cat drinking rainwater
Cat Food and Hydration

Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water?

Cats are descended from desert animals, leaving them with an innate ability to retain water. Many domesticated housecats live on the edge of dehydration, ignoring the clean water in their bowl. This becomes frustrating when they insist on drinking filthy water, in or out of the home.

Tap water, while clean, tends to contain traces of chlorine. This scent of this chemical is offensive to a feline. The water in a plant pot or puddle, meanwhile, contains all kinds of interesting aromas. It’s potentially unhealthy, but stagnant water is very appealing to your cat.

We will look at why cats drink unclean water and explore the risks. There is a wide array of symptoms of sickness that you’ll need to look out for in your pet.

How Much Water Should a Cat Drink Each Day?

Cats do not spend as much time drinking water because they are descended from desert animals. As a result, cats are hardwired to retain water and don’t need too much. After all, for your domesticated feline’s ancestors, liquid refreshment would have been in short supply.

According to Preventive Vet, cats need around 9oz of water per day. That’s roughly half a plastic bottle. This does not all need to come from their water bowl, though. If your cat is fed a wet food diet, they’ll gain plenty of moisture from that meal.

Why Does My Cat Ignore Their Water Bowl?

Cats need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. You should always top up a cat’s water bowl, especially if their diet is predominantly dry. Despite this, you’ll often find that your cat’s water bowl is virtually untouched.

There could be many reasons for this. These include the following:

  • The water is too cold, or warm and tepid. In the case of the latter, drop a couple of ice cubes in and see if that helps.
  • The water has been left out too long.
  • The water bowl is too low to the ground. If your cat struggles with their mobility, they may be reluctant to bend.
  • The water bowl is not large enough, and irritates your cat’s whiskers.
  • There is more or less water than usual. Your cat may dip a paw in the bowl to test the quantity. They then consider the water ‘contaminated’ and lose interest.
  • The water bowl is too close to your cat’s food or bed.
  • The water bowl is placed against a wall, or in a corner. Cats do not like to feel that they don’t have an escape route while vulnerable.

These are simple, everyday explanations for your cat’s reluctance to drink that can be easily resolved. Try moving your cat’s bowl, changing the size and shape, and remaining consistent with quantity.

The smell could be another reason why your cat refuses to drink tap water. Tap water that is processed by underground pipes is treated with chlorine. Only small traces of chlorine make it into drinking water. This is why a glass of water does not smell like a swimming pool.

Unfortunately, we need to remember that cats have extremely sensitive noses. When they hover over a bowl filled with tap water, chlorine is all they can smell. This will be a deterrent to a cat.

Why Do Cats Drink Unclean Water?

Cats often find tap water unappealing. This means that you may often find your pet ignoring the water bowl. This doesn’t mean that they’re not thirsty, though.

You may notice them lapping at foul water outside as their life depended upon it. Nobody ever said that cat decision-making made sense.

Dirty water still has a strong smell. The trouble is, this has the opposite impact on cats that it does humans. Cats don’t look at dirty water and see discoloration or bacteria.

They smell something appealing or interesting. This could be grass, fungi, animal waste or anything else that sickens us as humans. Cats may become unwell as a result of drinking dirty water.

cat drinking from puddle

Can Cats Drink Plant Water?

Plant pots can collect a great deal of water. They also tend to be at a fun height from a cat to drink from. Unfortunately, it can be dangerous for your pet to do this.

Firstly, check whether the plant itself is toxic to your cat. Even if the greenery is theoretically safe, think about the soil in the plant pot. There may be worms or parasites living within.

Rainwater, in itself, is not necessarily dangerous. You could collect this by the bucket if your cat refuses to drink from their bowl. Overall, however, fresh or treated water is always preferred.

Can Cats Drink Rainwater from Puddles?

Puddles are among the most dangerous water sources for your cat to drink from. They are usually filled with any number of viral parasites and diseases. Bird poop is the primary example, but other small animals could also leave their waste behind.

Just some of the conditions that can be found in puddles include:

  • Giardia
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Leptospirosis

Any of these conditions can be dangerous, and will require urgent medical attention. Keep your cat from drinking out of puddles wherever possible.

Can Cats Drink Pond Water?

Are you lucky enough to have a garden pond? Then you’ll have to be careful about observing your cat’s interaction. While many cats are averse to getting wet, they may find the pond’s contents irresistible. Your cat may even attempt to scoop the fish out with their paws.

Pond water should be avoided by cats. It tends to be stagnant, and filled with any number of foreign objects. This may be less of a concern if you change your pond water constantly. It will be tough to do so with sufficient frequency, though.

A cat that drinks water from a pond will likely experience a stomach upset. How severe this is will depend on how much they drink, and how often.

In a best-case scenario, your pet may end up with severe wind. This won’t be pleasant, but neither will it be life-threatening. Acute vomiting or diarrhea may also follow, however.

Cat Cats Drink Dishwater?

When you’re doing the dishes, your cat will likely come to see what’s happening. Maybe this is because you took unfinished food away to wash their bowl. They may have caught the scent of leftover human food. It may be as simple as they heard the faucet, and thought they’d come to play.

What happens if your cat starts drinking from a bowl of water filled with dish soap? It’s unlikely that your cat will attempt to drink this water. As we have established, cats like to keep food and water separate. Keep an eye on your pet all the same. Also, be careful about whether they are ‘eating’ soapy bubbles. A mischievous and playful cat may find this irresistible.

Thankfully, most dish soaps are pet-safe. Manufacturers realize that cats are always likely to appear where they shouldn’t! Stomach troubles are always possible, though. If your cat experiences vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours, see a vet.

Carcinogens are another concern in dish soap. There are safer brands available, typically outside of the shelves of supermarkets. Alternatively, you could make your own. Nature’s Nurture provides instructions on how to make toxin-free dish soap.

