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How Do Cats Drink Water? The Differences to Humans and Dogs

Jordyn Alger

By Jordyn Alger

cat drinking water outside

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Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

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Cats are peculiar creatures. While we may find some of their behavior bizarre, denying that their methods seem to work for them is impossible. For instance, if you’ve ever studied how your cat drinks, you may wonder how they actually get the water into their mouth. Is lapping at it with their tongue really enough? In this article, we’ll examine how cats drink and compare their methods to dogs and humans.

Comparing How Cats Drink Water to Other Animals

Cats don’t sip, nor do they guzzle mouthfuls of water. Instead, they lap at it with their tongue. If you have ever tried to lap at a liquid with your tongue, you know how difficult it is to get a satisfactory amount in your mouth. So how do our cats manage it?

The truth is that our cats are masters of physics. When your cat dips their tongue into the water, they aren’t just getting a little moisture; instead, they use rapid tongue movements and the natural surface adhesion of water to draw a column of water up from their bowl. They then use their mouth to bite off a section of the water column. They can swallow that water and then repeat the entire process with another flick of their tongue. The precision of this process demands that your cat make no mistakes in their innate calculations.

Why do cats drink this way? It’s hard to say. You would be right to think that this method of drinking seems elaborate and overly complicated, but our cats don’t seem to think so. Whatever the reasoning, it’s evident that this method works for them.

cat drinking water
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

How Dogs Drink Water

On the surface, it may seem that cats and dogs drink similarly, as they both lap at the water with their tongues. However, the reality is that they approach drinking very differently. When dogs touch the water with their tongues, they scoop it like a ladle. Then, they pull the water into their mouths and swallow. While cats drink small droplets at a time, dogs can guzzle whole mouthfuls.

How Humans Drink Water

The difference between how cats and humans drink water is very evident. Humans don’t lap water from a cup (although we technically could if we chose to), but instead, we tip the glass to swallow mouthfuls of water at a time. Compared to cats, our tongues play a minimal role in drinking.

Evolutionary Reasons for Drinking Less Water

Domestic cats evolved from desert-dwelling wild cats with little access to fresh water. Because the wild cats had longer medullary nephrons, their urine was more concentrated, and they could survive in dry, remote areas. They also relied on their prey, which contained up to 60% moisture, to stay hydrated and didn’t need to sip fresh water as often. This trait still exists in domestic cats, but feral cats are more likely to drink less and hunt more than well-cared-for house cats.

Cats have trouble seeing objects close up, which makes it more challenging for them to see the water’s surface in the cat bowl. Healthy cats can still drink water without issues, but they may drink less when their vision deteriorates as they age because it’s more difficult. Felines are also picky about the odor and cleanliness of the water, which is why it’s vital to refresh your cat’s water dish at least once a day. Senior cats and those with health conditions should be monitored closely to ensure they stay hydrated.

Why Do Cats Paw at Their Water Bowls?

Have you ever noticed your cat pawing at their water bowl? Believe it or not, there are several reasons why they may be doing that.

One common reason that your cat may paw at their water bowl is to play. Cats can be entertained by even the strangest things, including the reflections in their water bowl. If you want a quick, cheap way to entertain your cat, drop an ice cube into the water dish!

Some cats tap their water because they want to see it move. A cat’s instincts tell them that running water is cleaner, fresher, and safer than still water. So, your cat may paw at the water to see it move and feel better about drinking it.

Your cat also may paw at the water bowl because they don’t like it. They may be unhappy with the cleanliness or freshness of the water, or the narrowness of the bowl itself.

Do Cats Hate Water?

Because they seem to drink less water than dogs, many believe felines hate water. But does this belief have any validity to it? The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”

Cats enjoy interacting with water, as evidenced by their habit of pawing at their water dishes. However, few cats like to be doused in water. If you’ve ever attempted to bathe your cat, you’ve likely experienced first-hand just how staunchly opposed your cat is to being drenched.

This is because, in the first scenario, your cat is in charge of how they interact with the water. When they drink or paw at the water, they’re actively choosing to do so, so they find it enjoyable. On the other hand, when they are unwillingly placed in a bathtub, they may be startled due to the loss of control.

Ultimately, a cat’s fear of water often boils down to control. Cats who can be in control of their interactions with water are more likely to find the experience pleasant. For example, if you’ve seen videos of cats happily swimming in the water, it is likely because getting in the water was their choice in the first place.

Final Thoughts

The way that our cats drink water may be strange to us, but it works well enough for them. Although they lap at the water like dogs, the way that they bring water into their mouth varies greatly. The relationship between cats and water is an interesting one, to say the least, and cats seem to find entertainment in it while still shying away from it. However, every cat is different. Given the chance, you may discover that your cat loves to swim as long as they’re in charge of when that happens.

Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

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