Quite a large number of cats spill water out of their bowls, but not every cat who spills water out of his or her bowl does it in the same way.
Some cats have the habit of tipping and/or knocking over their entire water dishes, but many other cats splash and spill water in different ways.
Some cats play in their water, getting the floor wet without necessarily toppling over the whole bowl.
Other cats paw at their water, licking the liquid off their paws afterward.
Finally, there are cats who place their paw in water then flick it out of their bowl before drinking – my Avery does this nearly every time he goes to have a sip.
Needless to say, there are quite a number of ways a cat can go about splashing water all over the floor, and since they’re all a bit different, I’ll go over each one.
In terms of why cats often engage in behaviours that involve splashing and spilling water they’re supposed to drink, while it’s not straightforward, and there are a plethora of different reasons, the type of spilling typically gives some sort of indication or clue into the explanation behind the behaviour.
There are absolutely overlaps, and some cats are likely splashing and spilling for multiple reasons at once, so I felt it was better to group all these behaviours together into one article for that reason.
Instead of doing a lot of discussion in the intro, I’m going to split this article into two and jump into those sections right away. In the first section, I’ll talk about the ways many cats typically go about spilling their water.
Then in the second section, I’ll dive into the explanations there are for why cats might engage in behaviours that end up with water outside of their drinking bowls – onto their paws, themselves, and the floor.
I’ll provide solutions that might come in handy if you’re experiencing one type of water splashing or another, though if you think of any more, or have actually tried out a solution to and had some success, please take a moment to leave your insight in the comments!
Part I: Ways Cats Often Spill & Splash Water from Their Water Bowls
1. Tipping and/or Knocking Over Water
Lots of cats tip over their water bowls, completely toppling their dishes and spilling the water inside all over the floor.
This behaviour can be pretty frustrating for pet owners, who have to deal with watery messes as well as potential damage of carpeting or wood over time through repeated exposure to water that’s not quick to dry up.
This knocking-over-the-water-bow behaviour can be a little distressing as well from the perspective of the hydration of your cat.
If a cat happens to topple his or her only water bowl over in the morning and a pet parent is at work most of the day, that cat no longer has access to much – if any (in case water is spilled on carpeting rather than wood or tile) – drinkable water for quite a few hours.
If the weather takes a turn for the hotter with no air conditioning on inside, the cat has diarrhea or throws up, or for any other reason needs to access water more than necessary, this lack of ability to re-hydrate can be a real issue.
To prevent your cat from being unable to re-hydrate because he or she tends to tip over his or her water bowl quite often, you may want to try grabbing a no spill water bowl your cat will have difficulty toppling over.
There are a lot of varieties, from heavy, weighted bowls to bowls that integrate into non-slip and non-skid silicone mats, including the URPOWER Dog Bowl Food & Water Station.
While your cat may be able to find a way to splash water with one of them, in terms of toppling over, a lot of them do seem to work well enough to prevent this from happening, so at least your cat will have access to drinkable water throughout the day.
As an alternative, in case you’re just worried about hydration and not the potential for extra messes and clean up, you can also leave a tap in the bathroom running if you allow your cat to drink from the sink.
The issue with this is obvious – unlimited water supply likely means a playful kitty will get quite a bit in your apartment or house wet by the time you return home. Which leads us straight into our next section…
2. Playing with Water
So many cats like to play with their water bowls it can actually be confusing, especially for pet parents who assume the fact that cats hate water is plainly true.
Turns out, cats have more of a love-hate relationship with water.
In my opinion, cats hate most interactions with water where they feel they might drown (i.e. swimming) or end up with hypothermia (i.e. drenched or rained on), but for most interactions they have with it where they’re the ones who instigate and have complete control over the liquid stuff, I think they’re typically quite happy to engage with water.
Some cats go so far as to be pretty obsessed with the wet stuff, however, and can’t keep their paws out of it in a playful way.
This is especially true of some kittens, who may or may not grow out of the behaviour as they age into adulthood.
Either way, if a cat’s typically playing with water to the extent where he or she knocks a bowl over, I’d definitely recommend grabbing a no spill bowl.
However, if you’ve got one, or playing with the water bowl doesn’t typically include knocking over the entirety of the water bowl in your cat’s typical round of fun, you may want to try something like the Petmate No Spill Bowl to reduce the chance of your kitty making too much mess.
While a kitty can still get his or her paws into the bowl, there’s a very wide rim that should help keep in a lot of the splash time fun mess.
Rather try to tackle the problem by giving your cat something he or she likes more than water to play with? Try some of these toys cats can play with by themselves, or these high-energy exercise toys you can use to completely wear out your cat, even if you only have time for short play times each day.
