Cats make excellent pets, but most cat owners would agree they also have their fair share of frustrating habits too. One of the most common of these is their tendency to spill water from their water bowl. Not only can this be annoying, but it is also potentially dangerous as well because it can make your floors slippery.
So how do you stop cats from spilling their water bowl? Most solutions involve changing the water bowl. If your current bowl is lightweight, invest in a heavier one and try to avoid deep, narrow bowls. Alternatively, you might want to explore non-spill cat water bottles or water dispensers (water fountains).
Ultimately, however, the best solution to prevent your cat from spilling the water from its water bowl will depend on precisely why your cat is spilling the water, and what type of bowl you are currently using. To help you to solve the problem, I will first cover some of the most common solutions in more detail, then explain some of the main reasons why cats engage in this behaviour in the first place, and offer tips on preventing them.
Stopping Your Cat From Spilling Water
Regardless of the reasons for the behaviour, if your cat is regularly spilling water from its water bowl, you are going to want to put a stop to it quickly. To do this, the main options are to either buy a different water bowl or replace the water bowl entirely with a spill-proof alternative. I would personally recommend that you try to use a water bowl-based solution first because the alternatives tend to provide challenges of their own.
Firstly, if you are using a lightweight bowl, which is easy to move and flip over, I would suggest you invest in a heavier alternative. Even a cat with no real desire to spill water may manage to do so accidentally if you are using a bowl that is light enough. For this reason, you should also ideally purchase a glass or ceramic bowl, which also has a weighted, non-sliding bottom made from rubber or a similar material.
The other major problem with cat water bowls is related to size and depth. To reduce the risk of spillages as much as possible, it is best to try to acquire a bowl that is wide and shallow, rather than deep and narrow. This will make it easier for your cat to access the bowl comfortably and keep its head over the bowl while it drinks.
Cats are also instinctively concerned with hygiene and are sensitive about the safety of the food and drink they consume. As a result, they react badly to unusual smells, so it is essential to keep the bowl clean. Moreover, your cat may be extremely reluctant to drink from a bowl that is positioned too close to its litter box, ensure that the cat has two separate areas: one for eating and drinking, and another for going to the toilet.
One more drastic solution, which can prevent your cat from spilling water entirely, is to replace the bowl with a spill-proof water dispenser, or water bottle. These tend to resemble the water dispensers used in cages for hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs. They are highly effective because they provide your cat with water as it needs it, but the cat cannot splash the water with its paws, and the dispenser will not spill even if it is knocked over.
Finally, if you are willing to spend even more money, you could even opt for a cat water fountain. This option offers the major benefit of providing your cat with running water, as many cats naturally prefer moving water to still water served in a bowl. However, a fountain does also pose issues of its own with regards to spillages.
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Why Cats Spill Water From Their Bowl
When trying to prevent your cat from spilling the water in its water bowl, one of the biggest problems is the fact that cats tend to spill water for a whole host of different reasons. Nevertheless, in my experience, it is actually relatively easy to identify the reason your cat is spilling water. Furthermore, once you are able to pinpoint the reason, it becomes much easier to choose an effective solution to the problem.
Arguably the most common reason why cats spill water is that they have difficulty accessing it. In general, cats do not like narrow, deep bowls. Some experts have suggested this is because a cat’s whiskers – which are extremely sensitive – are more likely to come into contact with the side of the bowl, causing irritation. When this occurs, cats sometimes try to splash the water or even tip the bowl entirely, so they can drink in comfort.
However, a more frustrating problem is that some cats simply see water as being fun. They enjoy the sensation of splashing water or moving it in other ways, and they see it as a game. Some behavioural experts have speculated that this is because cats are naturally more attracted to running or moving water, so they try to create the movement themselves. However, it can also occur because your cat is bored, or feeling mischievous.
The main other reason why a cat might spill water from its water bowl is out of protest. This may occur because the cat is unhappy with the placement of the water bowl, unimpressed by the taste or freshness of the water, or because he or she is frustrated in other ways, such as from a lack of attention or lack of physical activity.
Maximising the Chances of Success
If you are unable to identify the precise reason why your cat is spilling water from its water bowl, it may be best to take a fairly holistic approach, where you try to cover as many bases as possible. In order to help with this, I have developed the following checklist, which includes solutions for some of the most common problems, and should give you the best possible chance of solving the problem and reducing or eliminating spillages.
- Invest in a heavy ceramic or glass bowl, with a non-slippery bottom;
- Make sure the bowl is wide and shallow, rather than deep and narrow;
- Place the bowl in an easy-to-access location, away from the cat litter box;
- Ensure your cat has a good variety of toys, which he or she is able to play with regularly;
- Try to keep toys away from the water bowl, avoiding accidental splashes;
- Clean the bowl regularly and pay attention to any unpleasant smells nearby;
- Make sure water is changed frequently so that your cat has constant access to fresh water;
- Check the bowl often and remove anything you find floating in the water.
To minimise the chances of spillages caused by frustration, you should ensure your cat gets plenty of physical exercise and plenty of attention from you and any other members of the household. Take time to play with your cat and ensure that he or she is happy generally, reducing the chances of tantrum-related spillages.
It is worth pointing out that occasional spillages are likely to occur, even with all of the best solutions in place. However, if you have followed all of the steps in this checklist and your cat is still spilling water on an unacceptably frequent basis, it may be best to opt for a different solution entirely.
Success With Water Dispensers or Fountains
As stated, if all other attempts have failed and you are still experiencing regular spillages, the best solution may be to move away from using a cat water bowl entirely. There are a few options here, such as cat water bottles, cat water dispensers and cat water fountains. These solutions offer a number of advantages, such as the provision of cleaner water, and built-in protection against spillages, but there are also challenges too.
The biggest challenge is actually getting your cat to use your new water bottle, dispenser or fountain and this can be especially difficult if you have been using a water bowl for a substantial period of time. If you are transitioning to a water dispenser, similar to what you would use with a guinea pig, it can even be difficult to get your cat to even recognise it as a source of water, so you may need to offer enticement.
One option is to try to lure your cat over to the water bottle or dispenser, using treats. You can then encourage it to use the water dispenser, and employ positive reinforcement techniques to reward successful use. If you are really struggling to encourage your cat to use the dispenser, another useful tip is to apply a small amount of the juice from a tin of tuna on the end of the dispenser. You could even try adding a small amount to the water itself.
Water fountains tend to be a more expensive solution, but they are also an easier transition because the sight of moving water is likely to attract your cat. Some cat water fountains even make use of motion-sensor technology, turning the fountain on when your cat approaches but stopping the flow of water when it moves away.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.