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Home > Cats > Why Does My Cat Paw at Their Water Bowl? 6 Reasons & FAQ

Why Does My Cat Paw at Their Water Bowl? 6 Reasons & FAQ

maine coon cat pawing its water bowl

If you’ve ever owned a cat, you may have noticed them fishing around in their water bowl. I’ve owned several cats over the years, and all of them have done this, so it isn’t an odd behavior in the least.

However, for the most part, why cats paw at their water bowls is still a mystery. We don’t know exactly why cats do this, largely because we can’t ask them. Figuring out the “why” of behaviors is extremely challenging for scientists.

Still, we have a few educated guesses. Here is a list of probable reasons why your cat may be deliberately wetting their paw in their water bowl.


The 6 Reasons Why Cats Paw at Their Water Bowl

1. The Water is Too Deep

Cats’ whiskers are extremely sensitive. If the water is too deep inside the cup or bowl, they may not want to reach their head all the way down. It may make their whiskers uncomfortable. Cats can also suffer from whisker fatigue, which makes them particularly stressed about what their whiskers touch.

Some cats may not drink out of deep bowls at all. Others may go through phases when they don’t want to reach their head deeply into bowls.

In an attempt to reach the water without upsetting their whiskers, cats may try to “scoop” up the water with their paw. Of course, this typically doesn’t work super well, but many cats find it preferable to rubbing their whiskers inside the bowl.

blue tabby maine coon cat playing with water in metal bowl
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

2. The Cat is Stressed

Anxious, stressed cats may not want to place their head inside the bowl and obstruct their view. This may be especially the case if around the water bowl is a stressful location (which can occur if the cat has previously been injured or scared there).

Not sticking their head into the bowl allows them to maintain their upright position. Pawing at the water allows them to still drink from it, though. While it may not be very efficient, it does allow them to drink without obscuring their vision.

3. Moving Water is Preferred

Instinctually, many cats prefer moving water. In the wild, moving water is typically cleaner than still water, so it makes sense why cats would prefer it instinctually. However, cats may not have access to moving water inside our homes.

Still, cats don’t particularly care why the water is moving. Therefore, they may make the water move by stirring it with their paw, which makes it “moving” and, therefore, “fresher.”

If you think your cat is making their water move for this reason, consider investing in a fountain or something similar that makes the water move.

cat drinking from water bowl
Image Credit: Vershinin89, Shutterstock

4. The Cat is “Gauging” the Water Depth

Occasionally, cats may have a hard time gauging water levels. They may not know if there even is water in the bowl. Therefore, they may dip their paw in to see where it is at. Cats have great vision, but the color or shape of the bowl can still make it hard for them to tell exactly where the water line is.

If your cat only does this in low-light conditions or with a particular bowl, this may be the reason. Luckily, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with this behavior. It’s just one way your cat is adapting to their environment.

5. The Water Tastes Bad

If the water tastes bad, the cat may try to fix it by swirling it around with their paw. This behavior has the same reasoning as “moving water = clean water.” However, your cat may only try to clean the water when they think it is dirty, not all the time.

Of course, bad-tasting water can occur for all sorts of reasons. If you don’t change it often enough, it can get grimy and taste bad. Similarly, if the bowl is cleaned improperly or not rinsed well, the same thing can happen.

white Persian cat drinking from water bowl
Image Credit: Punyaphat Larpsomboon, Shutterstock

6. Your Cat is Being a Cat!

Cats are very curious and playful. To be honest, cats will do things that are strange seemingly just because they can! They may simply want to see what happens when they stir the water. Or, they may just be very bored. They’re just “catting,” in other words.

If your cat does this often, it may be a sign that they like to play with water. Sometimes, it may simply be impossible to know why your cat is doing something. They may just do it!



How much water does my cat need to drink per day?

The amount of water your cat needs to drink per day depends on several factors, such as its size, age, diet, activity level, and health. A general rule of thumb is that cats need about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day.

However, this may vary depending on the individual cat and its environment. You can check if your cat is well-hydrated by gently pinching the skin on the back of its neck. If the skin snaps back quickly, your cat is hydrated. If the skin stays up or goes down slowly, your cat may be dehydrated and need more water.

Cat drinking from ceramic bowl
Image Credit: Pattysan, Shutterstock

What are the signs of dehydration in cats?

Dehydration is a fairly serious health condition that requires medical attention. While dehydration can be cured by giving your cat water, it is usually caused by an underlying condition that needs treatment. Here are some signs that your cat is dehydrated:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth or nose
  • Sunken eyes
  • Decreased urine output or dark-colored urine
  • Constipation or hard stools
  • Increased heart rate or breathing rate

How do I encourage my cat to drink more water?

While it may seem strange, cats are very bad drinkers. In the wild, they would get much of their moisture needs from their prey, so they just aren’t designed with the same thirst needs that we have. Therefore, you may need to encourage your cat to drink water, especially if they cannot eat wet food for one reason or another.

Here are some ways to encourage your cat to drink:

  • Provide several water bowls around the house
  • Add splashes of tuna juice or ice cubes
  • Offer wet food or treats
  • Place the water bowl by itself, away from the food bowl and litter box
  • Have several different types of water bowls and fountains



Cats may dip their paw into their water for a range of reasons. Honestly, we don’t always know why a particular cat may dip their paw into their water. Sometimes, it may be because they want it “moving” or because they need help gauging where the water is. Other times, they may do it just because they want to!

Luckily, this behavior is very rarely troublesome or an indication of an underlying health problem.

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Featured Image Credit: Pickless, Shutterstock

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