Ruby has a pretty elaborate ritual before she starts to take a drink of water. First, she sticks one paw into her water bowl and flings some water out of the bowl. Then she repeate the same thing with her other paw. Then she’ll lick her paws. It’s only after she’s apparently satisfied herself that yes, there is indeed water in her bowl (and after she has made a big mess all around her bowl!) that she will settle down and take a nice long drink of water.

Watching her go through this sequence again this morning made me wonder how many other cats have strange drinking habits. I’ve heard of cats who like to drink from a faucet, cats who prefer to drink from a cat fountain, cats who will only drink by dipping their paws in water and then licking their paws. Regardless of how cats drink, it’s important that they have fresh water available to them all the time.

MIT study looks at how cats drink

Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds the topic of how cats drink fascinating. Last year, researches at MIT actually conducted a study into the physical dynamics of how cats drink. According to the researchers, the top surface of the cat’s tongue is the only surface to touch the liquid. Cats, unlike dogs, aren’t dipping their tongues into the liquid like ladles. Instead, the cat’s lapping mechanism is far more subtle and elegant. The smooth tip of the tongue barely brushes the surface of the liquid before the cat rapidly draws its tongue back up. As it does so, a column of liquid forms between the moving tongue and the liquid’s surface. The cat then closes its mouth, pinching off the top of the column for a nice drink, while keeping its chin dry. Click here to read the complete findings of the MIT study.

Water is critical for urinary tract health

A brief health note: water is critical to keeping your cat healthy. While cats get moisture from a raw or canned diet, they should still have plenty of fresh water available at all times. Cats as a species don’t have a high thirst drive, and this can lead to chronic low-level dehydration if a cat is fed mostly dry food, which in turn, can lead to urinary tract and kidney problems.  “Water flowing through the urinary tract system is the most important factor in keeping your cat healthy,” says Dr. Lisa Pierson on her website, “Cats on canned food have been shown to consume at least double the amount of water (from food and water bowl) when compared to a dry food-fed cat.” ( For more on why dry food is not a good choice for cats, please read The Truth About Dry Cat Food.)

Do your cats have unusual drinking habits? Please share them in a comment.

Photo by macinate, Flickr Creative Commons

58 Comments on How Cats Drink

  1. In regards to providing water fountains for your cat. I purchased mine from an Aquarium store online (Ebay). It’s the type that cleans the water in a fish tank is was under $30. It works really well, is very quiet and the cats love it.

  2. Amber literally sticks one whole paw into the bottom of the water bowl, takes it out a few times then once she is satisfied about whatever, she leaves her paw in the bowl as she drinks.

  3. One of my cats will touch the water in the bowl (I use one of my big ceramic bowls I made) with one paw almost to find out where the top of the water is, before drinking. The inside of the bowl is glazed with a dark blue so maybe it’s hard to see the water. Both cats drink a lot of water. my other cat loves to put the toys in the water bowl. This doesn’t work very well when they are playing with paper balls!

  4. love the video! My tiny little girl Topaz (7 lbs) has earned the nickname wet headed princess, because she prefers her water from a running faucet, turned on pretty fast (no drips for her) and she lets the water hit her head as she is drinking from the bottom of the sink. Followed when she is done by shaking her head with water going everywhere, of course, lol! But if I tell her to drink from the stream, she listens and does! (Tell me cats aren’t smart! She has several other things she will do upon command as well.)

  5. One of my cats is a faucet-drinker. It started when we lived in an apartment and the water tasted so bad that I bought cases of bottled water. As I poured the water into the kitten’s bowl, he would drink what was coming out of the bottle. It became a ritual. When he got bigger and we moved and I stopped buying bottled water, he transferred his running water obsession to the sink.

  6. My cat flicks the water with his tongue when he drinks causing him never to be able to get enough water. I nursed him from when he was about a week old. Maybe he never learned how to drink? Maybe there is something wrong/deformed. He got a urinary blockage and now I kind of force water upon him. Has anyone ever heard of this before?

      • Yes I asked the vet and she has never heard of it either. He has been drinking about a 12oz bottle in 2-3 days now and eats wet food. I started this endeavour to find him a way to drink because if urinary blockage. Now he has no problems.

  7. Curly likes to hang out with me in the bath. If I hold still, she will rest her front paws on my leg (or arm) and climb in far enough so that she can lean down and drink the bath water. Boo, on the other hand, sits on the side of the tub until I scoop water up to her. Not getting her enough water fast enough is a sure way to get my hand batted at.

