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Why Do Cats Paw At The Water Dish?

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    You would expect drinking to involve only your cat's mouth, wouldn't you?

    Well, for some cats, drinking water can involve their paws as well. Members sometimes ask in the cat behavior forums about "weird" cat behaviors associated with drinking water, so let's take a look at some of these quirks, why they're happening and what - if anything - you should be doing about it.

    Feline quirks around the water dish

    Over the years, we've had cat owners tell us about all kinds of kitty rituals taking place around the water dish. Sounds strange? Well, it is, if you only expect Kitty to get to the dish and lick up some water.

    Here are some of the quirky feline behaviors reported on the forum -
    1. Scratching the floor around the water dish.
    2. "Kneading" or pawing at the floor or carpet next to the water dish.
    3. Staring at the water for a few seconds before drinking.
    4. Pawing at the water before drinking.
    5. Pawing at the water and then licking it off their paws - instead of drinking directly from the bowl.
    6. Sloshing water around in the dish.
    7. Dropping objects into the water dish.
    Some cats were reported to splash so much water around, the dish would be empty by the time the owner got back home in the evening!

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    So why do cats mess around with their water

    Well, the short answer is that nobody really knows. We have no way to ask our cats about the reasons for these behaviors. Or rather, we can ask but they're not likely to answer :wink:. However there are a couple of theories as to why these cats use their paws and not just their tongues when getting a drink.
    1. Cats paw at the dish to discover where the surface of the water is. Consider the location of the cat's eyes as he or she approaches the dish: Kitty can't actually see the water right under its muzzle. Pawing first helps some cats ascertain the distance between their tongue and the water. This would also explain why some cats tend to stare at the water before lapping it up.
    2. Some cats like to play with water. We're used to thinking of cats as being averse to water, but the truth is some cats enjoy playing with and in water. Looking for a source of entertainment, these cats - especially kittens - may discover that sloshing water in the bowl and getting the surrounding area wet is actually fun.
    As for scratching or pawing at the floor next to the dish, this type of behavior is often associated with food dishes. Some experts believe that this is a remnant of our cats' need to bury their food, while others see this as a form of territorial marking around food sources. Whichever explanation is correct, these cats could be including the water dish in the act - especially since owners often place the food and water bowls next to one another.

    Should you stop your cat from pawing at the water dish?

    Generally speaking, if your cat is merely pawing at the water a few times before drinking, he or she is most likely trying to gauge the exact water level. Trying to avoid a wet nose is perfectly legitimate, and it's not a behavior that should bother you.

    However, if Kitty has taken to sloshing water around to the point of getting the area wet or even emptying the dish, you may want to make a few changes. Here are some ideas brought forward by our members over the years. See if any of these may work for you and your cat -
    1. Use a shallow dish to diminish the allure of splashing water all around.
    2. Try a drinking fountain to generate a constant flow, creating a sense of movement without resorting to splashing.
    3. Add a place mat under the water dish to protect carpets and floors from excess water.
    Do you think Kitty is simply playing with water out of boredom? Consider fighting boredom using various environmental enrichment techniques. Cats that spend their lives indoors need constant stimulation to compensate for lack of access to the sights, sounds and scents of the great outdoors. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep our cats entertained while in the safety of our homes! The following articles offer dozens of ideas that will help you keep your cat happy -
    Beating Boredom - What Indoor Cat Owners Need To Know
    Keeping Indoor-Only Kitties Happy
    Playing with Your Cat: 10 Things You Need To Know
    7 Proven Ways to Get Your Cat to Be More Active

    Remember that the important thing is for your cat to have uninterrupted access to fresh water. Feline "water dish rituals" are harmless. Unless your cat ends up splashing water to the point of emptying the bowl, you probably should just let him or her enjoy what comes naturally.

    Does your cat paw at the water dish or have other "weird" water behaviors? Let us know in a comment! And if you have any questions about feline behavior, please start a thread in the cat behavior forum.

