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4 Reasons Your Cat Tips Over The Water Bowl

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Why do cats like to tip over water? I'm puzzled by why my cat always wants to flip over something containing water -- whether it's my cup or his bowl. I don't know where to keep the bowl anymore since it always ends with me having a wet floor when I get home. Why do they do this and how can I make him stop?
There are several reasons why a cat may tip over the water bowl and I know many cat parents probably share in your frustration when it comes to finding more water on the floor than in the bowl. Here are four typical reasons for the soggy behavior:
  1. Play Behavior. For many cats, the water in the bowl creates an irresistible game. Water moves with the slightest paw touch and cats soon learn that the more they splash, the more the water moves. Cats who are permitted to drink from the water faucet may also develop this play behavior because they’re expecting the water to move. Cats who don’t receive enough stimulation and environmental enrichment (i.e., they’re bored!) may also seek water splashing as an opportunity for play.
  1. Paw Dippers. Cats who don’t like to put their faces in the water bowl may dip their paws in the bowl and then lick the water off their fur. If the water level is inconsistent – meaning it’s filled to brim one day and then it’s almost empty on another day – the cat may also prefer to paw dip. That behavior can become a habit and then morph into enthusiastic play behavior.
  1. Reflections. Cats may see their reflection or some sparkle of light coming off the water’s surface and they bat at it, which, depending on how enthusiastic they are, can result in spilled water or an overturned bowl.
  1. Safety. If a cat doesn’t want to stick his head in the water bowl because it limits his vision or he feels unsafe or uncomfortable, he may spill the water out of the bowl so he can lick the liquid from the floor. This could happen if the bowl is too deep, too small, too big or just located in an unappealing place.
Changing the Behavior
Re-evaluate the type of bowl you’re using. If it’s a lightweight one, invest in a heavy ceramic or glass bowl that kitty can’t knock over. Also look at its size and type to make sure it’s appropriate for your cat. Short-nosed breeds such as Persians don’t want to squish their noses into a narrow bowl. To protect your floor, put a pet placemat with raised edges under the bowl. These placemats are found in your local pet product store.
If you think the behavior is play related, provide more appealing opportunities for stimulation and environmental enrichment. Things such as puzzle feeders often work great to give the cat something to do when home alone all day. Engage in daily interactive play sessions with kitty so he learns that appropriate toys offer a more enriching reward.
If your cat has been a faucet drinker or you think he is just simply enticed by water play, consider getting a pet fountain. This way he can paw at the water as it moves without having to knock a bowl over. Even with the fountain though, be sure to increase the environmental enrichment and play with your cat on a regular basis.

Pam Johnson-Bennett bio: Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified cat behavior consultant and the best-selling author of seven books on cat behavior and training, including her most recent release, the updated and expanded Think Like a Cat (Penguin Books). She is a former board of directors member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is the founder/former longtime chair of their cat division. She was a member of the American Humane Association’s Advisory Board and is on the Advisory Board of Tree House Humane Society. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, LLC, a private veterinarian-referred behavior practice in Nashville, TN.
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