The relationship between cats and water can be complicated—some love it and some hate it. They hate baths and avoid puddles, but the water dish seems to fall under a different category. A lot of cats, whether they like water or not, develop a habit of sticking their cute little paws in their drinking water. Some splash the water around while others prefer to daintily lick the wet stuff off their fur. Either way, they always make a big mess. It can be frustrating to clean up, but cats paw at their water for a number of valid reasons. Keep reading to find out why.
Checking the Depth
While cats have great night vision, and their eyes are pretty good at detecting movement, they have trouble seeing water. The water in their bowl is clear (at least it should be), and that makes it tricky for their feline eyes to see. They know it’s there, but they don’t know its depth.
This means they run the risk of sticking their face too far into the bowl and getting more than their tongue wet. Or they could lap up nothing but air if they don’t lean far enough down.
It’s an irritating problem, but some cats use their paws as a solution. They paw at their water before they lean down for a drink so they know exactly where to go. The ripples they make with their paw make the water easier to see.
If you have other pets or energetic kids in the house, your cat might not feel comfortable lowering their head into a water dish. That position limits what they can see and leaves them vulnerable to “attack.” They won’t have any warning if a curious toddler creeps up behind them.
By pawing at their water and licking the moisture off their fur, they avoid this problem. They still get a drink, but they remain upright and fully aware of their surroundings. They know when they need to glare at the family dog or tuck their tail away from a toddler.
Protecting Their Whiskers
Whiskers are super sensitive tactile hairs that help your cat with spatial awareness. The end of each whisker is covered in nerve endings that let the cat know an object’s exact location. If their food or water dish is deep and narrow, those sensitive whiskers can end up smushed against the sides. This is particularly uncomfortable, and some cats will go to extreme lengths to avoid the entire situation.
Many paw at the water to either splash it to where they can lap it up or get their paws wet to lick them dry. You can avoid this mess by choosing a water dish that is wide and shallow. It should be wide enough for those long whiskers.
Fun and Boredom
If the above explanations don’t seem to fit your cat’s behavior, there’s one more possibility. A lot of cats paw at their water simply because it’s fun, or they’re bored. Your cat doesn’t have to enjoy bath time to have fun splashing water out of a bowl. If your cat is bored, a bowl of water can be great entertainment.
The first time it happened, your cat was probably pawing at the water for another reason—either one of the reasons above, or maybe there was something in the water. And once they realized how fun it could be, they turned it into a habit. Stocking up on fun cat toys could help keep your cat’s paws out of the water and cut down on the mess.