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Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water? 7 Possible Reasons

Gregory Iacono

By Gregory Iacono

cat drinking water in the puddle

If you’ve had a cat or multiple felines long enough, you know they often do unusual things. For example, some cats stick their paws in their water bowls or knock things off your kitchen counter for no obvious reason. One thing cats do is not only odd but also risky: drinking dirty water.

Why would your cat drink dirty water, and what’s the risk? There are several reasons for this unusual behavior, including a water bowl that doesn’t meet their standards. If you’re curious to learn why your cat sometimes drinks dirty water and tips on stopping this risky water drinking, keep reading below!


Top 7 Reasons Cats Drink Dirty Water

Cats occasionally drink dirty water and do it for several interesting reasons. We’ve listed those reasons below with an explanation for each.

cat drinking water
Photo Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

1. Cats Instinctively Drink from Various Water Sources

It was normal for cats to drink from various water sources for millennia, which changed regularly based on several factors. Rainy and dry seasons, the presence of predators, and the availability of water sources affected where they could and would drink.

It’s also worth noting that cats, even outdoor house cats, have a large territory. A study at Ohio State University found that the average cat can wander up to 20 blocks from home.1 That’s over a mile, which is impressive when you consider how small cats are. As they wander, your cat will drink when from whichever source they can find, even if it might be “dirty” water.

2. Cats Are Finicky About Their Water Bowls

Cats can be finicky about their water bowls. A cat’s whiskers are very sensitive, and if their bowl is too small, they won’t want to use it because it’s uncomfortable. They also won’t use it if the bowl is too deep because they lose their peripheral vision.

For cats, being unable to see what’s around is scary because they could be attacked while drinking. For these reasons, your cat might ignore their bowl and drink from another dirtier water source.

Another reason for your cat to avoid their water bowl might be the soap or detergent you’re using to clean it, especially if it leaves a residue they can see, smell, or taste. If so, dirty water might seem far more palatable to your cat because it smells or tastes “better.”

3. Your Cat Wants to Enjoy More Natural Water

The water in your cat’s bowl might be clean, but it might also have an odd taste or smell depending on where you live and your water source. Indeed, the water from many municipal water sources is highly chlorinated to kill bacteria, and cats can detect the chemical easily with their sensitive sense of smell.

Your cat might choose another dirtier water source where the smell and taste are more to their liking. That could be outside or in your bathroom sink.

cat drinking tap water
Photo Credit: kropekk_pl, Pixabay

4. Your Cat’s Bowl Is in a Position They Don’t Like

We mentioned how cats are picky about their water bowls, but they’re also finicky about where you place the bowl. If, for example, their bowl is in a corner and they have to turn their back to the room, most cats won’t drink because it opens them up to attack. If your cat is thirsty, but their bowl isn’t where they feel safe drinking, a dirtier water source will likely be their next choice.

5. Cats Like Running Water Better than Water That’s Standing Still

There are two reasons cats like running water better than the still water sitting in their bowls. First, they can see running water easier, which is helpful since cats are farsighted. Second, instinctively, cats know that running water is “cleaner” than sitting water (even if it might not be). Thousands of years in the wild have taught cats that standing water can often be putrefied and filled with bacteria that can make them sick.

These two interesting feline situations are why many cat owners purchase cat water fountains. The fountains make your cat’s water easier to see and let them know it’s “clean.”

6. Water in Your Cat’s Bowl Can Become Fouled by Hair, Dirt, and Detritus

It can become quite dirty depending on how often you change the water in your cat’s bowl. This is especially true if you have multiple cats in your home. If their water is dirty, your cat might seek out another source, even if that other source appears (at least to you) to be even dirtier. It’s also why, if you do have more than one cat, having multiple water bowls is essential.

Cat drinking from ceramic bowl
Photo Credit: Pattysan, Shutterstock

7. The Water Temperature Needs to Be Just Right for Your Cat

If the water is too warm, you can expect that your cat will run far away and look for cooler water. Many cat parents have noticed that if they put an ice cube or two in their cat’s water bowl, they drink more, especially during hot weather.

hepper-single-cat-paw-divider-e1614923017121What Can You Do to Stop Your Cat From Drinking Dirty Water

You can do a few things to stop your cat from drinking dirty water or from water sources other than their bowl.

Get a Cat Water Fountain

This device keeps the water flowing and makes it easier for your kitty to see the water they’re drinking.

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

Clean Your Cat’s Bowl With Plain, Unscented Soap and Water

This will prevent any scents or aromas your cat doesn’t like.

Give Your Cat Purified or Filtered Water

This will remove a chlorine or chemical smell that might be a turn-off to your cat.

Use a Shallow, Wide Water Bowl

A wide bowl will be more comfortable for your cat’s whiskers, while a shallow bowl won’t block their peripheral vision.\

cat drinking from a bowl of red bowl
Image Credit: fantom_rd, Shutterstock

Change Your Cat’S Water Frequently

Depending on where you live and how many cats you have, you might need to change their water two or three times a day.

Change Your Cat’s Water Bowl

If your cat has a plastic water bowl, try changing it to stainless steel or ceramic. This small change could have a significant impact on their drinking habits.

Provide Multiple Water Bowls if You Have Multiple Cats

Cats aren’t big on sharing. More water bowls will help them get along, drink more, and avoid dirty water sources.

grey cat near water bowl
Image Credit: Vera_Chan, Shutterstock


Final Thoughts

Water is essential for all life, and cats need as much of it as they can drink. However, cats are finicky about water, including where it comes from, its smell, taste, and whether it’s standing or moving. If something about the water in their bowl isn’t to their liking, you can bet your cat will look for another source, even if it is “dirtier” than the water in their bowl.

We hope the information provided in this article has shed light on this unusual feline behavior. With something as essential to your cat’s life as water, anything you can do to encourage them to drink more is invaluable.

Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

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