This type of behavior from a cat can be puzzling. We can’t know for sure why a cat scratches the floor before drinking water but there are several theories that help explain why some cats exhibit this seemingly strange behaviour. If your cat isn’t drinking water, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. If they’re simply exhibiting odd behaviour before or after drinking water, it is typically less serious, but not something to be ignored.
Why does my cat scratch the floor before drinking water?
A cat may scratch the floor before drinking water because their natural instinct are kicking in, or they’re expressing a habit they formed when they were a kitten, or they may be trying to signal that they’re unhappy with something when it comes to their water.
Let’s take a closer look at each potential reason your cat may scratch the floor around their water dish.
1. Natural Instincts
In the wild, cats may have needed to dig to reach their water source or move debris (e.g. leaves) out of the way to drink their water. This wild cat behaviour could be coming out in your house cat’s behavior, even though they’ve always had a clean water bowl to drink from and have never had to search for water.
If your cat was once a stray, this theory may make even more sense, as they likely had to dig around to find their water.
Another theory is that the scratching is connected to the kneading they did when they were kittens drinking their mother’s milk. If your cat seems to make more of a kneading action, rather than a digging action, and kneading by their water bowl is something they’ve done from a young age, it may be that it’s a habit they’ve carried on from kittenhood.
3. Releasing Pheromones
Cats have scent glands around their paws and release pheromones when they knead and scratch. Your cat may be claiming the area and the water source as theirs when scratching the floor around it. This theory may be more relative if you have multiple cats in your home, if your cat once lived with multiple cats, or if your cat was once a stray. It’s more likely they’re saying “mine” when they scratch.
However, cats release pheromones for a variety of reasons, such as creating familiarity, to self-soothe, to signal happiness, or to signal stress. Again, we can’t know for sure why a cat may be scratching the floor around their water dish, but if the behaviour is new and accompanied by any other strange/new behaviour (e.g. drinking more water), it’s important to contact your veterinarian to rule out any health issues.
4. To Move the Water
Your cat may be scratching the ground around their water bowl in an attempt to get the water moving so they can see where the water starts. My cat used to scratch the ground before drinking, even though it was a tile floor, and then finally go in for a drink. But he would often accidentally dunk his nose in and then sneeze the water out. Perhaps he was attempting to move the water when scratching and when it didn’t move, he gave up and got a wet nose. We purchased a water fountain for him and that seemed to solve the issue.
5. To Move the Water Dish
If your cat is not just scratching beside the water dish, but also scratching at the water dish, they may be trying to move it to a more desirable location. Another natural instinct cats have is to stay safe. In the wild, they’re more vulnerable when they drink water because they’re less attentive to their surroundings and may have their backs exposed.
This theory may be especially relative if your cat has ever been startled while at their water dish. If kids or other pets came busting into the room when your cat was having a drink of water, they may associate their water dish and its location with being startled and are trying to move it to avoid that situation in the future.
6. To Signal they’re Not Happy with their Water
Your cat may not like the new water bowl you purchased for them, the type of water you’re giving them or the temperature of it, the scent around their bowl, etc. If you’ve changed something recently, try swapping back to see if they stop the behaviour.
If you’re using the same bowl in the same location and filling it the same way you always have, it still may be worth playing around with their water bowl variables. Try a new bowl, a new bowl location, changing their water more frequently, adding ice cubes to their water, etc. to see if they are indeed trying to tell you they’re unhappy with something and prefer one way over another.
Should I be worried my cat is scratching the floor before drinking water?
In most cases, you should not be worried that your cat is scratching the floor before drinking from their water dish, especially if they’ve done so from a young age.
If the scratching is new and they’re exhibiting other new behaviour, it’s a good idea to call your veterinarian. For example, if your cat has started scratching beside their water dish and they’re drinking more water than normal, it could indicate a bigger health issue such as a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes.
How do I get my cat to stop scratching the floor before drinking water?
If you’ve ruled out any health issues with your veterinarian, it’s likely their scratching of the floor is nothing to worry about. However, it may be bothersome to you if they’re ruining your floors, spilling water, or waking you up at night with the scratching. Here are a few things to try:
If this behaviour is new, consider if you’ve changed anything related to their water dish lately. If you’ve moved their water bowl to a new location, swapped their old water bowl for a new one, or haven’t been as diligent about changing their water, your cat could be indicating they’re not fond of your new behaviour. Try switching things back to see if the scratching stops.
Clean their Water Bowl
Cat’s water bowls can be a breeding ground for bacteria and your cat may not appreciate the odors they emit. Cats have a keen sense of smell and they have to stick their nose right in the dish. Be sure you’re cleaning their bowl every day or two and using a mild soap to do so. They won’t like the smell of strong citrus-scented soap residue left in their water bowl.
Change their Water More Frequently
Cats appreciate fresh water over water that’s been sitting in a dirty bowl for days. This is often the reason you may find your cat drinking out of the toilet, or poking their head in your water glass trying to get a sip. Make it a routine to change their water each morning when you feed them.
Try a New Location
Cat’s can become more finicky with age, so although you may have always kept their water dish next to their food dish, they may have decided they don’t like it anymore.
If your cat’s water dish is in a location that has them feeling exposed and doesn’t allow them to see out into the room while protecting their backs, it may help to move their water bowl. You may place it a few feet out from a corner so they can have their backs in the corner while they drink and can easily look up from their dish to see what’s approaching.
Try a New Bowl
Your cat’s water bowl needs to be cleaned regularly to get rid of bacteria. If your cat has a plastic water bowl, knicks and scratches in it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, so it may be time for a replacement. A plastic water bowl may also contain harmful toxins that can leach into your cat’s water. Try a stainless steel or ceramic bowl instead.
Try a Cat Water Fountain
A cat water fountain will keep the water moving in your cat’s bowl, which may be the solution if they’re scratching the ground to try and find where the water starts. Here are a few options:
I hope this article has helped you figure out why your cat is scratching the floor before drinking water 🙂
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