Cat proving difficult to engage? Affordable self-play cat toys that chirp & squeak electronically, like the Our Pets Play-N-Squeak Mouse Hunter may be the perfect distraction to keep your playful kitty busy by him or herself for hours – and paws out of the water dish!
Suspect your cat may not be placing his or her paws in the water dish to keep entertained?
The last two reasons could explain why…
3. Pawing Water
If your cat is pawing at water, and directly after, licking the liquid off his or her paws, you definitely won’t be going the route a playful cat owner may have to in order to prevent or at least greatly reduce water spillage issues.
A lot of cats who paw at their water and drink the water off their paws straight after do so because they’re not the biggest fans of the bowls they’re using.
Others seem to like this behaviour for other reasons – either because they like licking water off their paws in general, or because they find the act of dipping their paws in water helpful for cleaning their paws.
If you have a cat who likes to paw at water then lick the water off straight after, my guess is your best bet would be to try out different water bowls, or if you think your cat just likes to clean his or her paws, place a waterproof pet food mat underneath his or her water dish. While you may not be able to prevent the behaviour, you definitely can protect your floors this way!
Many cats also struggle with whisker fatigue, and have an easier time with bowls that are wider and more shallow so their whiskers don’t have to bend too much while they drink.
I personally have a Corelle Livingware 28 Ounce Super Soup Cereal Bowl that’s very wide and deep. My boys have never had issues with this bowl and the fact that it’s so high means it almost works like an elevated water bowl.
I absolutely keep it topped up as much as possible, so they aren’t struggling to get their faces in too deep, but the fact that this bowl can hold so much water helps so that it never really manages to get too low, even in a multi-cat household.
4. Flicking Water
Some cats place their paw into their water dishes and flick the water off their paws, then proceed to drink out of their bowls.
My cat Avery has done this almost every time he drinks for the vast majority of his life. There are times he won’t, but they’re rare, and I can’t exactly predict when the flicking won’t happen.
I used to theorize he did this because he couldn’t quite see where the water line was, and rippling water helped him to spot it much easier.
When I did a quick search online, I found a lot of resources stating cats have evolved to prefer running water (makes perfect sense since it’s less likely to contain as much or as dangerous bacteria as still water), so they may do this in order to make the water move before drinking.
Some also stated cats may make water ripple because they don’t know where the water bowl is filled up to. Very possible in my mind that it’s a combination of these two!
The best option if you have a cat like this and want to prevent spillage? I would say: a cat water fountain, something like the Catit Fountain Flower.
They’re not expensive and they keep water running 24/7, so hopefully your cat won’t have to stick his or her paws in the water to drink, which increases how dirty the water gets between re-filling and bowl washing.
Part II: Reasons Why Cats Spill & Splash Water out of Their Bowls
Pretty much the entire lot of these explanations briefly described in at least one of the types of ways cats often spill and splash water out of their bowls.
But there are so many overlaps that I thought I’d mention them altogether here, as well as solutions in case you’re troubleshooting because you’d rather not have so much mess.
1. Because It’s Fun & Entertaining
Some cats are just obsessed with playing with water. Others are highly playful and water may just be the most entertaining thing they have around.
Three ways you can test to see if this is the reason behind your cat’s behaviour and provide more “preferable” outlets for the fun so your cat’s still very entertained, but without as much of a watery mess:
- Provide more home alone cat toys like the Ethical Pet Cat Springs & SnugglyCat’s The Ripple Rug to make sure your cat’s able to play by him or herself if they want to. Need more ideas? Check out this article.
- Play with your kitty a lot more frequently, and with a lot more energy-intensive cat toys like feather wands.
- Cat still prefer playing in water? Try leaving the bathroom door open, and a bowl of water in the tub to see if your cat will happily play in there where it’s less messy instead of where a watery mess is less desirable. You can also leave the faucet in the bathtub dripping just a bit if this works out.
2. Due to a Preference for Drinking Moving Water (Rather than Still)
It makes sense that cats would evolve to have a preference for moving water rather than still – it’s a more healthy type of water to prefer if you’re getting your water from the wild!
This instinct almost certainly helped cats survive and stay healthy when they weren’t being taken care of humans constantly refilling their water bowls with clean, healthy H2O!
There’s a couple really easy ways to figure out if running water happens to be your cat’s very highly preferred method of drinking, possibly remedying the need for kitty to dip his or her paws in the water and make a splashy mess. They are:
- Leave a faucet in a bathroom running and show it to your kitty. If your cat exclusively drinks out of the faucet, chances are his or her dipping water in was to make the water ripple out of a preference for moving water over still.
