Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water From Puddles and Ponds?

Why do cats drink dirty water? Our cat likes drinking from the fish pond. Is it dirty? Well to me it is but kitty has other ideas.

The filter in the pond isn’t always turned on and the water can look murky. The cat will also drink from a ceramic pot that is near the fish pond. The pot regularly fills with water from the reticulation for the garden. Is this okay for the cat?

As the cat has become older he is more likely to drink the clean water in his water bowl inside the house. This is a fairly recent move, he is 17 and getting to and from the fishpond takes more effort.

Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water?

There are various reasons why cats drink dirty water. Some or all of these reasons may apply to your cat.

1. Location - Where Is The Water Bowl Located?

Often the reason that a cat will seek out water other than the nice fresh water you have supplied, is because of the location of the water bowl.

As humans we may think we are doing kitty a favor by putting the food bowl and the water bowl side by side thinking it will be convenient for the cat. You know, a much of Purina, a sip of water and so on.

However, if the water bowl is too close to the food, the cat will instinctively feel that the water could be contaminated.  This is because in the wild a cat would never drink water that is near freshly killed prey in case the water is contaminated. He has forgotten that his can of Purina isn't freshly killed prey.

Choose a different location for the water bowl.

Make sure that it is not too close to the food bowl.

To make it easier for you to empty, clean and refill the bowl, the best option will be to choose a place that is close to a water supply.

2.  Is The Water Really Fresh?

Even the water in the toilet can be fresher than the water in your cat’s bowl. When the toilet flushes, the water is aerated. The water in a cat’s bowl can quickly become stagnant and stale and build up a nasty collection of dust and cat hair and other fragments of dirt.

We have all seen YouTube videos or heard of cats that like to lap water from the toilet or a tap running in the kitchen or bathroom sink.


cat drinking from a faucet


Some cats will definitely not drink tap water so it may depend on the chemicals contained in the tap water where you live. Tap water can definitely have a chemical taste and smell. A cat's sense of smell is far more developed than ours. 

A freshly flushed toilet may smell fresher to cats than the still water sitting in the water bowl. 

3. Temperature Of The Water

Just like humans, cats can be picky about the temperature of their drinking water. Some cats love to have ice placed in their water bowl when the weather is hot.  

Some cats love to lick the condensation from windows and some cats prefer the warm water in a shower or bath water.

Does our cat prefer, cool water, warm water or tap temperature water? The majority of cats would have water from the tap as the water. For cats that like cool water, place an ice cube in the water bowl or the cat water fountain bowl.

Watch this cat drinking from the fishpond. He is not disturbing the fish he is just drinking.

4. Size And Shape Of The Bowl

The size of the bowl/fountain may be uncomfortable for your cat. Some bowls may be too deep or too narrow.

When choosing a water dish or cat water fountain, ensure that you are making choices based on what will be the best for your cat.

Sometimes we are are lured by the bright, pretty things but essentially the drinking bowl needs to be practical for your cat.

Some cat breeds have a flat face profile.  Flat faced cat breeds can have health problems and may not be able to access water in a deep bowl.

The same applies to feeding flat faced cat breeds. If the pretty designer bowl you have is being ignored, it may be because it is not practical to use from the cat’s standpoint.

If you cat finds it awkward to drink, even if the bowl is Michelin star restaurant standard, he make seek other sources.

5. How Does The Water Taste?

cat drinking from a tap

The cat drinks water from the tap

Think about the material your cat’s drinking bowl is made from.  Water can take on the taste of plastic. I don't like drinking from plastic and my sense of smell is nowhere as evolved as that of a cat.
Your cat may have a preference for drinking from stainless steel, ceramic or glass.  

If your cat is heading to the ceramic toilet bowl or bathtub it may be fresh running water he is after.

You may want to consider using a water fountain for your kitty.  Water fountains keep water fresh and aerated.

Will The Cat Get Sick From Drinking Dirty Water?

Cats sense of smell is extremely sophisticated even more so than dogs which explains pickiness for drinking water sources. It is still possible for cats to be poisoned by some species of algae however it is fairly rare.

Ancestry Influence Re Cats & Water

It is widely believed that cats descended from desert animals hence the thinking that they were built to survive on little water. Meat, specifically protein, is a major part of a cat's diet.

Moisture was obtained from eating prey.

As cats don't always seek out water sources and they are not feeding from prey as in ancestral times, they make become dehydrated.

One of the reasons for feeding them meat based products in gravy is to provide for the moisture they need in their diet.

One of the theories behind why cats drink water from ponds is because cats liking running water. To them it signifies freshwater.

Another theory is that cats with their keen sense of hearing can hear running water.

How To Encourage The Cat To Drink From A Bowl


Make sure that the water dish is thoroughly washed and rinsed daily.


Cats have a keen sense of smell and a bowl that has not been properly rinsed will still have the scent of detergent and will not be appealing to a cat. 


Your cat may also play with the water in his bowl, swiping with his paws. Those paws may have come straight from the kitty litter, highlighting the need for thorough cleaning.


Try bowls made from different materials. Stainless steel, glass and ceramic are preferable to plastic, however this may take some experimenting.


Think about the depth of the bowl. Can kitty reach the water easily? If the bowl is too deep or the water level too low, kitty will have trouble accessing the water.


Consider a drinking fountain.  Cat water fountains aerate the water to keep it fresh. Cats like the sound of running water and the movement that the water fountain makes.  Some kitties will swipe at the water.  

 Cat Water Fountains

How do they work? Do you need one? Are there different types of water fountains?  How do I know what one is the best? and more...

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