  8. I just got this kitty Miss Kitty an she does not drink water > I went out an bought a circulating waterer in the hopes she will use it >>>> Nope I have never seen her drink out of it > I had a cat an she developed a urinary problem due to little water consumption >>> Can anyone give me some hints in how to get Miss Kitty to drink ? I give her canned food Tx

    • The water fountain is a good way to entice Miss Kitty to drink, Joan. Give it a little time so she can get used to it. The fact that you’re feeding canned food is good, this way, she’s going to get quite a bit of moisture from her food. You can try mixing a little bit of additional water in with her food to increase her moisture intake until she starts drinking from the fountain.

  9. My little Girl Cashmere used to drink out of the bowl with no issues but used to drag the mat that the bowl was on around the kitchen during the night. Now that we have Jackson also who has a thing with splashing in the water bowl my kitchen floor is always wet. I tried to take the met away so that she couldn’t pull the bowl around but then Jackson started flipping the bowl while playing. so I bought a heavier bowl. That has stopped the flipping of the bowl but now both Cashmere and Jackson splash water out.
    Also Cashmere’s newest thing is she waits till u get out of the shower then so goes and drinks the water that collects on the conditioner bottle.
    I love my two babies but i swear every week they are doing something new.

    • Sounds like your two are little water babies, Cara. You might want to think about investing in a fountain for them, it sounds like they might really enjoy it.

  10. Loved reading all the stories! One of my cats is a perfectly normal water drinker, but the younger girl will drink out of weird places like the toilet or the just-used shower stall–and she makes a big ol’ mess out of any water bowl by splashing and splashing before she drinks! She also will routinely put her favorite toys (by mouth) into the water bowl. It’s fascinating to watch!

      • Thank you! My husband came up with the idea of using the motion detecting faucet attachment; we’ve been trying to get the word out since then because we’re certain that our kitty isn’t the only one who prefers fresh faucet water!

        • wow! so glad I read this, will have to check this out, Topaz would love it, sometimes I am not fast enough to meet her demands and then sometimes I forget to turn the water off and hate wasting it.

  11. We have a routine in the morning in which my two cats take turns drinking from a tumbler of water on the bathroom counter while I brush them. It started years ago with one, and eventually her sister wanted the same kind of attention. Only takes about 5 min for each, gives me a chance to look them over and give them some quality time before I leave for work. It’s also the only time one cat will let me near her with a brush!

    I also keep 3 clear, glass tumblers of water around the house for them (they’re not fans of bowls). I usually refill/refresh them all, daily, and they expect that. If I forget to “top off” one, they’ll let me know about it when I come home in the evening!

  12. Lily, a bengal, loves water flowing from the bathroom faucet. When she wants to drink, she pushes a plastic tumbler glass into the bowl and bats it around until someone responds to turn on the faucet. If you take too long, the tumbler is on the floor along with anything else she can push off the counter. She also has learned to operate the ice maker discharge on the refrigerator, loves chasing ice cubes around until they melt. Thank goodness for the lock button that she hasn’t figured out YET!

  13. My Russo drinks out of a glass! He sticks his paw in and licks the water off of it. We can’t leave glasses of water around or they turn into “paw juice”.

  14. My cat YaYa will only drink after he has spilled most of the water on the floor and is standing IN it …..still trying to figure out how to deal with this……………..

  15. My cat Jack does the faucet thing! And if I don’t turn on the water he will meow at me til I do! He will sit with his front paws in the sink and hind legs on the counter and with his head tilted to the side let the water flow into his mouth and lap it up. He will also stick his head under the faucet and get his head completely soaked.
    And whats really funny, if he sees you walking in the direction of the bathroom he will run full speed to go in with you!

  16. I have 4 cats and 2 dogs. The cats have a gated off room so the dogs won’t eat their food and get into the litter boxes. I have 1 cat the prefers the bathroom facet. After eating she goes into the bathroom and waits for you to come turn the facet on. Another cat drinks out of the dogs water bowl, even though every morning I clean both the cat and dog water bowls and give them fresh water. Then the other 2 cats strictly drink out of my water glass. All 4 have been known to drink out of my glass. I bought a motorized water fountain for them but they hated it. I’m not sure if it was the noise it made but after 4 months of trying to get them to use it I ended up giving it to the Goodwill.

