Here’s the scenario: you’re about to change your cat’s water and instead of a clear bowl of water you find a little cat toy that your feline friend has ruthlessly decided to drown in their water bowl!
Or maybe it’s a little piece of paper that you cat picked up around the house.
Whatever it is…why do cats put things in their water bowl?
It’s most likely a result of your cat’s natural instincts which would drive them to bring fresh prey to the safety of their nest or in this case their water bowl. There’s also a good chance that some cats are just doing for fun!
Of course, the reason will be a little different for each cat. So let’s look at a little closer at why your cat might decide to drop their toys and other items into their water bowl!
I’ve tried to include every possible theory that’s out there and I’ve listed them in the order that I think are the most likely.
What Kind of Things Do Cats Put In Their Water Bowls?
During my time working in one of the largest shelters in the US, it was very common to see cats put their ping pong balls, towels, or other food bowls into their water bowls! After hundreds of cats, it became very clear that was a very common cat behavior even if I never saw the behavior in my own cat, Debbie.
So what else do cats put in their water bowls?
After scouring the internet for every cat-related forum I could find and asking my cat-owning friends, toys are the clear winner. But specifically small mouse toys with fabric or fur. Other people frequently finding twisty ties, small pieces of (formerly) crinkly paper and even small bits of food.
However, the most commonly selected item for water warehousing was the cat toy!
Reason 1: You’re Cat Is Hiding Their Prey
One of the most common theories is that your cat’s wild instincts are kicking in and they feel the drive to hide their freshly caught prey (AKA that toy mouse you bought them) in a safe place. While they likely don’t have a traditional nest, your cat likely considers their feeding area as a major part of their territory and a safe place to keep their prey.
While this idea seems the most obvious with toys that mimic traditional feline prey, like a toy mouse, I think it also makes sense when you consider that just about everything is a toy to your cat.
We all know that our cat doesn’t really believe that the furry stuffed mouse is a real mouse. And if they are fooled for a second they learn pretty quickly when they take a chomp. So there’s no reason why they wouldn’t put that little ball of paper you throw for them in the same category as any other prey and make sure it’s safe in their nest.
This kind of hiding behavior is what kept your cat safe for thousands of years and moving small prey to a safe location is a common behavior across many species.
I’ve also heard from many cat owners who will explain that their cats will “put away” their toys when they’re done playing with them. Usually, they’re placing their toys in a cat tree, cat bed, or some other space that’s very much their own.
Washing Off The Scent?
Along the same lines, I’ve spoken with some folks who believe that cats are specifically trying to hide the scent of their freshly caught prey by plunging it in the water bowl. While this does make some sense, I couldn’t find any official support for this argument or examples of feral cats or other cats in the wild doing this.
Thinking through it, it seems like a big risk to drip your freshly caught prey in a water source. A typical water source in the wild wouldn’t be a stationary bowl and dropping small game in even a slow-moving creek would be a great way to lose your dinner.
So does the washing off the scent theory hold water?
Reason 2: It’s Just Plain Fun!
Cats are well known for enjoying a good splish-splash in the water bowl. I had so many people tell me about their cats (and kittens) that loved flipping a water bowl that I ended up writing a guide to the best cat water bowls that won’t tip over! One of the big conclusions that we drew in that article is that many cats just enjoy playing with water or watching it move around.
So explaining why your cat likes dropping things in water could be as simple having a good time!
Especially if you see your cat doing more than just dropping the item and walking away. Many cats, especially with something that floats like a ping-pong ball, will drop it in the water and then turn it into their very own carnival game as they paw, swat and chomp at the floating ball!
There’s also a chance that your cat has a good time watching your response to dropping things in the food bowl. For example, my cat Debbie loves to knock things off the counter. But so does just about every cat. However, I’m convinced that she also loves watching me try to catch it before it happens or place it back on the counter only for her to knock off again.
Depending on how you react, your cat might view placing things in the water bowl as another fun game that they get play with their human. Feline expert Dennis Turner tells us that our feline companions generally like attention whether it’s praise or scolding.
Dr. Buffinton, in conversation with the Wired, explains why this may be the case: “This is because cats evolved as solitary hunters with little need for reading social cues, especially those for behavior modification.” So while dogs are typically very in-tune with human body language because of their pack-based evaluation while cats, at least according to Wired, think you’re a huge, unpredictable ape.
