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Why Do Cats Paw Around Their Water Dish?

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Most of us believe that cats hate water as much as they love catching mice, but we also know that cats love to prove us wrong. That’s why there are those cats that don’t simply drink water, they appreciate baths and for some cats, there definitely seems to be a fascination with water, which raises a lot of questions like:

Why do cats paw around their water dish? Scratching at the floor is an instinctive behavior, and some cats will paw around the water dish before drinking to claim it. For certain cats, it’s an excessive behavior caused by discomfort while for others the reflective property of water might be entertaining.

Cats have their own reasons to paw and scratch around their water dish and if you want to know more then keep on reading!

Why Do Cats Paw Around Their Water Dish?

Some feline behaviors leave us entertained, others leave us concerned, and when it comes to how cats react to water and their water bowls it can simply be baffling. So, let’s untangle this mystery once and for all!

Reason 1: Water Is Entertaining

Most cats love anything shiny and wiggly, that they can poke, paw and scratch at. Since water is reflective it can be a source of entertainment. Stainless steel dishes can also reflect shine on the floor or the wall if that’s where the dish is placed nearby.

Similarly, glass water bowls can reflect the water around them which can trigger your cat’s curiosity as they try to catch the light around it. Kittens are especially curious and the whole world around them can turn into a plaything, including their water bowls.

A cat that has never drunk water from a water dish might cautiously paw around it and into the water bowl itself before realizing that it’s nothing to be afraid of. By pawing at the water, they can create ripples that will cast reflections around it which can become a habit for a kitty that wants to be entertained when bored.

Just look at this messy kitty and how they move their water bowl while also trying to drink it!

While we may think that cats avoid water, there are those who enjoy the interaction!

Reason 2: That’s How Your Cat Drinks

Whenever I end up talking about my cats with other cat people, we realize that each of our feline companions is different and they have their own unique habits. Both my cats for example have two different ways of drinking water, one of them is happy enough with his water bowl, while the other one waits for me to turn on the tap so he can drink moving water.

Some cats will simply sit by their water bowl either waiting to see that the coast is clear so they can drink in peace, or because they want the water changed. Similarly, a cat that scratches or paws around his water dish might do it as his own drinking ritual.

It could also be a sight thing. Kerry Ketring, a veterinarian states that “cats lack the muscles necessary to change the shape of their eye lenses, they can’t see things clearly quite as close as humans can and need to be further away.”

Your kitty might have trouble focusing on certain objects so pawing at them helps them determine how far away they are. While the evidence might be anecdotal some cats may have a bit of trouble identifying the level of the water in their water bowls before they start drinking, so cautiously pawing around the bowl and into it helps them figure this out.

Then again cats also paw around their food as a sign of pleasure, so they might also be kneading the floor before and after drinking. You might’ve noticed your cat exhibiting this behavior not only around their food bowl but also on other surfaces, like blankets, and even you.

Rachel Barrack, a Veterinarian of Animal Acupuncture, says that “kittens knead on their mothers while nursing,” and she also adds that “many cats carry this behavior into adulthood and may knead their owners, other furry siblings or bedding.”

So, basically, your cat is a big baby!

Reason 3: Whisker Discomfort

While scratching and pawing at things can be a playful behavior or a display of happiness, it could also indicate stress caused by discomfort.

The 24 in total whiskers on a cat’s face are there to help guide them through their environment. The whiskers on either side of the cat’s nose are specifically named mystacial whiskers. The ends of these are equipped with proprioceptors (sensory organs) which help the animal perceive the width of an object, namely, the water bowl.

If your cat’s water dish is too narrow it can lead to “whisker fatigue or stress” because of the pressure being put on, pushing back, or squeezing the vibrissae together. This may cause your cat to paw around and inside the water bowl in an attempt to scoop up water, rather than stick its whiskers into the small bowl.

Reason 4: It’s A Compulsive Behavior

Cats can also express their dislike for things by burying them and this could easily turn into compulsive behavior. You might notice your kitty excessively scratching at the sides of their litter box, they could do it around their food bowl as well as their water.

Basically, your kitty might have an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). According to veterinarians, “a cat will engage in repetitive, exaggerated behaviors that are seemingly without purpose. For example, grooming to the extent that fur is rubbed off; compulsive pacing; repetitive vocalizations; and eating, sucking, or chewing on fabric. “

So, it’s not unlikely that they’ll also paw around their water dish repetitively before or after drinking because it’s a sign of OCD. This might also be caused by stress that usually happens because of changes in a cat’s surroundings. Perhaps your kitty doesn’t like the taste of the water so it’s their way of expressing discontent.

That’s why staying on top of a cat’s water change is important so it’s fresh and clean. I use filtered water and make sure that the bowl is cleaned regularly and the water changed as often as possible. I also make sure that they also eat wet food along with dry kibble so they stay hydrated through their food and water.

To understand that pawing around their water bowl is stress-induced is keeping an eye on your cat’s overall behavior. Is it something typical, a kitten habit or is it something new and unusual?