  17. Hi Ingrid, Benji will only drink out of the fountain now nothing else
    and before he starts he shakes his left paw over the water and then
    starts to drink !!!!!!!!!!

  18. one of our two cats is on wet food, and he stopped drinking water when he switched from dry to wet. to “trick” him into drinking more, we add water to his food until it’s soupy. as for the other cat, who eats mainly dry food, she is a fanatic about water. she prefers drinking it straight from the tap, but will “make do” with bowls. it’s quite a sight to see her drinking water from the large water bowl my greyhound uses. 🙂

  19. My two kitties have a bowl in the bathroom next to their food dish. However, lately they have decided they would rather drink from my water glass on my bedside table instead. They now have their own cup on the nightstand, and will cry to let me know that it needs to be refilled. They appear to be drinking more water now, so I can’t complain.

  20. I have two odd kitties. Despite being sisters each one has a distinct drinking ritual.

    Martina will sniff the water, dip her right paw, then her left paw and then proceeds to scratch or paw all around the bowl. The end result… well, put your arms out straight and then form an X. Now move only your left or right hand as though waving or swatting a bug. only after each paw has scratch the place mat or side of the bowl will she drink.

    Isabella will only drink from her fountain and only from the top of the waterfall (never ever from the catch basin!) Before she drinks she will put both front paws on the edge of the catch basin, she will lean forward toward the water fall, sniff (thereby inhaling some water) Sneeze and then drink.

    This makes me think I really should video my two and their drinking ritual. 🙂

  21. I have been watching some documentaries this past week talking about the dangers of flouride in tap water that is intended for human consumption, that many studies conclude is toxic. Are there studies that have been or are being conducted to determine if flouride is harmful to cats? And if so, are we certain that filtered tap water from our tap is healthy for cats, or should we be giving them only spring water, distilled water, etc?
    Thank you

    • Deborah, I’m not aware of any studies on the effect of fluoride on cats, but I can’t imagine that it’s that different from the effects on humans. Fluoride is not filtered out of tap water by most filtration systems, so spring or distilled water would probably be the safest to drink for us and our pets.

      • Over 20 years ago my Vet. recommended giving neutered male cats only distilled water to help prevent blockages. There are too many minerals, flouride, etc. in our city tap water, so none of us drink it (humans or cats). None of our cats have had any urinary tract problems since then.

  22. I’ve read that a cat’s habit of dipping a paw in their water is a holdover (via evolution) from their wild days, when water in a pond or lake could also conceal danger. My Emma always dips her paw in first. She will use a fountain but prefers to drink running water streaming into my open palm 🙂 I think she likes the bonding as much as the water, because I usually sweet talk her and pet her at the same time.

  23. Yes, it’s truly fascinating to watch cats drinking! Ruby’s drinking ritual sounds a lot like Zoe’s!!!
    And she has her own water bowl, of course, but she loves to drink from a water jug on the table! It’s transparent glass, and I love watching her little pink tongue brushing the water while she drinks…

  24. I thought I was the only one who is fascinated by the way cats drink!! LOL! Our Montana has a drinking ritual a lot like Ruby’s. He has a fountain in his room which he loves but he has to dip both paws in first and then drink the water off of them. He will then commence his long drink of water from the fountain stream. Call me crazy, but I could sit and watch him do this forever because it’s so methodical and precise. It transfixes me.


  25. We have all kinds of crazy habits. Odin likes to dip his paw in hubby’s seltzer. Merlin drinks from my bedside glass at night. Domino insists on a super large bowl for his humungous head. And Gris Gris is a stealth drinker, only drinking when no one is watching. He used to favor the toilet bowl until I put the lid and my foot down!

  26. Very funny-I saw a video last week where the cat would push down on the Sparkletts faucet and drink. Ours have a water fountain and they drink constantly from it, Magellan has a similar routine of putting his foot into the water first. He also loves to sit in the shower when it is wet and watch the water drip.

      • Our initial fountain experience went something like, “Limited edition pink fountain, $75. Installation of GFI circuit to power limited edition pink fountain, $125. Cats afraid to drink from limited edition pink fountain – priceless.” But now – several years and a stainless steel 5 spout fountain later – they love the fountain and make pouty faces if the fountain is malfunctioning and they can’t drink from the spouts 🙂

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