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Behaviour expert Nicky explains cats' drinking habits.

In the first of our new weekly behaviour focus posts, Cats Protection Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow explains what to do if your cat isn't drinking from their water bowl.

Why do my cats drink out of the toilet/pond/other inappropriate place rather than from their fresh, clean bowls of water? Why doesn't my cat seem to drink? 

Many owners wonder why their cats either do not appear to drink from their water bowl or show more of a preference for another water source such as a pond.

Cats do have very efficient kidneys having evolved from a desert dwelling species, however they still need to always have a supply of fresh water available to them.

One of the most common reasons for cats to not drink out of their water bowl is due to its location. Many people tend to put their cat’s food bowl next to their water bowl. We humans eat and drink at the same time, so surely it would make sense for cats to do the same, right? It is easy to forget that cats are a completely different species with some very different needs. Once we understand these needs, it all starts to fall into place. What is news to most people is that cats would actually prefer to drink away from their food bowl. This goes back to African wildcat behaviour, with which our pet cats have shared ancestry. African wildcats also eat and drink in different locations to avoid contaminating their water source with the gut contents of their prey. So it’s all about hygiene, unsurprisingly for such a clean animal. With that in mind, ensure that water bowls and food bowls are placed away from each other and away from the litter tray.

You could also consider moving the bowl away from the wall. A cat is in quite a vulnerable position when they have their head down to drink, so they may prefer to have the wall behind them and the room in front so they can see if anything is going to approach them. If you move the water bowl away from the wall and the cat chooses to continue to face the wall, then that’s fine. It is all about giving the cat choice! You may even find if you have two cats that one may choose to face the wall, while the other is delighted to be able to now face the room. Cats are all individuals which is part of their appeal! Place both food and water bowls in more private but accessible locations, eg away from the cat flap, glass patio doors and high traffic areas like hallways.

grey and white cat drinking from shallow water bowl

Cats generally prefer to drink from a wide, shallow bowl. Photo: macinate via flickr / Creative Commons

Now that the location has been examined, let’s look at the bowl and its contents. While most cats will happily drink out of all different kinds of bowls, some cats may feel put off by plastic bowls. It is thought that perhaps the plastic can taint the taste of the water. If this is the case for your cat, then try a ceramic bowl. Cats generally prefer to have a wide, shallow bowl so that their whiskers do not touch the sides. This is especially true if your cat is diabetic as they can have extra sensitive whiskers.

Some cats find the chlorine found in tap water off-putting and prefer to drink filtered water, bottled water or rain water. Try putting a large plant drip tray outside to collect rain water. Remember to clean the tray regularly.

Why not try putting these changes into place and see if your cat starts to drink more? It’s a good idea to monitor your cat’s drinking habits and if they change, it can be a sign of a medical problem. Always consult your vet if you notice a change in habits.

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