Should a cat's water be away from food?
Cat Food and Hydration

Should a Cat’s Water Be Away from Food?

Convincing a cat to drink enough water isn’t always easy. Cats are descended from desert animals, frequently teetering on the brink of dehydration. In addition, cats are fussy about the water they drink, so you’ll need to position your cat’s bowls in different areas.

Never keep a cat’s water bowl beside its food, as the scent of the food will ‘contaminate’ the water, and bits of food debris could get into the water bowl. Your cat’s water must be located several feet away from anything else that the cat uses. This area should be devoid of any aroma that may deter the cat from drinking.

Even if you strategically place a water bowl away from its food, your cat may still refuse to drink. Tap water, in particular, is unappealing to some felines. Many cats also distrust still water, preferring to drink from a running source.

Where To Put a Cat’s Water Bowl

The average 10 lb house cat should drink 8 oz of water per day. That is one glass, or around half a bottle, of water. On a hot day, or if the cat exercises more than usual, additional water will be required. Cats sweat, losing fluid through their paws. This loss of water must be replaced in the cat’s body.

If your cat eats a wet diet, it won’t need to drink as much water as its nourishment will also be a hydration source. On a particularly hot day, your cat will still need to supplement its fluid intake. To convince a cat to drink, place a water bowl away from your cat’s food bowl.

cat food dish placement

For many owners, it makes sense to place water beside a food bowl. This way, the cat can hydrate after eating. This also saves space in the home. Unfortunately, this setup will not appeal to a cat’s basic instincts.

Cats have a good sense of smell. As explained by Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, cats use their nose to scent out prey. This, in turn, tells the cat if something will be safe to eat.

If you keep water close to food, the cat will become concerned that the water is tainted somehow. It may assume that prey uses the water to bathe, for example. Cats have an innate distrust of still water anyway.

Keep food and water as far away from each other as practically possible. Ideally, keep the two bowls in different rooms. Also, if your cat’s water is kept too close to its litter tray, the scent of this will reduce its likelihood to drink.

Why Won’t My Cat Drink Water?

Even if you move your cat’s water bowl, it may still refuse to drink as many cats distrust still water. Cats that roam outside drink from running water sources, such as streams. This water tastes and smells cleaner to cats.

The taste and scent of tap water can also be off-putting to a cat, especially in hard water areas. Tap water contains chlorine as a cleaning element. This makes the water safe to drink, but it smells strongly to a feline.

Just as you would avoid drinking water from a swimming pool, a cat finds tap water unappealing. This means that you’ll need to find a way to convince your cat to hydrate.

Changing Diet

One way to get a cat to drink more water is to switch to a dry diet. As per Nutrition Research, cats that exclusively dine on kibble will drink water more regularly.

If you wish to change your cat’s diet, you should do so gradually. Transition your cat from one diet plan to another over a 2-week period as a sudden dietary shift could upset your cat’s stomach. Also, your cat may reject an entirely dry diet as cats dislike change. Do not force your cat to live exclusively on dry food.

Another solution may be to feed your cat a liquid diet occasionally. A chicken bone broth, for example, will appeal to a cat’s sense of smell. This will also encourage hydration. However, cats should not subsist on a liquid diet alone.

Correct Vessel

Once you have moved your cat’s water bowl to a different location, consider whether the bowl is suitable. Many things could be unsuitable about a cat’s water bowl:

Lingering Scents

Do multiple cats drink from the same water bowl? Did your cat’s water bowl once hold food? Has it been a while since you last gave the bowl a thorough clean? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your cat will be less keen to drink from the bowl. A cat’s strong sense of smell picks up on lingering odors.


Some cats have allergies to plastic. If this applies to your cat, it will avoid a plastic bowl. Common warning signs of a plastic allergy in cats include:

  • Shortness of breath after drinking
  • Coughing and sneezing after drinking
  • Breaking out in hives or rashes
  • Streaming eyes or nose

Allergic reactions pass comparatively quickly but are uncomfortable for a cat. Change the plastic bowl for a porcelain or ceramic alternative. This will have the added benefit of making the water cooler and more appealing.

