Why do cats prefer dirty water?

Why do cas prefer dirty water?

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Why do cats prefer dirty water? The internet has been incredibly educational regarding cat welfare and therefore I would expect most people to know the answer to this question but for the sake of clarity I’ll discuss it in any case.

Why do cats prefer dirty water
Photo: D Coetzee on Flickr under creative commons license.


We know that there are chemicals in tap water. It is often chlorinated strongly enough to be able to smell the chlorine. A websites states that the full constituents of tap water are:

  • Chlorine.
  • Fluorine compounds.
  • Trihalomethanes (THMs)
  • Salts of: arsenic, radium, aluminum, copper, lead, mercury, cadmium and barium.
  • Hormones.
  • Nitrates.
  • Pesticides.

Are you surprised that some cats don’t like it that much?

There is another source of chemicals which is the detergent that people use when washing cat bowls in dishwashers. It is possible and probably likely that some detergent is left on the bowl.

As the cat’s nose is very sensitive they quickly detect these chemicals and for some cats it is intolerable. Water allows the chemical smells to become noticeable but the odor of cat food probably masks them. In short, tap water is too sanitized and therefore an individual cat may prefer a dirty puddle of water in the garden. It does depend on the cat.

There may be microbes and rotting vegetation in water puddle but it doesn’t put off a domestic cat because they are natural. They may even like the flavor! One danger of a puddle of water in the back garden if that it may contain chemicals as well. I am thinking of garden pesticides and weedkillers. I am not a believer in the use of garden products such as weedkillers, pesticides and lawn enhancers when cats are around. All of them can hurt a cat in my opinion.

Should Cats Drink Softened Water?

Safe option

Perhaps the safe option is to make sure that the water bowl with which you provide your cat is rinsed efficiently of traces of detergent. Also, it may help to allow the chemicals to dissipate in the water by allowing it to stand for some time before offering it to your cat.

The cat is very sensitive to chemical contamination. We know how impossibly difficult it is to encourage a cat to eat food that has a pill hidden in it. They can pick up the smell of the pill or the taste of it incredibly quickly.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

7 thoughts on “Why do cats prefer dirty water?”

  1. Since I got to grips with using large bowls (so as not to brush whiskers) the cats definitely drink more often. It could be, as you say the noxious stuff dissipating.

    Appropos of water bowls Michael, a couple of weeks ago I swapped one of the remaining stainless steel bowls with a large, glazed ceramic bowl. Within two days both pussers were seen using it, more than once. Since then it’s become one of three favourite bowls they seek out first around the house. One of the other two is also ceramic.

    It could be that they really were getting static shocks from the metal bowls. Will keep an eye on this. Plans are afoot to replace all the metal bowls if the choice of using the ceramic bowls first,persists. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. Thanks Jane. I believe that some domestic cats have references for the type of bowl that they drink from in terms of what it is made of and its appearance. This may be a visual thing or odor. It is definitely worth trying different bowls to encourage drinking.

  2. My cats are picky. I never use any kind of soak All of their dishes are stainless and are wiped out with a dry paper towel and boiled. I have the safe plastic jugs or safer that i purchase purified water in. It’s the same water we use for drinking and cooking.
    I also leave the tap in the bathtub dripping as they seem to enjoy some of well water on occasion. Since it doesn’t pool by the drain they drink right out of the drips.

  3. I go nuts when my feral throws clay litter into his nice clean water bowl. There is much clay in the soil in this area where he lived the first part of his life. Maybe this is the reason.

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