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Why won't my cat drink out of her bowl?

Why won’t my cat drink out of her bowl?

cat drinking from a faucet

When I was a teenager, our family had a cat who would only drink out of a paper Dixie cup filled to overflowing and left atop one particular bathroom sink. We had to check the water level throughout the day: one sip and the water’s surface would be “too low” for her finicky cat self. We assumed she’d dehydrate before she’d lower herself to drink from her water dish, which we emptied and refilled for absolutely no reason every day for the 23 years of her life.


Our cat, it turns out, was not alone. Cats not drinking from their bowl, or drinking from weird places like the shower floor, the bathtub tap, the kitchen faucet, or a glass of water you left out, is not uncommon. But why won’t our cats drink from their bowls?


Cats don’t need as much water as you think


cat in the desert

Our house cats descended from desert animals. How do we know this? Zoologist Carlos Driscoll, from Oxford University, surveyed 979 cats of all kinds from around the world. She took DNA from all sorts of cats, including wild cats, domesticated cats, and feral cats. What she learned was that our house cats are most similar, genetically speaking, to wild cats from Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudia Arabia.[1]


So, our house cats, whose ancestors had to find a way to survive in very dry climates, were actually designed to live on as little water as possible. As obligate carnivores (meaning that cats absolutely have to have meat in their diets), they probably get most of the water that they need from the juices in their prey.


The proof is in your cat’s litter box. Dr. Marty Becker DVM told, “You may notice that your cat’s feces are usually somewhat dry, and if you examine his urine in a laboratory, you would often find that it’s highly concentrated, because of his super-efficient kidneys.”[2]


Does that mean that my cat doesn’t need ANY extra water?


It’s true that cats have a low “thirst drive,” meaning they don’t feel the same urge that we feel to drink.


water droplet

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need access to water. A cat’s body is 60-70% water and they can become dehydrated.


What is enough water? That depends upon the size of your cat and what he eats. A cat who is fed dry kibble will need more supplemental water than a cat who primarily eats wet food. But typically, cats need between 3.5 and 4.5 ounces of water per day for each five pounds of body weight.[3]


How do I know if my cat is drinking enough water?


cat drinking water

Hydration refers to the balance of electrolytes, minerals, and fluids in a body. Without proper hydration, a cat’s organs won’t function correctly, nutrients won’t find their way to where they are needed, and body systems like circulation and digestion won’t work properly. Cats are also prone to kidney stones. Proper hydration keeps the kidneys working to flush out stone-causing toxins.[4]


How do you know if your cat is becoming dehydrated? Look for these signs and call your vet if you suspect your cat is not drinking enough and showing one of these symptoms:


  • Dry gums
  • Depression or listlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin tenting (see below for an explanation)


A dehydrated cat may also have an elevated heart rate, but that is not something the average cat owner will be able to notice.


“Skin tenting” is a strong clue that your cat is dehydrated. Using your thumb and forefinger, gently grasp a bit of skin from the area between your cat’s shoulders. Then let it go. If it stays where you left it, or if it only bounces back very slowly, your cat is probably dehydrated.


Why won’t my cat just drink water from her bowl if she is thirsty?


There are several reasons why cats can be persnickety about drinking from their water bowl.


Cats have a weird way of drinking

cat lapping water

Cats do not lap water the way dogs do, ladling up a ton of water with every gulp. Roman Stocker, an associate professor at MIT who specializes in fluid mechanics, spent hours filming cats drinking. (Or at least trying to film cats drinking. The cats weren’t very cooperative, apparently.)

He learned that cats move water into their mouths in the strangest way. They lap at the water at an incredible rate of four times per second. But they don’t use their tongues as a scoop. A cat dips his tongue onto the surface of the water and flings it up, sending a little stream of water flying through the air. Then he catches the little stream with his mouth.[5] Watch a cat lapping water here:




According to the study, “How Cats Lap: Water Uptake by Felis catus” published in Science, each little lap brings up only 2/100ths to 5/100ths of a teaspoon to the cat’s mouth.[6] That’s a teeny-weeny bit. Drinking from a bowl is not an incredibly efficient way of hydrating.


Cats can’t see the water in their bowls

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Cats have a blind spot right in front of their faces, that starts about 10 cm (4 inches) from their noses.[7] As they get closer and closer to the water dish, they literally can’t see the water right in front them. Many cats may prefer to drink running water, which they can at least hear. If your cat won’t drink still water from a bowl, consider serving your cat water from one of the well-regarded pet drinking fountains, including the highly rated Veken Pet Fountain or PETLIBRO products.


Cats might be suspicious of still water in a bowl

It’s possible that cats might be suspicious of water in a bowl. In the wild, still water is often contaminated. It’s possible that a preference for moving water is ingrained in their kitty brains as a holdover from their wild ancestors. It’s also possible that moving water, being better oxygenated, just tastes better.[8]


Cats don’t like where you put the bowl

cat drinking out of a giant bucketWe often place our cats’ things where we like them: out of our way. Cats don’t always like their things to be where we like their things to be. You may like having the water bowl in the corner, but your cat would probably be happier drinking out of a bowl placed smack-dab in the middle of the room.
When a cat bends over to drink from a bowl placed in a corner she might feel vulnerable. She can’t see who or what is coming up behind her.

