Cat Behavior: Why They Play In The Water Bowl

My cat Marty used to be bad about playing in his water bowl. I caught him several times putting his paw in the water, and moving the water dish around on the mat.  This baffled me for some time. While reading Starting From Scratch by Pam Johnson-Bennett, I found some insight into this cat behavior and solving the problem.

Siamese cat drinking water from water dish for cat behaviour why do cats put paw in water dish


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Determine How Much Water Is In Bowl

As it turns out, the paw dipping can be a case of the cat trying to gauge how much water is in the bowl.  Cats are far-sighted so don’t see very well up close.  If the water bowl isn’t consistently filled to the same level, the cat may not be able to tell if there’s water there.

It can help to have a bowl with a design on the bottom, this makes it easier for cats to see how much water is in the bowl.

Bits of Food In Water Bowl

In reading further, I learned that although there are many feeding stations that have two dishes side-by-side, one for food and one for water, some cats really aren’t fond of having food and water together.  Cats have very sensitive noses, and they don’t want their water to smell like their food, especially if they aren’t hungry when they go for a drink.

With the double feeder food bits often fall into the water, and some cats don’t abide that well.  Even if you have two separate dishes for food and drink, put some distance between them and see if your cat is better around the water bowl. Another option if your cat eats both wet and dry food, put wet food in one dish, dry in the other. Then put a water dish some distance away.

Freshen Water in Bowl

Have you noticed when you pour water into a glass or cup, it almost seems stagnant after sitting for a while? Cats have this same experience. A good way to remedy this is a pet drinking fountain. The fountain keeps the water moving, filters it, and prevents the stagnant sensation of still water in a bowl.


There are a variety of pet water fountains available.  The fountain I have right now for Marty is the Veken Pet Fountain. It’s quiet, easy to clean and has three different water flows so you can select the one your cat favors.  I’ve tried a ceramic fountain as well, but found it heavy, and I dropped a piece of it while cleaning and had to buy another.

Since getting Marty a fountain, this cat behavior stopped. He enjoys his drinks and I haven’t noticed him using the fountain for a paw wash.

Does your cat use a water fountain? If so, which one has worked best? Please leave a comment to let us know, we’d love to hear from you!




Written by Karen


Karen is Publisher of Fully Feline. She also owns a pet care business in Overland Park, KS called Joy of Living.