Whisker Fatigue

Whisker fatigue occurs when a cat’s whiskers brush against solid objects. Cat whiskers are in constant use throughout the day. A cat uses its whiskers to feel its way around and detect changes to air pressure. This leaves the whiskers feeling tender after a while.

If a cat’s water bowl is too narrow, its whiskers will brush against it. The pain this causes will leave your cat reluctant to drink. Offer your cat a wider bowl, a freestanding water source, or a saucer.

Bottled or Filtered Water

Do not be surprised if your cat still refuses to drink after you adjust its bowl. If you are still serving tap water, the scent issue remains. The easiest way around this is to offer bottled or filtered water.

Investing in a water filter is certainly the most cost-effective option. This will remove the scent of chlorine from the water, making it more palatable to cats.

If you choose bottled water, always ensure that you pick up still fluid. Sparkling water will confuse a cat. It does not know where the bubbles are coming from or disappearing to. This will enhance that innate sense of distrust that cats have for water.

Moving Water Sources

You may find that a cat that rejects a water bowl loves to drink from a running tap. That makes no sense. If the cat hates the scent of tap water, why would it drink from the source?

Partly, this is due to the lack of scent that comes from such activity. More importantly though, cats love to drink from moving water sources. As discussed, this is a holdover from wild ancestors. If you find your cat drinking from the toilet bowl, this is a likely explanation.

You could make water move within a bowl. Tap the side of the bowl with a spoon, for example, and it will ripple. Just be careful not to spill the water.

Alternatively, look into getting a cat water fountain. These appliances create a constant source of fresh, flowing water. Most cats find this impossible to resist. A fountain is often an impactful remedy for a fussy feline drinker.

cat stopped drinking water

Appealing Tastes

Cats do not find plain water to be bland or tasteless. They can detect flavor, which is part of the explanation for their fussiness. You may need to make water taste better for your cat to drink in sufficient quantities.

Science suggests adding sugar to a cat’s tap water. This is surprising, as cats cannot detect sweet tastes. With the addition of a pinch of salt, these two flavors neutralize each other. This, coupled with masking the taste and scent of chlorine, makes the water more appealing.

You could also add some ice cubes to the water. On a hot day, the cat will find this more refreshing on the tongue. This, again, will improve the taste sensation of water to a feline.

If all else fails, try adding a little tuna juice or gravy to the water. This will go one of two ways. The cat may grow excited and lap with abandon. Alternatively, you may find yourself back at square one. The cat scents food in its water and steers well clear.

Hydrating Treats

If all else fails, you can try to get some water into your cat through food. As discussed, a wet diet will help with this. If necessary, discuss options with a feline nutritionist. An expert will pinpoint an age-appropriate, balanced food that meets all your cat’s needs.

You could also supplement your cat’s diet with treats. Most cats are indifferent to fruit as they cannot taste sweetness. You may have some joy with offering a cat watermelon. Just remove the seeds first. This fruit is 90% water, so it’s hydrating.

Strawberries are another food that has some hydration qualities. Many cats go crazy for the smell of this fruit but are less interested in the taste. It remains worth a try. Just steer clear of giving a cat an orange. This fruit is toxic to felines.

You may also wish to consider improvising with treats. On a summer’s day especially, your cat may enjoy licking and crunching ice cubes. Plain ice is unlikely to be tempting though, especially if you use tap water.

Instead, freeze some gravy or tuna juice into an ice cube tray. Place a solid treat in the center to give your cat something to work toward. This will keep the cat cool as well as replacing any lost fluid.

Always keep a cat’s water bowl away from food. That is lesson one in feline hydration management. Beyond this, observe your cat and learn its preferences. Eventually, you’ll find a way to convince your cat to drink enough to stay safe.