Reason 5: It’s A Territorial Instinct

Our cats might be the most loving creatures, but they also find it difficult to share. One of the things cats will use is their paws in order to claim their territory, thanks to the scent glands located there. This way they deposit their odor to communicate to other cats their ownership over an object or even their human.

If your kitty is sharing his house with multiple cats, or their water dish is placed next to a window where outdoor cats mark their territory then it’s natural for them to feel threatened. By scratching the floor around the water dish, they basically claim that area and let the other cat know not to drink from there.

If you feel that one of your feline companions is feeling insecure about the other cats in the house, it’s best that you give them more options from where they can drink water. You might even choose a quieter spot where no one will be passing through while they quench their thirst.

Is My Cat Trying To Bury Their Water Bowl?

Usually, cats scratch things to either mark them or to cover their waste in the litter box. Some cats might exhibit this kind of behavior with their water if they feel that it’s dirty, it tastes, or smells strange.

Some cats can be finicky about how clean things are, they might eliminate outside of the litter box or pee on your bathroom rug simply because they think it’s dirty. There are those cats that won’t eat their food if they don’t like it and will wait next to their food bowl, in protest, until you present them with a better alternative.

The location of the water bowl is also crucial. Most cats will only be happy when their water is away from possible food sources and their litter boxes. If you keep these three things in the same room or close to one another then scratching around the water might be because they associate the water bowl with their litter box.

That’s why keeping your cat’s necessities in their rightful place meaning away from each other, is crucial for their happiness. I mean no kitty would leave their prey next to a water source possibly because they don’t want to risk contaminating it.

Should I Be Worried If My Cat Paws Around In Their Water Bowl?

Finding your cat pawing around the water bowl isn’t a behavior that should concern you unless it becomes obsessive or there are other signs that tell you that your kitty isn’t well physically or mentally. For example, cats that are experiencing stress will usually show among other things symptoms like:

  • Eating less than normal
  • Meowing and yowling more often
  • Avoiding human company and interactive games
  • Show sudden aggression
  • Or be in a lethargic state

It’s possible that if your kitty feels discomfort while drinking because of whisker fatigue, they might paw around their water dish instead of actually drinking. That’s why it’s important that you pay attention to how much water your cat consumes because it could cause dehydration, or it could be a sign of some other condition like Chronic Kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism.

If on the other hand, it’s an old habit that they’ve developed from their kittenhood, and you’ve noticed that your furry overlord loves expressing themselves through kneading then most likely it’s part of their love language. They might paw at the floor as you place the bowl down and they won’t stop kneading the ground until you leave them alone so they can drink without your loving attention.

How Can I Stop My Cat Pawing Around His Water Bowl?

While scratching around their water dish isn’t necessarily a concerning behavior, if you fear that this isn’t something healthy then you need to take action. Take some time to observe your kitty and their drinking habits. When do they paw at the water bowl the most? Are they drinking their water and do they look stressed? If you’re not sure how to answer then there’s a list of things you could do.

You can try switching to filtered water if you haven’t already. Make sure the bowl is away from food sources, their litter box, and busy areas like the hallway. If you have more than one cat then you’ll definitely need more than one water dish. Even if you have one cat most of them prefer multiple water locations.

A young cat or a kitten might be pawing at the water bowl as a way to explore the world and play, and a way to redirect this playful behavior is by investing more time into interactive games with your cat.

If there’s a chance your kitty experiences whisker fatigue, then I’d suggest you looked up specialized bowls that will give them relief. In our list of top whisker fatigue bowls on the market, a great option is the Felli Pet stainless steel bowl that is available on Amazon.

The reason stainless steel is a great option is that it’s easy to clean, it resists scratches, and will last for years to come. Worth mentioning is the fact that it’s placed on a mat that’s the same size as the bowl which will keep it in place, safe from your cat’s possible scratching, moving the bowl around, and spilling the water.

You can also make water drinking entertaining and buy a water fountain instead. With a water fountain, you can encourage your kitty to drink more water instead of simply pawing around it. Just take a look at this cute Cat water fountain on Amazon!

If you’ve done all you can and your kitty is still pawing around his water bowl, then I’d suggest that you take them to the vet. Especially when it comes to older cats, asking the help of a professional can help you solve this mystery and understand the root of this behavior. It might be a physical or mental condition that needs immediate treatment, and sometimes you might simply need the reassurance that in your cat’s case this behavior isn’t bad or unhealthy.

Finally, you might have discovered that your cat is scratching and pawing around the water dish by the marks their nails have left on the carpet or wood. If that’s the case then try using a mat around that area to protect it. Whether you’ve noticed the damage or you simply want to redirect this behavior then do not use punishment as your teaching method. Cat’s only understand reward-based training so treats and toys are the way to go, but that’s after you’ve taken your kitty to the vet!

Closing Thoughts

Our cats can be complicated, so when it comes to pawing around their water dish, the answer may not always be clear-cut.

Generally, this behavior is nothing to be alarmed about and some pet parents even find it adorable. Unless your kitty is sick, or this behavior is excessive in which case a vet appointment is a must, then you might want to accept it as part of their unique feline language.

What about your cat, do they enjoy pawing around their water dish before or after drinking?

Read Next:

When Do Kittens Start Drinking Water?

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