Why Do Cats Flick Their Water Bowls?


Why do cats flick their water bowls? Because (a) they are unsure of it so they test it with their paw or (b) they prefer to drink water in puddles on the ground (c) they want to aerate the water to make it more palatable (d) all of these 😉 .Those are some theories. Mine.

A vet says that cats like to play with the water. Yes, but why don’t they drink it out of the bowl too? Some do and some don’t. My late Charlie did drink from the bowl but Gabriel flicks it all over the floor and this is very common amongst domestic cats.

However, my video below tells us that Gabriel does drink it once it has been flicked out of the bowl. Also, he does sometimes lick the water off his paws. It seems to me that he feels more comfortable drinking water puddles or drops on the floor, or on any surface, rather than when there is a relatively large quantity in a bowl. For example, he also drinks water from the sink or in the bath after a shower. These are small randomly placed puddles or drops. This is a more natural scenario for the domestic cat.

These observations inform me that for my cat at least (and it may vary between cats), he is unsure about water in a bowl. He is programmed to seeing water in a puddle or a stream. It is not fear of putting his head in the bowl because he is used to that. He drinks cat milk from a large cat bowl without hesitation.

The North African wildcat lived in pretty arid conditions. I would expect him/her to find water in small quantities. The North African wildcat is the ancestor of the domestic cat. If the ancestor had been a fishing cat, another small wild cat species, the outcome would have been different.

My late lady cat preferred to drink from a muddy puddle outside than the bowl and it is not due to the chlorine or fluoride in the water because Gabriel flicks bottled water as well as tap water. Should cats drink softened water? No.

More alternative theories gleaned from the internet and books are:

  1. Cats like running water. We know this by internet videos. Bengals are particularly prone to drink from the tap (faucet). This can be dangerous (entering the lungs) but cats like it because it is healthier water and oxygenated. It is said that cats instinctively know this. There may a hard-wired habit at play here too. Running water from a faucet is like running water in a stream. It may be the case that some cat caretakers fail to ensure the water is fresh. Cats may pick up the smell of stale water very quickly. Also the smell of processed water and perhaps a bowl that still smells of detergent may be other factors why a cat prefers running or natural water.
  2. Cats don’t like sticking their heads in bowls (I don’t get this one).
  3. Sometimes cats knock over the water bowl. Is this a variation on the theme of flicking it out. It looks like it. Cats want to see water in the way they are used to seeing water in the wild. This is perhaps what motivates the manufacturers of the water fountains.
  4. Cats may be trying to aerate the water by splashing out of the water bowl to replicate the real stuff in the wild.

Associated: water making your cat sick?

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About Michael Broad

Michael is retired! He retired at age 57 and at Aug 2018 is approaching 70. He worked in many jobs. The last job he did was as a solicitor practicing general law. He loves animals and is passionate about animal welfare. He also loves photography and nature. He hates animal abuse. He has owned and managed this site since 2007. There are around 13k pages so please use the custom search facility!


Why Do Cats Flick Their Water Bowls? — 5 Comments

  1. Out of all the domestic cats I’ve owned over the years only one has done this. My 6 year old Singapura always touches the water with his paw before drinking it. He also likes to drop some of his toys in his water bowl which I find quite odd.
    Perhaps touching the water with his paw tells him how deep to lower his mouth to drink ???
    I have not a clue why he drops toys in it.
    I change the water at least once a day and it never gets dry but maybe his dropping a toy in there is his way of telling me to change it NOW. In which I do. LOL

  2. My cat likes to get water on his paws, then jump in the litter box, then track wet litter all over the house.

    Most water bowls are too narrow. Cats’ whiskers will touch the sides, indicating to them that the space is too narrow eg dangerous. That’s MY theory.

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