Facts about the animal kingdom

My Cat Drinks Water With Their Paw

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: February 28, 2024
My Cat Drinks Water With Their Paw

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Each cat has their own individual behaviors and idiosyncrasies. While we might think drinking water with their paw is unique to our cat, it is actually a fairly common behavior. Not all cats will do it all the time, but some will almost exclusively only drink with their paw. There are several perfectly logical reasons why cats do this ranging from a natural instinctual behavior to a symptom of certain health problems. Before we explain these further, we should stress in the vast majority of these cases there is no cause for concern.

In this AnimalWised article, we look at my cat drinks water with their paw. We understand why this movement can help them, as well as what to do in each case.

You may also be interested in: My Cat Only Drinks Water From the Faucet
  1. Why do cats dip their paw in water?
  2. Reasons why cats drink water with their paws
  3. Should I prevent my cat from drinking water with their paw?

Why do cats dip their paw in water?

The act of dipping a paw into water is an instinctive one for cats. The wild ancestors of domestic cats help us to understand the reasons they drink water from their paws. Although cats are predators, they are not necessarily the apex predator in a given ecosystem and can have other animals predate on them. This is why they have to be careful with where they go, eat or drink, just in a case an unpleasant surprise is lurking.

Since some predators might be hiding under the water, dipping their paw to disturb the surface can let them know if anything is lurking. Wild cats will also often dip their paw in a body of water to test it. Since water can become stagnant or be contaminated by dead animal carcasses, drinking a little lets them know it is potable. If your domestic cat dips their paw in water before they drink, they could simply be testing it.

There is another reason why cats dip their paws in water. Although they can see movement well, a cat's vision is limited when it comes to details. Their ability to see an animal moving means they can be adept hunters. However, they need to know their environment, something they cannot always do with sight alone. This is especially the case with older or senior cats.

By dipping their paw in water, cats can test its depth and consistency. This helps them to avoid getting wet, something they most often hate. If we see our cat do this more often, especially as they age, we should take them to a veterinarian to test their eyesight as it is possible they may be suffering from an ocular disease. If we see our cat has a cloudy eye, this is likely to be the case.

Reasons why cats drink water with their paws

Although the practice of drinking water with their paws is related to instinctual behavior, there are other reasons for this behavior. Some are simply practical solutions to their needs, others may be related to their well-being. Generally, the main causes of cats drinking with their paw include:

Water dish is too small

If your cat regularly drinks water from their paw, we should take a look at their water dish or bowl. A cat has whiskers which have various functions, one of them to aid in spatial awareness. If the cat's water bowl is too small. it can press against their whiskers which makes them feel uncomfortable. To avoid this unpleasant sensation, they may dip their paw in the water to drink.

We can see this when the cat drinks from other vessels. It is not uncommon for a cat to drink from our own water glasses if we leave them unaccompanied. Some cats will shove their face right in, but others will use their paw if they are more cautious. Change their bowl to a wider one if we think this may be the reason they drink from their paw.

Their water is unpalatable

Although some cats will drink from a bowl by using a rough tongue to lap up the water. In general, however, most prefer fresh water or even water in movement. This is because, in the wild, stagnant water can be dangerous. If they drink from a moving stream, it is more likely to be better for them. This may also be why your cat drinks water from your glass or even from the faucet since the water you drink may be more palatable to them.

It is fun

Another reason which explains why a cat drinks from their paw is simply because they enjoy it. A cat will look at anything in their environment and see if they can derive some entertainment from it. This includes playing with water. While this is usually not a problem, it could be a symptom of an issue if they do not have enough environmental enrichment, meaning you may need to provide more distractions such as toys or scratchers.

They feel unsafe or stressed

If your cat seems stressed, nervous or anxious, it is possible you will see them drink water with their paw more often. Observe your cat and see if they look around them while drinking from their paw. If something has happened in their home life, such as the presence of a new cat or even a move to a new home, it can make them feel insecure. They may drink from their paw so they can be more attentive to what is around them.

Similarly, if their water bowl is placed in a busy part of the house, it is possible they are particularly stressed when drinking. Even putting their bowl too close to their litter bowl can cause them stress.

They are sick

Finally, it should be noted that it is possible for the cat to drink water with its paw because they suffer from some health problem. These may be diseases which make it difficult or impossible for them to stand properly and drinking with their paw helps them to remain stabilized. In these cases, we need to visit the veterinarian to rule out any physiological problems.

My Cat Drinks Water With Their Paw - Reasons why cats drink water with their paws

Should I prevent my cat from drinking water with their paw?

In many cases, the cat will not need to stop drinking water with their paw. It is something they enjoy and it doesn't necessarily cause any harm. Also, the cat often licks their paws dry afterwards.

However, there are instances when it can become a problem. If the reason they drink with their paw is due to stress or ill-health, then we need to take them to a veterinarian. However, the issue may be a little more practical. When drinking water with their paw, it is often the case that the floor around it will become wet. They may even leave little paw prints all over the house.

As far as possible, we will need to understand their behavior and only intervene if their well-being is threatened. It is also possible this behavior highlights there is something lacking in their lives and provides us the opportunity to make improvements.

Water fountain for cats

Remember that drinking water from a dish can be a little boring for cats, especially if they are particular. Not only do cats want to drink fresh water, they may also want to have fun and be cognitively stimulated when they drink. This is especially the case with some cat brees which enjoy water more than others.

For this reason, buying a water fountain for cats can be a good idea. It will provide them with fresh moving water which engages them more. They also will be more entertained and it can improve their general well-being. Water fountains for cats will also help to avoid dehydration as they often encourage the cat to drink more water.

Bowl of the right size and height

If the problem for your cat is that they have a bowl which is too small or low, the solution may simply be to get a larger bowl and place it at a more suitable height. This doesn't mean that all cat bowls should be raised, but it might be that it is best for your individual cat. This is particularly the case for cats with mobility issues.

Enriched and calm environment

Finally, if your cat drinks water with their paw, it might be because they feel stressed, insecure or nervous. There are many reasons why a cat is stressed, but a lack of environmental enrichment is an important one. The solution may be quite simple. The cat might find the placement of the water bowl to be too stressful, if there is a lot of foot traffic or if there is a lot of noise, we should move them somewhere that is quieter.

If the bowl is already somewhere calm and away from their litter box, it is possible there are other reasons for being stressed. In these cases, you will need to find the underlying cause and address it. You may need help from a veterinarian or ethologist. We can shed some light with our article on how to calm down a stressed cat.

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Drinks Water With Their Paw, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Bueno, R. A. (2018). Feline Ethology: Basic Guide to Cat Behavior. Amazing books.

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My Cat Drinks Water With Their Paw