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 food. The scent of food will contaminate the water in a cat’s mind. Water must be located in the opposite corner to anything else the cat uses. This area should be devoid of any aroma that would deter the cat from drinking.

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

Where To Put a Cat’s Water Bowl

The average 10 lb house cat should drink around 8 oz of water each day. That is one glass, or around half a bottle. On a hot day, or if the cat exercises, more water is required. Cats sweat and lose fluid through their paws. This must be replaced through drinking.

If your cat eats a wet diet, it will not need as much water. This nourishment will double up as hydration. On a hot day though, your cat still needs to supplement this fluid intake. To convince a cat to do so, place a water bowl in an appropriate location.

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 will not appeal to a cat.

Cats have an excellent 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 tasty enough to eat.

If you keep water close to food, the cat will grow confused. It will assume that prey uses the water to bathe. In the cat’s mind, this contaminates the water and makes it unsafe. Cats have an innate distrust of still water anyway. This will magnify that suspicion.

Keep food and water as far away from each other as possible. Ideally, have the two bowls in different rooms entirely. Keep water away from a litter tray. If water is too close to waste, the cat will scent this and steer clear.

Why Won’t My Cat Drink Water?

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

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. There are techniques you can use for this.

Changing Diet

One way to get a cat to drink more water is to shift it to a dry diet. As per Nutrition Research, cats that exclusively dine on kibble drink more. This is not necessarily helping your cat, though. It is simply replacing water that would have been provided by wet food.

In addition, a dry diet is not always beneficial for senior cats. As cats grow older, their teeth weaken. This means that a dry diet may become painful for a cat to chew. Wet food, especially that designed for senior cats, is designed to be swallowed whole.

If you do wish to change your cat’s diet, do it gradually. If your cat already eats kibble as a snack, steadily mix this with wet food. Transition your cat from one diet to another over a period of two weeks. A sudden shift will upset your cat’s stomach.

Also, be prepared to accept that your cat may reject an exclusive dry diet. Cats dislike change, and food is a highlight of many feline days. Do not force your cat to live exclusively on dry food. This is not the most efficient way to improve hydration.

A better solution may be to periodically feed your cat a liquid diet. A chicken bone broth, for example, will appeal to a cat. This will also encourage hydration. Cats should not subside on a liquid diet alone. Offer this meal one or twice a week at most.

Correct Vessel

Once you have moved your cat’s water bowl to a different location, consider the bowl itself. It’s possible that this is the problem. There are many things that could go wrong with 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 good scrub?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your cat will have an issue. A cat’s strong sense of smell picks up on lingering odors. This means that you’ll need to keep the bowl as clean as possible.


Some cats have allergies to plastic. If this applies to your cat, it will obviously avoid a plastic bowl. Drinking from such a vessel will not hydrate the cat. It will just cause a reaction. 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. They are not something a feline should be forced to live with. Change the plastic bowl for a porcelain or ceramic alternative. This will typically make the water cooler and more appealing, too.

Whisker Fatigue

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

If a cat’s water bowl is too narrow, whiskers will brush against it. The pain this provokes will leave the cat reluctant to drink. If the cat is thirsty, it will tip the bowl over and lap from the floor. That is as unhygienic as it is messy.

Offer your cat a wider bowl, a freestanding water source, or even use a saucer. Cats are neat and tidy drinkers. They are unlikely to spill water from a shallow resource. You’ll just need to regularly replenish the supply.

Inappropriate Fill Level

Cats are not just fussy about the taste of water. They are also concerned by the fill level of a bowl. Ideally, a water bowl should be half-full. Any more or less and the cat will become disconcerted.

Overfilling is the biggest risk. The cat will likely dip its paw in the water to ensure it is safe. After this, the cat loses all interest in the water. It is contaminated by the scent of the cat’s paws. It may also contain floating litter or waste trapped within paw leather.

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.