Some cats might not like their whiskers touching the bowl

cat whiskersThere is a school of thought that some cats get “whisker fatigue.” A cat’s whiskers are super-sensitive hairs (also called vibrissae) that provide a lot of information to your cat, like whether she can fit into a tight spot, or which direction the prey she’s chasing in the dark just darted.
Not all vets think whisker fatigue is a real ailment, but those who do, feel that some cats’ very sensitive whiskers just get overstimulated. They believe that certain cats may develop an aversion to pressing their faces into a bowl if it puts pressure on their whiskers.[9]
There are “whisker-safe” bowls on the market that allow your cat to eat and drink without their whiskers touching the sides of the bowl. Consider purchasing either the Dr. Catsby Cat Food Bowl, which has a non-skid bottom and sloped sides, or the PetFusion Premium 304 bowl, which is shallow and wide and has a lip. Both are stainless steel, which is the easiest material to keep clean, and which may prevent facial acne in cats.


Why does my cat drink from a dripping tap or running faucet?


cat drinking from the tap

A dripping or running faucet is the perfect place to hydrate, according to your cat. There is noise and movement, so your cat can easily identify the location of the water without having to visualize it (remember that your cat has a blind spot and can't see what is directly in front of her face).


A sink is typically situated out in the open, not in a corner, so she can relax and not worry about being ambushed while she drinks. The sink is also at counter height, giving your cat a bird’s-eye view of the household as she makes herself momentarily more vulnerable.


If your cat is suffering from whisker fatigue, drinking from a faucet would allow her to quench her thirst without pressing her whiskers onto any surface.


(And if you don't love having your cat on the counter, read this post, "How to keep cats off the counter.")


How do I get my cat to stop drinking from the faucet?


If you don’t want your cat drinking YOUR running water, get him his own. Many cats prefer drinking from a pet fountain, as described previously. Consider one of the models mentioned above.


Why doesn’t my cat drink water that is right next to his food?


cat drinking from a large bowl

Drs. Of Veterinary Medicine Julia Fritz and Stepanie Handl conducted one of the few studies on the drinking behavior of domestic cats. They studied the kinds of bowls cats preferred to drink out of, and what position they liked to be in when drinking, among other things. One of the strangest things that they learned about cat drinking preferences is that they don’t like when their water bowl is placed next to their food bowl. How odd!


They noted that if cats were given several water bowls to choose from, they’d typically drink water from a bowl that was in a separate room from their food bowl.[10]


Why do cats prefer that their food and water bowls are separate? We don't really know. Some say that wild cats keep their kills away from their water supply, but I have not found evidence of that in my research. (In fact, there is some evidence that wild-cat prey is eaten closer than previously expected to a water source, probably because the water is often what attracts prey and the kills occur there.)

Is it because the water stored next to food begins to taste or smell like the food? Without asking your cat, we may never know. But what we do know is that cats prefer that we keep their food and water dishes apart.


(Read about how to choose a food or water bowl in this post.)


How do I know if my cat is drinking too much water?


cat drinking from a bowl

Here we are, all worried about cats who don’t drink enough water, and yet, drinking too much water can be a problem, too.


It’s not the water drinking itself that is a concern, it’s what excessive water drinking indicates.


Increased water intake is called “polydipsia,” and it can be a sign of kidney or liver disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or urinary tract infection.[11]


The best way to tell how much your cat is drinking is to measure how much water you put in her bowl at the beginning of the day, and then how much is left at the end of 24 hours. Subtract the leftover amount from the amount you started with. If you suspect your cat has been drinking more than usual, this helpful data point will allow your vet to calculate whether drinking “more” is drinking too much for your particular cat.


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 Why won't my cat drink from her bowl?



DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.



[1] Ledford, Heidi. “Out of the Desert, on to the Sofa.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 28 June 2007,


[2] Becker, Dr. Marty. “Why Does My Cat Drink From Weird Places Like the Faucet, Sink or the Bathtub?” Vetstreet, 7 Mar. 2016,


[3] Nicholas, Jason. “My Cat Won't Drink: How Much Water Cats Need & Dehydration Prevention.” Preventive Vet,


[4] “Do Cats Drink Water? Cat Hydration & Dehydration Prevention.” Purina,


[5] Brumfiel, Geoff. “Pet Physics: The Uncanny Lapping Of Cats.” NPR, NPR, 11 Nov. 2010,


[6] Jung, Sunghwan, and Roman Stocker. “How Cats Lap: Water Uptake by Felis Catus.” Science, Nov. 2010,


[7] “Anatomy of a Housecat - The Nature of Things: Science, Wildlife and Technology.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada,


[8] Becker, Dr. Marty. “Why Does My Cat Drink From Weird Places Like the Faucet, Sink or the Bathtub?” Vetstreet, 7 Mar. 2016,


[9] McCarthy, Carol. “Whisker Fatigue in Cats: What It Is and How to Help.” PetMD,

[10] Bowen, Jon, et al. “The Water Requirements and Drinking Habits of Cats.” Veterinary Focus, Nov. 2018,


[11] “International Cat Care.” Increased Thirst & Drinking | International Cat Care, International Cat Care, 6 Oct. 2019,


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