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Cat Water Bowl vs. Fountain – The Differences Explained

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

Cat Water Bowl vs Fountain

Cats are notoriously bad at hydrating themselves. Because they don’t drink as often as they should, owners must provide wet foods to boost hydration and invest in a high-quality water dispenser. Not all cats like every style of dispenser, however. So you may need to do some trial and error to find what kind your kitty prefers.

Today, we will look at the two most common dispensers you’ll find in your research: water bowls and water fountains. They both have their benefits of drawbacks, and not all cats will take to both. Read on to find which will work best for your budget, lifestyle, and cat’s unique personality.

Visual Differences

Cat Water Bowl vs Fountain side by side
Image Credit: (L) IRINA ORLOVA, Shutterstock | (R) Lightspruch, Shutterstock

At A Glance

Cat Water Bowl
  • Does not require electricity to operate
  • Affordably priced; no ongoing maintenance costs
  • Uses your tap water
  • Easy to monitor and refill
Cat Water Fountains
  • Requires access to a power outlet or batteries
  • Pricier; requires filter and battery replacements to work as expected
  • Offers filtered water
  • May need to disassemble it for refilling purposes

Overview of Cat Water Bowls

Cat water bowls are exactly what they sound like—a simple bowl that provides a source of water for your pet. There are no fancy bells or whistles, so this style is often much more budget-friendly than its electric fountain counterparts.

The problem with traditional water bowls is that many cats don’t like drinking standing water. To encourage your kitty to drink from his bowl, you must change it regularly to keep it fresh and cool.

grey cat near water bowl
Image Credit: Vera_Chan, Shutterstock

How It Works

Water bowls are refilled using the water in your home. You can fill it from the tap or your 5-gallon water cooler.

Types of Cat Water Bowls

There are two main types of cat water bowls: automatic waterers and bowls.

An automatic waterer uses the power of gravity to refill your cat’s water bowl when it gets low. It’s not unlike the 5-gallon water cooler you have in your office at work. They have a big jug that you fill at the sink and then place upside down on the water bowl.

Water bowls can be made of plastic, ceramic, glass, or stainless steel. They’re literally just a bowl that you fill with water. You can even use an old cereal bowl from your outdated dinnerware set as a water bowl for your kitty.

Your cat’s whiskers are highly sensitive, so it’s best to provide wide-mouthed bowls that his whiskers won’t rub on when he goes down to drink.

Our cats deserve the best when it comes to their food and water dishes. These essential items must be well designed with the specific needs of our felines as top priority. Our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl is a modern, whisker-friendly option that serves as an all-in-one pet dish. The removable stainless steel bowls are shallow for optimum comfort and slide securely into a PP plastic tray with a wide lip tailored to catch any overflow. This bowl is entirely dishwasher-friendly, too, which helps with tidying up (and will keep your cat happy)! 

Hepper NomNom Cat owl - Angled on the floor with white cat (1)

Ease of Cleaning

The standard cat water bowl is simple to clean. They can be tossed in with your sink of dishes or, depending on the material, placed in your dishwasher.

  • Affordably priced
  • Easy to set-up
  • Easy to monitor and refill
  • No ongoing maintenance costs
  • Some cats will not drink standing water
  • Not attractive to some cats
  • Difficult to clean

Overview of Cat Water Fountains

Animals, including humans and cats, are naturally drawn to running water. A cat water fountain will provide your kitty with exactly that. The movement of the water attracts your pet’s attention, encouraging them to drink. If your cat is drawn to the sink when you’re running water to wash your hands or do the dishes, they may prefer a fountain-style water dispenser.

cat drinks fresh water from an electric drinking fountain
Image Credit: Reshetnikov_art, Shutterstock

How It Works

Cat water fountains can be found in simple or elaborate styles, but they all work more or less the same. You’ll place the water in the fountain’s receptacle, and it will then be filtered through tubes to provide a source of fresh, running water for your cat.

Water fountains require ongoing maintenance to work as expected. First, they need electricity of some kind to operate—either through an outlet or with batteries. Then, you’ll need to replace the filters every few months to keep the fountain in working condition and ensure your cat gets the cleanest water.

Types of Cat Water Fountains

Cat water fountains come in three main styles. They can have a faucet-like top that drops water into the main bowl. Your cat can then choose to drink from the bowl or right from the dripping water. Some fountains have a hole in the bowl that gurgles water at the surface. Many fountains can do both, allowing you to offer both styles to your cat to see which he prefers.

Some models allow you to adjust the water flow rate, which is a definite bonus for picky cats. Some prefer a quieter and more gentle water stream, while others won’t even look at the fountain unless they hear it trickling.

grey and white kitten drinking water at the pet drinking fountain
Image Credit: Patcharida, Shutterstock

Ease of Cleaning

Cat water fountains are notoriously difficult to clean, especially if you’ve purchased a bulkier model. They need to be disassembled to be cleaned properly, and because many of them have small parts, the actual cleaning process can be challenging.

Without proper and thorough cleanings, bacteria can build up, especially in the fountain’s filtration system.

  • Cats prefer running water
  • Movement attracts your curious cat’s attention
  • Can provide filtered water
  • Can keep water at a cool temperature
  • More expensive than bowls
  • Must buy replacement filters
  • Requires electricity
  • Can be noisy

What Are Common Water Bowl & Fountain Materials?

Three primary materials are used to construct both water bowls and fountains. The material you choose will depend on your budget and style preference.

BPA-free plastic styles are the most readily available and accessible to cat owners on a budget. They’re typically quite sturdy, though they can harbor a lot of bacteria, especially if they get scratches on the surface.

Ceramic is another material option. They come in various colors and styles to suit almost any home aesthetic. Ceramic is a naturally fragile material, which may not make it appropriate for all households.

Stainless steel is the sturdiest of the three material options and probably the easiest to clean as they’re often dishwasher safe. Stainless steel does not come in different colors or designs, which may make it the least nice to look at of the three.

Will My Cat Play in Their Water Bowl or Fountain?

The short answer is maybe. Some cats will discover that putting their paw in their bowl of standing water creates the movement they desire. Others may look at their water fountain as toys and splash water everywhere.

Some cats may have started dipping a paw in their bowl or fountain innocently enough to remove a piece of hair floating in their water. But upon learning how fun it is to play in the water, they adopt an unhealthy (and messy) habit. Litter-laden paws can contaminate your pet’s water supply, making the water dirty and unappealing.

If you think your kitty is playing in his bowl or fountain out of boredom, provide him with more physical and mental stimulation. Set aside time to play with him daily and ensure there are many opportunities in your home for solo play sessions.

It’s hard for us to say for certain whether your kitty will play in his bowl or fountain, but you can’t not provide him with a water source. We recommend investing in a silicone mat to put your water dispenser on to prevent damage to your surrounding flooring.

cat drinking from water fountain
Image Credit: Creative Cat Studio, Shutterstock


Cats are bad at hydrating themselves, especially those on a kibble diet. Owners must provide water in a style that their cat prefers to encourage them to drink the right amount of water every day. Unfortunately for you, if your kitty is picky, you’ll need to do some trial and error to see if your pet prefers a water bowl or fountain. Once you know which type he’s more likely to drink from, your list of prospective water dispensers will be cut in half.

Featured Image Credit: (L) PicksArt, Shutterstock | (R) Bianca Grueneberg, Shutterstock

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