You wash and refill the cat's water bowl twice a day. You've experimented with plastic bowls, ceramic bowls, plain bowls, bowls with cute little fish skeletons painted in the bottom. So why is her water dish the last thing Fluffy wants to drink out of? Why do you find her sitting impatiently at the edge of the sink, or in the bathtub, waiting for you to turn the water on for her – or dipping a paw (which you know just climbed out of the litterbox: yechh) into your drinking glass?
It's tempting to conclude that our cats just like to make us do things for them and/or annoy us, but in case the felines have a logical reason for occasionally sticking their heads into the toilet for a cocktail, we decided to ask some experts.
Turns out, cats have pretty good reasons for this particular picky behavior. According to a recent column by Marc Morrone in Long Island's Newsday, at least in cases where the cat is quaffing from the potty, the other water available to them probably isn't clean enough, or served in a large enough bowl.
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Dr. Cathy Alinovi of the Hoofstock Veterinary Service agrees that it may have to do with the water's freshness, since fresh water "is cooler than that which sat out on the counter all day." She suggests that cats who eat corn-based foods are pickier about water temperature, too, because these foods can "make the stomach hot and make the cat dry."
And if you just dump out the "old" water and refill without cleaning the bowl, that could also be a problem, Alinovi theorizes. Feel the inside of the dish once it's empty – is it slimy? "Is that backwash or something subtle growing in the water?" Cats "are very sensitive," she says, and won't drink something they think is unhealthy, so clean the dish regularly to prevent germy buildup. Dr. Valarie Tynes of Premier Veterinary Behavior Consulting thinks that finickiness might derive from their ancestors: "The cat evolved from a desert-dwelling animal that does not require a lot of water anyway. That may lead to them simply being pickier about the source of their water since they will be consuming a relatively small amount." She agrees with Alinovi that cats might consider "moving water, such as that from a stream … safer than still water, that might be stagnant and therefore not only not taste as good but possibly have a higher chance of being unsafe."
In other words, if you thought maybe Tigger was judging you for how clean you keep her bowl? You might be right. But if you thought other humans would judge you for buying the cat a fountain, well…maybe investing in a plug-in running-water source isn't a bad idea. Tynes thinks it varies from cat to cat; she tends to suggest that people offer their cats fountains because, though she has "no data," cats seem to prefer running water.
Alinovi notes that some behaviorists think cats just like to play in the water – and if your cat is having fun flicking droplets around, that's a good sign. "If Kitty is playing at the water bowl," she says, "then Kitty should be drinking enough." Steve Dale, certified cat/dog behavior consultant and host of radio's "Steve Dale's Pet World," notes that many indoor cats don't get enough water as it is, so anything that gets them to drink more is a good thing; he suggests "offering more than one location for water bowls (especially in multi-pet homes)." Adding "just a tad of water to moist food" without making it "soupy" is another method Dale recommends for getting more water into your feline.
Dale has another interesting theory about why a cat might stick her paw into water, whether it's running from a faucet or sitting in your glass: "Cats are far-sighted (they need bifocals because they can't see up close." They may not love getting their paws wet, but dabbing the water "might help Kitty to gauge the water level" without getting any up her nose. (Dale adds that "a rubber duckie" in her water bowl might also help. We'd love to see our cats' reaction to a tiny duckie from Archie McPhee bobbing peacefully next to their kibble.)
Whatever your cat's reasons for demanding a trickle instead of a bowl, look out for changes in her water consumption. Drinking more than usual could signal a bladder infection, diabetes, or kidney ailments; drinking a lot less might mean dental disease, pneumonia, or something worse. A sudden change in either direction "suggests a trip to the vet for a work-over and some bloodwork," Alinovi says.
So the answer to this Burning Question is, "Because the water bowl might not be big or clean enough, or your cat might not see well enough. Or just...because." Not totally satisfying...but we've heard those fountains are very soothing.
Do your cats drink from a bowl, or demand fresh running water in the bathtub? Do you find yourself "sharing" water glasses with the kitties? Have you tried any good fountains -- or upgraded the size of the water bowl? Share your answers in the comments.
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