Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water? What Is Wrong With The Water Bowl?

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Why do cats drink dirty water? Our cat likes drinking dirty water from the fish pond. Is it because cats prefer dirty water?

Well it is dirty to us, but kitty obviously doesn’t think so, because he is often seen lapping from the pond water.

The filter in the pond isn’t turned on 100% of the time 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.

a black and white cat drinking from a fish pond

Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water?

Why do cats drink dirty water? Some or all of these reasons may apply to your cat.

The Location Of The Water Bowl

Is The Water Really Fresh?

The Temperature Of The Water

The Size And Shape Of The Bowl

How Does The Water Taste?

Will The Cat Get Sick From Drinking Dirty Water?

These points combined with the behaviors from the cat’s ancestry all determine the water drinking preferences of the cat.

Location – Where Is The Water Bowl Located?

Often the reason 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 munch 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.

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 becomes stagnant water and can 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 running tap or lick water droplets from plants.

a black cat drinking from a running tap
Yummy! Sparkling Water!

Some cats will drink rainwater but 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.

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.

I was recently cat sitting and the cat loved licking water from the leaves of plants. The morning routine was to water the garden and the cat would then spend at least half an hour licking the water droplets.
Word of Caution Make sure that you know about all the plants in your garden and if any could potentially be poisonous if licked. Just stick to the ones you know are safe.

Does your cat prefer, cool water, warm water or tap temperature water? The majority of cats would probably be getting water straight from the tap into their water bowl. For cats that like cool water, place an ice cube in the water bowl or the cat water fountain bowl. This helps to keep your cat cool in hot weather.

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

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. It is easy to get carried away by all the cute designs for cat bowls but its most important feature is that it is functional for the 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 water, even if the bowl is Michelin star restaurant standard, he make seek other sources.

l, Ceramic Pet Food Bowl for Flat Faced Cats

How Does The Water Taste?

They left the tap running for me. How thoughtful!

Think about the material your cat or pet’s water bowl is made from. Water can take on the taste of plastic. I don’t like having a drink from plastic and my sense of smell is nowhere as evolved as that of a cat.

Hang on! Am I a cat?

Your cat may have a preference for drinking water 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.

Veken Pet Fountain, 84oz/2.5L Automatic Cat Water Fountain Dog Water Dispenser with 3 Replacement Filters & 1 Silicone Mat for Cats, Dogs, Multiple Pets, Blue

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 blue green 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 cats 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 they did in ancestral times, they may become dehydrated.

One of the reasons for feeding cats meat based products in gravy, is to provide for the moisture they need in their diet in addition to their protein needs.

It is widely believed that cats descended from desert animals, hence the thinking that cats 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 they did in ancestral times, they may become dehydrated.

One of the reasons for feeding cats meat based products in gravy, is to provide for the moisture they need in their diet in addition to their protein needs.


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.

Encouraging Healthy Water Drinking Habits in Cats

Water Quality Considerations

Tap water in your area, may contain contaminants or chemicals that can be harmful to cats. Using water filters or providing bottled water in areas with poor water quality can ensure that the water provided to cats is safe and clean.

Importance Of Hydration

Cats rely on proper hydration for various bodily functions. Adequate fresh water intake helps maintain kidney function, aids digestion, promotes healthy skin and coat, and supports overall well-being.

If a cat becomes dehydrated, it can lead to urinary tract problems or other health issues.

Multiple Sources Of Water

Placing multiple water bowls or fountains in different areas of the house helps ensure that cats have easy access to water.

This is particularly important in multi-level homes where cats may not want to travel long distances to find water.

For example, having water bowls on each floor of the house or providing a cat water dispenser in the living area and another in the bedroom can encourage cats to drink more frequently.

Cat Preferences for Moving Water

Using a cat water dispenser that circulates and filters the water can mimic the sound and movement of water that is flowing.

Leaving a faucet slightly dripping can also serve as a source of flowing water for cats to drink from.

Enhancing the taste and appeal of water

Adding a small amount of low-sodium chicken or fish broth to the water dish can make it more enticing for cats.

Provide ice cubes made from diluted tuna water or bone broth.

These small additions can make the water more flavourful and encourage cats to drink an adequate amount.

Traveling with cats

Time for a break soon!

When traveling with cats, it is essential to ensure they have access to a water source. Portable water bowls or collapsible water dishes are convenient options to carry during trips.

Provide frequent water breaks and ensuring access to clean water at rest stops or during layovers.

Medical conditions and increased water intake

Increased water consumption in cats can be a symptom of certain medical conditions.

Diabetes mellitus, a common metabolic disorder in cats, often leads to increased thirst and water intake.

Kidney disease or hyperthyroidism can also cause excessive thirst and urination.

If your cat is consistently drinking large amounts of water, it is important to consult a veterinarian for proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Veterinary examinations, blood tests, and urinalysis can help identify any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the increased water intake.

a cat drinking water from a fishpond

How To Encourage The Cat To Drink From A Bowl

  1. Make sure that the cat’s water dish is thoroughly washed and rinsed daily. It only takes a few seconds.
  2. Cats have a keen sense of smell and a bowl that has not been properly rinsed will still have the scent of detergent and the cat won’t like it.

    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.
  3. Try bowls made from different materials. Stainless steel, glass and ceramic are preferable to plastic. This may take some experimenting.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Do you sometimes feel that you just have a slight understanding of your cat’s behavior and then out of the blue, some other behavior takes its place?

Why do cats stare at the wall? This is somewhat of a mystery although there are theories!

two cats reading - an illustration
I must say I am partial to a cold Perrier but a nicely aerated pond is pretty good too.

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