Why Your Cat Moves the Water Bowl & How to Stop Them

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When a cat moves their water bowl it’s so they can see where the water starts, because they prefer moving water over stagnant, to deal with stress or illness, or because they simply don’t like the position of their water bowl or want to play.


This isn’t just a quirky behaviour, it can be dangerous if your cat knocks over the water bowl and then has nothing to drink for several hours while you’re out of the house. It can also create a slippery surface for you to walk on.


Let’s take a closer look at the theories for why a cat moves their water bowl, to help you determine why your cat is doing it and how to correct the behaviour.



5 Reasons Cats Move their Water Bowl

Once you determine why your cat might be moving the water bowl, it can help you correct the behaviour. Here are 5 theories as to why cats may like to move their water bowl.



1. To See the Water

Cats can have a hard time seeing still water, so your cat may be moving the bowl to be able to find where the water starts. Getting water up the nose isn’t pleasant for anyone, so if your cat has gone for a refreshing sip of water in the past, and gotten a nose full of it instead, they may be hesitant to stick their head in the bowl without being able to clearly see where the water line is.



2. To Add Movement to the Water

In the wild, cats often drink from moving bodies of water; that water is cleaner and colder. Moving water over stagnant water may be a preference of your cat’s. If your cat loves to drink from the tap when you’re brushing your teeth, or you often find them with their head in the toilet when the lid is left up, or they like to drink from your water glass, chances are they prefer fresh, moving, cold water and that’s why they move their water bowl.



3. Illness

If the behaviour seems more odd than it does to serve a purpose, it could be that your cat is dealing with some type of illness. Pay attention to if any other behaviour seems new or odd, outside of their water bowl behaviour.


If your cat is drinking more water as well, using the litter box more or less, etc. they could be dealing with a physical illness. If your cat seems obsessive with their behaviour, they could be dealing with a mental illness. Only your veterinarian will be able to rule an illness out.



4. Better Location

Your cat may simply not like where their water bowl is located. This may be for a few reasons:



If your cat shares a water bowl with other cats in the house, they may be trying to find their location to drink it. Cats have scent glands on their face and paws so it’s likely the area and bowl smells like the other cats. Your cat may want the bowl to be someplace that smells like theirs.


A cat can feel vulnerable when they eat and drink water, since that’s when they would be more exposed to predators in the wild. If their water bowl faces the corner of a room and they must have their back exposed while they drink, they may be moving it out to the middle of the room so they can see their surroundings.

They may have also experienced a “traumatic” event while drinking water, such as having a loud noise startling them, or another pet or human come running into the room. They may now associate that location with the scary event and want to move their water bowl so it doesn’t happen again.


In the wild, cats eat, drink, and go to the bathroom all in different locations. If you have their water bowl next to their food, they may prefer it somewhere else. They definitely won’t appreciate their water bowl or food dish next to their litter box. They’re clean creatures and just as we don’t want to eat or drink in the washroom, neither does your cat.



5. Playing

It will likely be obvious if your cat is moving the water dish to play. Kittens or younger cats are more likely to do this to have fun, because they’re curious, or because they’re bored.


I currently have two kittens and they go through phases of wanting to make a mess with their water. Sometimes they bring a toy to their water dish and drop it in, then they move the bowl around and stick their paw in to try and get the toy out. They make a huge mess, and even when I remove their toy and move them away from the bowl, they want to go back to it and splash around some more. After an hour or so, they lose interest in playing with their water.


It’s important not to scold them around their water dish because you don’t want them associating something bad with it and becoming hesitant to go near it or drink water from it.




How to stop a cat from moving the water bowl

You can get your cat to stop moving the water bowl by getting them checked by a vet to rule out health issues, trying a different water bowl or water bowl location, or increasing their playtime so they’re stimulated by things other than moving water.



1. Get them checked by a Vet

It’s always important to first rule out a health issue. This step is especially important if the behaviour seems odd to you (e.g. doesn’t seem to serve a purpose and is something new they’ve started doing). Talk to your veterinarian to explain the situation and see if they believe it’s important you bring them in. They’ll be able to find any health issues and treat them, or rule out a health issue and put your mind at ease.



2. Get another water bowl

If your cat shares their water bowl with other cats, consider getting your cat their own bowl and placing it in a different location. It may be hard to keep the other cats from drinking from that water bowl but if there’s a water bowl for each cat in the house, it won’t get as much use or gather as many smells.


You may also try a “positive” pheromone spray or diffuser for multiple cats in the new location. It helps calm cats and deter behaviour such as scratching and spraying (which are often done by cats to mark their territory).



3. Try a cat water fountain

A cat water fountain is a good solution if your cat prefers moving water. They keep the water circulating and add movement to their water bowl so they’ll be able to see where the water line starts.



4. Play with water bowl variables

Cats can be finicky, especially as they age. Try playing around with the type of water you give them (e.g. cold, room temp, with ice cubes, etc.), the bowl they drink from, the material of the bowl, the location of the bowl, etc. There may be one variable that pleases them and gets them to stop moving their water bowl.



5. Give them new toys

If your cat is moving the water bowl to play, out of boredom, or to get your attention, increasing their play may help solve the problem. You can get them more interactive toys that move on their own, or spend more time each day playing with your cat.



I hope this article has helped you determine why your cat moves the water bowl 🙂


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Why Your Cat Moves The Water Bowl (& How to Stop It)