available on the internet is that cats don’t like their water bowl near their food bowl. This dislike may be so strong that it stops the cat drinking which would be bad news as domestic cats are poor drinkers as it is.

Cats Protection reasons for distancing water from food. Are they correct?

This is one of the top reasons on the internet for separating food and water at a reasonable distance.

The respected charity Cats Protection say this: “Cats are biologically programmed not to drink water which is near their food or near their toileting area – this is thought to be their instinctive avoidance of contaminating their water with potential sources of bacteria.” But where is the evidence for food element of that statement? I get the toilet bit but not the food bit.

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And how far from the food should the water be? And how does bacteria get from the food to the water? Their statement sounds wrong to me. When a cat eats there will be food particles in their mouth if they drink immediately afterwards which is the norm. That would transfer food to the water which according to Cats Protection contaminates the water. This would undermine their argument.

RELATED: Infographic on pros and cons of cat water and food bowls plus a discussion on whisker stress

In the wild for the domestic cat’s wild cat ancestor

What happens in the wild? The ancestor of the domestic cat would get most of their water from prey animals as animals are around 70% water. They’d drink from a stream when available which would probably be a distance from their killed prey animal. This would occur naturally for geographic reasons and not for cross-contamination reasons.

Food scent puts them off?

The top Google search result on this topic at the date of this post is the ‘Americat Company’. They say that “Cats also do not enjoy the scent of food while drinking water. In addition, they are turned off by food particles in their water.” Is that correct? I have never heard of cats being put off drinking water because of the scent of food nearby. It does not sound correct to me. And food particles in water also puts them off drinking? Does that sound right to you? For a start how do food particles get from the food bowl to the water bowl? Fly in the air?

The way that some food particles may be transferred from food bowl to water bowl is via the mouth of the cat as they drink after eating and this is not dependent on the bowls being far apart. Also, I don’t believe that cats are concerned about the odd food particle in their water. They sink to the bottom of the bowl if they’re there and be of no concern. Both these reasons are spurious at best.


On a personal level, my cat’s water bowl is next to his dry food bowl and I have never noticed a problem with this positioning. I don’t believe that food and water bowls need to far apart. Yes, food and water needs to be distanced from the litter tray for obvious reasons and both should be in relatively quiet, protected places to mimic wild cat behavior. Always return to wild cat behavior to understand domestic cats.

Bowl type more important

Perhaps the more important issue with encouraging cats to drink adequately (as we see it) is the type of bowl used. There are some good reasons to suggest that it is worth trying a clear glass bowl instead of the usual opaque type if you feel your cat does not drink enough. I’ve seen cats drink from glasses and enjoy the challenge. Clear glass may better replicate the wild cat experience of drinking from a stream.

And putting the glass bowl in an out-of-the way place may also encourage drinking as that too would make it more natural. But the reasons are not those stated by the others but because it is more natural.

Perceptions and dry food versus wet

One final point: we might have the perception that our cat does not drink enough water but for the cat it is enough provided they are eating wet cat food which is 80% water. Their wild cat heritage sees to that. The problem is dry cat food which is unnaturally dry. Cats don’t compensate by drinking more water as they are programmed to get a lot of their water from their food. Dry cat food runs counter to the domestic cat’s instincts.

The fix is to prioritise wet cat food with some dry for night grazing. Providing wet food will increase a cat’s water consumption automatically.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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