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cat parent basics
cat dipping paws in water

The essentials

  • Some cats dip their paws in their water dish — But this adorable behavior is rarely something to be concerned about.
  • Keep a close eye on senior cats that start doing this — There’s a chance their behavior might be caused by mobility or vision issues.
  • Cats tend to prefer drinking from moving water sources — If you notice your cat frequently sticks their paw in their water or attempts to drink from the faucet, you might want to try out a cat water fountain.  

Why do cats dip their paws in water?

Does your cat ever wander over to their water bowl and tap the surface with their paw? You might wonder why your cat does this, but it’s actually quite normal.

Cats have sensitive whiskers and paws that give them a lot of information about the world around them. One reason your cat might dip their paw in their water is that they’re trying to determine what’s in their dish or the depth of their water. But they also might just be stressed or bored. Read on for a few additional reasons your cat might engage in this behavior.

It’s an instinctual behavior

One reason your cat might dip their paw in their water is that it’s instinctual. In the wild, cats do this to make sure water is safe, which is why a cat will sometimes lick or sniff at their paw after sticking it in their bowl.

Their water bowl is too small

The shape and size of your cat’s bowl can make all the difference when it comes to their water intake. Cats’ whiskers are extremely sensitive, so they don’t like it when their whiskers touch the sides of their dish, which can happen when they drink from a shallow bowl. To avoid this, they might choose to drink from their paw or even avoid drinking entirely. An elevated water bowl can help with this issue, but it’s also important to keep your cat’s bowl full.

👉 A word of caution — Drinking from a small water bowl can actually cause your cat to suffer from an issue called whisker fatigue, which can be quite stressful for kitties. 

They might have vision issues

Cats are naturally far-sighted, so they might dip a paw in their bowl to check the depth of their water. But if your cat is getting older and has recently started doing this, they might be experiencing vision issues. Chat with your vet about this change in behavior to see if your pet needs an eye exam. Early detection of vision issues can be critical to helping to treat (or delay) whatever might be going on.

They’re experiencing mobility problems

Mobility problems are another reason cats might dip their paws in water. Senior cats in particular might be experiencing a joint issue, like arthritis or osteoarthritis, that makes them more likely to drink from their paw — often while remaining seated.

They’re bored or stressed

Dipping a paw in water can be a sign of stress or boredom. If your cat knocks over their water bowl frequently, their playful behavior might be the result of boredom. Cats also prefer to drink in less busy areas of the house. If you suspect your cat might be pawing at their water due to stress, try moving their bowl to a new location. Or better yet, add at least a couple bowls throughout the house.

Cats prefer moving water

Cats that stick their paws in water might also enjoy drinking from the sink or bathtub faucet. If you notice your cat doing this, they may be trying to tell you they prefer to drink from a moving water source. Cat water fountains can be the perfect solution for kitties that prefer running water. As an added benefit, they can also help encourage pets to drink more throughout the day.

Tips for getting your cat to drink more water

Getting your cat to drink more water can be a true challenge. Below are some vet-approved tips and tricks to help keep your cat as hydrated as possible:

Change out your cat’s water on a daily basis — Your cat won’t be excited about drinking old, stagnant water, so make sure to keep their water as fresh as possible. It also doesn’t take long for bacteria to become a problem.

Offer your cat multiple water bowls around your home — Try offering multiple water bowls around your house to encourage water consumption depending on what your cat likes most. And multi-cat homes should make sure to have plenty of drinking options. Bonus points for adding a bowl near your cat’s fav cozy spot.

Try a water fountain instead of a water dish — Keep the water flowing with a fountain instead of a traditional water bowl. Word to the wise, though: You might have to try a few to find one your cat likes. And you’ll have to remember to swap out the filters regularly.

Switch to wet food — If you want your cat to get more water in their diet, try switching to wet food. If your cat dislikes it — and some cats do — you can also try wetting their kibble to add extra moisture into their diet without switching their food.

Frequently asked questions

Why does my cat keep pawing at their water?

There are many reasons your cat might paw at their water, including stress, boredom, and instinct. In most cases, it’s nothing to be concerned about.

How can I stop my cat from pawing at their water?

Give your cat a new toy to combat boredom and make sure they have a quiet spot in the house to drink. You might also need to move your cat’s water to a new room and/or offer them multiple bowls to choose from.

Why do cats drink water from their paws?

This common feline behavior is probably instinctual. Wild cats dip their paws in water to see if it’s safe to drink and check how deep it is. Your cat might be doing the same. If your kitty is older and remains seated as they drink from their paw, they could be experiencing joint or mobility issues like arthritis.

Why does my cat try to knock over their water bowl?

Your cat might be bored and looking to play. They could also be doing so because their bowl is empty, so it’s important to make sure their bowl is fresh and full.

Why do cats spill water?

There’s a chance your cat could be experiencing changes to their vision and knock over their bowl accidentally. Far more commonly, your cat is bored and considers it a game to splash at water with their paw.