    Photos in this article submitted by TCS members.

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    tarasgirl06, LadyEnigma and raysmyheart purraised this.

Comments

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  1. allisa
    All of these comments make me smile so much! It's one of the cutest cat behaviors! The 2 Bengals I had LOVED playing in the water and sometimes put their toys in it. I thought maybe it was because they were from Burmese jungles & it had to do with the rivers and streams. Maybe looking for fish or making sure there were no crocodiles.:) The cat I have now stares in a cute wistful way at the water just before drinking. Then he runs around like a mad thing- no idea why but it seems to feel good in his tummy.
  2. seventhheaven
    Pip (flame point) does this to check the water line on any bowl.
    She was teaching the other cats to do this, was able to stop them ;)
  3. louche
    Grimmy used to but I think it was whisker sensitivity. edit: strange because she LOVES drinking out the toilette. I dunno what's up with that. The water doesn't go too high.
  4. orange&white
    One of my all-time favorite cats, Maslow, used to drink out of his paw. He would make a "ladle" or "cup" out of his paw by curling his toes under, scoop the water out of the bowl, then drink the water from his "paw cup".
      tarasgirl06 and louche purraised this.
    1. louche
      "paw cup" the imagery in my head makes it want to explode because i can't handle the cuteness~!
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  5. Larkspur
    My Maine Coon came in the bath with me and into the shower. My other cat took baths with the dog. Lucy puts her head under the water when I wash dishes and washes her toys in one of her water bowls.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  6. jtbo
    Mouku shakes his right paw like if water being something awful right when his nose touches the water surface, then proceeds with normal drinking behavior.

    iita then paws water, then licks paw, until few times she is sure water is still wet and proceeds with drinking. However if water area is large enough, she walks straight in, paws around and then pees, if one is not quick she then proceeds to drink, gross!

    If Mouku happens to be near during that peeing, he then goes in waters and rolls in it.

    I'm quite certain my cats are insane or then just like to keep me busy.

    Oh and if I put large washing basing with fish in it, iita will actually jump in and starts fishing, with enough lot of water she actually swims and likes it. Both of them have long fur, maybe it comes with that.
  7. mama africa
    Missy occasionally drinks from the shower bath and when she drinks from one of the water bowls inside or outside, she often involves her paws.
    Scratching at the floor is sometimes done to the food dish (and only with wet food) ; it's like she wants to tell me 'It stinks; I want to bury it'. Once she has 'buried' it, she won't eat the food. It has nothing to do with the freshness of the food, but more with Missy's moods.
  8. raysmyheart
    Speedy will always check her water out first. She will circle the bowl and then decide what angle to approach and drink from. Her bowl is about 10 inches tall and clear, so she does feel the water first with her paw. Sometimes she will look over her shoulder when drinking. When she takes her last sip, she does this thing of shaking her paw then walking away. The way she circles her bowl, I always think it is how she would protect herself in the wild centuries ago as a cat. Wants to make sure she is safe to let her guard down and have a nice drink! She is so delicate when she drinks, she never spills a drop.

    I find it very interesting to read the comments here how other cats will drink.
  9. tarasgirl06
    At our last house, we had a huge 3-part "gourmet" kitchen sink. Maryam would get in the middle, smallest part, and I would turn the water on to a trickle. She LOVED playing in, pawing, and drinking it; and I have some treasured photos of her enjoying her "water sports". When we moved here, the kitchen has only a regular-size sink and she never investigated it, that I know of; but we have a water fountain, and she loved to play in that just like she did in the big sink. Stationery water bowls didn't seem to hold any fascination for her, though.
      louche purraised this.
  10. golondrina
    Cucumella likes her water dish full to the brim.I used t think that she had a problem to lower her head but she eats her food right down to the bottom of the same type of dich. She also likes trying to lick the water as I am pouring it in the dish. But she doesn't wet the floor around it at all.