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Why Do Some Cats Dip Their Paws in the Water Bowl?

Learn why some cats dip their paws in their water bowl.

Have you ever seen a cat walk over to her water bowl, sit down, look at it for a minute, and then dip her paw into it? She might then lick the water off her paw or settle in to drink out of the bowl. There are a few reasons a cat might engage in this behavior.

Whisker Fatigue

Cats' whiskers are thick hairs with more nerve ending at their base than normal fur. They help cats navigate and give them information about their environment. They're super sensitive, and some bowls which are small and deep cause the whiskers to bend back when a cat sticks her face in them. That can be uncomfortable or even painful for some cats and it can cause them to dip their paws in the water to get a drink or pull food out of a bowl to eat it from the ground.

If you think your cat might be suffering from whisker pain because of her bowls, try a shallow, wide alternative like this: Dr. Catsby's Whisker Relief Bowl.

Cats Like to Drink Moving Water

In the wild, cats usually seek out sources of water that are moving rather than stagnant. This is probably an evolutionary development that helps protect cats from being poisoned by bacteria or other substances more common in pools of water.

If your cat dips a paw in her water and then leans over to drink from the bowl, or if she also likes to jump on the counter and try to drink from the faucet, she might be a cat that prefers moving water. A pet water fountain is a good idea for these cats and can encourage increased water consumption, which is healthy for cats that might otherwise tend to be chronically dehydrated. Learn more here: "Should You Get Your Cat a Water Fountain?" Also, take a look at this article for more ways to get a picky cat to drink more: "Tips for Helping Your Cat Drink More."


This occurs most often in multi-cat homes where there is some degree of strife between the cats. In these cases, a cat might not like the idea of lowering her head below the rim of the bowl to drink because she knows it creates an opportunity for another cat to pounce on her.

If you think your cat is drinking water off her paw so she can keep an eye out for other cats, try adding more water stations to your home and make sure they aren't in spots where a cat might feel trapped, like in a corner or up against a wall where the kitty would have her back toward the room while drinking.

If your cat makes a mess around her water bowl, consider placing it on top of a litter mat (a brand new one never used outside a litter box). This can make it easier to keep the area clean and dry.

Water Play Is Fun

Sometimes cats play in their water bowls. This is especially the case for kittens, but any cat might be finding fun in splashing around in the bowl.

If it seems like your cat is dipping her paws in her water for fun, try increasing the amount of time you spend playing with her. Make sure to use interactive toys like wands (but put them away when you're done because they could be dangerous for an unsupervised cat) and vary the routine with throw toys sometimes.

Try adding more scratching posts to your home, too, so your cat can get some of her play energy out by scratching them instead of making a water mess around her bowl.

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