Reason 3: Your Cat Is A Collector
Is your cat simply an avid collector of all things human-related?
CatHealth.com explains that “In the wild, cats are not known for gathering things” but that many cats are still known for collecting items and depositing them in very specific locations…like their water bowl!
So even if it’s uncommon in wild cats, there are some domestic cats that seem to take things to the extreme. The team at CatHealth.com goes on to say,
“There is another form of gathering and hoarding that occurs from time to time. Like a crow that is attracted to shiny things and has a penchant for stealing them, there are some cats that collect and hoard jewelry, tin, glass, beads, coins, and other shiny objects. Not only will some cats gather these items, but they will stockpile them. They often don’t play with them or even move them around. It is almost like they are little kleptomaniacs that are compelled to steal whether or not there is a use for the items.”
Reason 4: Your Cat Is Teaching You To Hunt
Okay, this one might be a little bit of stretch but there’s a theory out there that your cat is trying to teach you to hunt and that’s why they keep dropping things in the water bowl. It makes the most sense with female cats that may have a maternal instinct but domestication can do some funny things for animals so let’s run with it!
As we discussed in the first reason, it’s possible that your cat views her water bowl as a key part of her nest. Moving fresh prey to a safer location is a normal part of cat behavior but in this case, the theory is that your cat isn’t moving her things into the water bowl for her…but instead for you!
CatHealth.com explains that “In the wild, mama cats will bring both dead and live prey to the nest as a method to introduce new foods for their kittens to eat and also to learn to kill on their own—in a safe environment.”
In other words, your cat is dropping items off in the food bowl so you can figure out how to kill them and eat them. Just another case of inept humans needing a helping hand from felines! But don’t be offended, if this is the case then your cat is just trying to help out!
When you consider how common it is for cats to bring their owners “gifts” of dead mice neatly placed on the bed this theory starts to seem a little more likely. Instead of delivering their gift to your bed, they’ve decided the safest and most logical place to deliver their present is right in the water bowl where they know you’ll find it!
Reason 5: It’s A Matter of Convenience
Another theory is that your cat is just being practical. After all, how can your cat possibly drink water while holding a toy (or whatever else they tracked down) in their mouth?
The short answer is, they can’t!
That means some cats might be dropping things off in their water simply as a matter of convenience!
Should You Stop Your Cat From Doing This?
In most cases, dropping things off in the water bowl shouldn’t be a problem and it’s just another cute thing that our cats do. There’s also the reality that it would be pretty close to impossible to really stop your cat from getting their fix of dunking things.
After all, you have to give your cat water and it would never be worth limiting water just to prevent your cat from having some fun in the water bowl. There’s also the chance that if they can’t use their own water bowl, they might use another bowl filled with water…and nobody wants to go fishing items out of that bowl.
But there are two things to consider if your cat is a pretty active dunker of household items and toys.
Make Sure The Items Are Water Safe
Whatever your cat decides to drop off in the water, make sure that it’s safe once it’s in there. While there are some obvious items that you wouldn’t want your cat messing with regardless of whether or not they’re putting them in water, you need to make sure that whatever your cat is dropping into the water isn’t going to break apart and be toxic to your kitty.
Make Sure Your Cat Isn’t Eating Items
In rare cases, cats will not only decide to collect things from around the house, but they also decide to eat them. This is a condition called pica and it can be very dangerous for cats. Most household items simply aren’t meant to be eaten by anyone, especially your cat. These items will get stuck in your cat’s GI tract and most likely have to be surgically removed. However, this condition is pretty rare (especially in cats) and it’s worth being aware of so you know what to look for. You can learn more about pica in cats in this article.
In most cases, dropping off toys or weird objects is just another cute and quirky habit that makes us love our cats so much! While we’ve laid out 5 possible reasons why your cat might make regular aqua deliveries, it’s important to note that we can’t know for sure exactly why our cats do this.
Unfortunately, we can’t truly talk to our cats and ask them simple questions like to figure out why they do the things they do.
But my guess is, even if we could, the answer would probably be “Because I felt like it!”