- Switch to using a pet water fountain like the Cat Mate Pet Fountain, where the water’s always running and never still. If running water is your cat’s preference, this should also go a long way helping kitty drink more to stay well hydrated as well!
3. To Test Water Depth
I feel my Avery, who dips his paw in water, flicks out the water, then proceeds to drink is a cat who splashes water for the sake of testing water depth.
I think the ripples help him manage to see where the water line is a lot better.
He drinks quite a lot, especially when I compare him to other cats, and so I never really thought to assume he had a really high preference for running water.
For this reason, if I ever need to place his water bowl somewhere there’s wood, laminate, or carpeting beneath, I use a silicone food-grade cat food mat, something like the inexpensive Reopet Silicone Dog Cat Bowl Mat, to prevent damage to the floor.
There’s not a lot of water when he flicks, just a little, but it’s enough to make me want to keep water off the floor if it’s not tile.
I do try to keep his water bowl in tiled areas, however, as it makes life easier, I feel.
4. To Clean Their Paws
There are cats who will dip their paws into water bowls and lick their paws off immediately after, and for these cats, I’d say the most likely explanation behind their action is they really like using their water bowls to clean off their paws.
They may get a little water on the floor, but because they’re typically licking the water off straight after, it isn’t likely to spread like a playful kitty splash, or like a full on knock-over of the water bowl would end up.
If I was in this situation myself, I’d do what I do with Avery – grab a food mat to prevent damage if I need the water dish someplace that hasn’t got tiled flooring.
Easiest way to prevent damage to the floors, I think.
5. Because It’s Uncomfortable to Drink from Their Bowl Due to Whisker Fatigue
Cats who drink from their paws or find ways of spilling water to drink from the spillage – even cats who lick bathtubs or showers after they’ve become wet with use – lots of cats seem to maybe want to drink in ways other than from their water bowls because of a disdain for their water bowls.
Cats can suffer from whisker fatigue, which makes sense because their whiskers are highly sensitive hairs.
If they’re bent for too long or at certain angles it can be uncomfortable enough for kitty to avoid a water bowl completely.
The simplest resolution to this issue if you think this is your cat’s dilemma? A whisker friendly cat bowl like the Dr. Catsby Food Bowl.
6. Because It’s Uncomfortable to Drink from Their Bowl Because It’s Too Low
Other cats take issue with their bowls because they’re too low. Many cats prefer elevated cat bowls, especially if they’re particularly tall themselves.
If you feel you may have a bowl that’s too low for your cat’s comfort, again, the fix is easy, as there are plenty of excellent elevated cat bowls out there.
The Lepet Elevated Cat Bowls Raised Pet Feeder is a great combo option if you have a feeling your cat would like his or her food bowl raised, too.
7. In Multi-Cat Homes: May Not Feel Secure Lowering Head to Drink
Cats in multi-cat homes, especially ones where hostility and aggression factor into the equation every so often, may not be comfortable lowering their heads to drink out of fear they may be attacked while doing so.
There’s more of a chance a cat lowering his or her head is a source of anxiety if the water bowl is placed up against the wall, and thus a cat has to have his or her back facing the room while also lowered to drink.
Either way, if you suspect this is an issue, you may want to invest in not only raised cat bowls, but have a number of bowls in a few different rooms, so your cat never feels pressured to drink in front of other cats.
8. Could Be Knocking over Water Bowl Due to Wanting You to Refill the Bowl
I don’t know how likely this explanation is, but some believe cats are clever enough to make the connection between the water bowl being knocked over and new water being provided, and as a result, that they may be hitting their bowls in order to get a refill of water on demand.
What do you think about this explanation?
9. Could Be Acting out for Attention
There absolutely are cats who act out for attention.
I personally hate resorting to this conclusion unless it’s the last option physically possible to conclude.
In my head – why assume bad intent on behalf of your cat unless you’ve absolutely no other explanation for the behaviour?
That being said, for cats who crave attention, sometimes it’s not really important which kind of attention they get – positive or negative.
If you find your cat acting out for attention by spilling over their water bowls or playing in it, and no other explanation seems to work, do your best to ignore the behaviour as much as possible from their perspective.
Maybe your cat will call it quits on knocking over the water bowl if he or she notices it’s no longer getting a fun-to-watch reaction from you.
Your Thoughts on Cats Spilling Water?
Have you ever had a cat spill water out of his or her water bowl?
What type of spilling did he or she do? Why did you think they did it? Did you ever solve the issue or did the cat continue to spill water?
Did I forget to list any ways cats spill and/or splash water? Can you think up another explanation for why a cat might engage in spilling or splashing their water?
What would you advise pet parents to do if they’re dealing with this issue?
Love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!