Can Cats Drink Bath and Shower Water?

Does your cat race into the bathroom whenever you turn on the shower? Or perch on the edge of the tub while you take a bath? This behavior is far more common than you may realize. Unfortunately, it can be very detrimental to feline health if they start drinking the water.

This is no reflection on your, or your hygiene. The issue comes from the presence of soap, shower gel or bubble bath. These products often contain toxins that will upset your pet’s stomach. Diarrhea and vomiting will frequently follow.

In addition to this, your cat’s skin will suffer through exposure to these products. Human soaps are not designed for the pH of a cat’s skin. This means that cats are likely to end up with a rash, or an allergic reaction.

Can Cats Drink Toilet Water?

Do the male members of your family insist on leaving the toilet seat up? If so, add danger to your cat to the list of reasons to tell them off. Cats often drink from the toilet, and can make themselves very sick in doing so.

Cats drink from the toilet because it’s fresher than their water bowl. Every time we pull the flush, the water in a toilet is refreshed. However, that doesn’t mean that the toilet is safe for your cat to drink from. No, we can’t quite believe that we just used that sentence either.

Think about what goes into a toilet, for a start. These are porcelain breeding grounds for bacteria, including E.Coli. But what if they clean them regularly? Well, that will typically involve bleach – another dangerous poison for felines.

If you have a pet in your home, it’s safest to clean your toilet with tablets or discs. These will still cause some degree of stomach upset, but nothing as severe as bleach.

Try to remove your cat’s access to the toilet by keeping the seat down. All your cat sees is fresh water. This means that they will attempt to guzzle from the world’s biggest water bowl regularly.

Can Cats Drink River Water?

Wild cats will instinctively seek a fresh river or stream to drink from. If you live near such a water source, your pet will likely do the same.

This is generally safe, in that river water will almost always be clean. It will be a sizable body, and continuously refreshed. What’s more, a cat will take delight from the fresh taste and constant renewal.

Where the problem with river water lies is in basic safety. It’s entirely possible for a feline to fall in, and be swept away by a current. Cats are lightweight, and it’s rare that you’ll realize they’re in trouble before it’s too late. Even if your cat does make it out, they’ll be soaked to the bone. Some felines love this, but most don’t. Your cat could end up sick, or at best, cold, wet and miserable.

It’s also possible for a cat to drink excessively from a river. Overhydration dilutes the sodium and electrodes in the body. As cats are so tiny, this can cause severe problems in their internal organs.

Can Cats Drink Water from a Fish Tank?

If you have a fish tank, it will be a constant source of fascination for cats. For a start, there are a whole host of potential snacks swimming around in there. Cats are instinctively driven to scoop fish from the water. Given half a chance, your cat will do this from a tank.

Of course, scooping is also a way that your cat could obtain water. This makes it essential that your fish tank is completely sealed from above. Cats will try to gain access, and if there is a loophole, they’ll find it. The filter will also likely be irresistible to your pet.

There is good news, though. A cat is unlikely to suffer health complications from drinking from a fish tank. No known diseases are passed from fish to felines, and the water should be clean. You shouldn’t encourage the behavior, though. It will be hugely stressful for the fish, and your cat could choke on decorations.

The best way to keep your cat out of an aquarium is to apply a hood. Avoid glass – your cat may sit on, and break this. You could also apply a little double-sided tape to this hood. Cats loathe the sensation of stickiness on their paws. Once they encounter it, they’ll quickly move on. Make it tricky for your cat to gain access to the tank, too. Don’t place it too close too a bookshelf or chair, which your cat can leap from.

Finally, cover the tank at night with a towel or blanket. Cats are nocturnal, and may not be able to resist tackling the tank while you sleep. If you don’t want to be awakened by a crash and possible flood, remove the temptation.

cat drinking from bathtub

How Can I Stop My Cat from Drinking Dirty Water?

Keeping your cat inside will go some way to alleviating their access to dirty water. If you have an indoor cat, they will rarely have access to puddles and plant pots. You cannot watch your cat 24/7, though. They may still sneak into the bathroom while you’re out.

The easiest way to prevent your cat from drinking dirty water is keeping thirst at bay. We previously discussed how to make your pet’s water bowl more appealing, but it bears repeating. Useful steps include:

  • Using a wide bowl that will not irritate your pet’s sensitive whiskers. If their whiskers rub on the side of a bowl, it could hurt your cat.
  • Keep your cat’s water bowl in a different location to their food. The strong smell of food may ‘contaminate’ water in the eyes of your cat. You should certainly keep a water bowl far away from a litter box. Avoid corners of rooms, too.
  • Be consistent with quantities of water, and when you refresh a bowl. Cats are creatures of habit. They’ll soon make drinking a routine.
  • If your cat is entering their senior years, elevate their bowl. This will make it easier for them to reach without bending.
  • Try many different bowls. Your cat may gravitate more to tin than plastic, for example.

Another simple solution that you could try is to pour mineral water into your cat’s bowl. Don’t refrigerate this first, as some cats loathe cold sensations on their tongue. Your cat may be happier to drink bottled water though, as it lacks a chlorinated smell.

This will be more expensive. It could feel like a waste if they still opt not to drink often, too. Cats will never be avid drinkers, due to their ability to retain water. It’s certainly better and healthier than any alternative, though.

One other solution could be to encourage your cat to drink by providing running water. If you switch on a tap, you may find that your cat appears from nowhere. Equally, if you leave a tap dripping, your cat will likely remain closed at all times.

A water fountain, which keeps a steady supply of water moving, could be a great investment. Fussy felines are always more likely to drink from these contraptions than a bowl. There are many types of water fountains available. Some leave water streaming constantly, and others are motion-activated.

Why Do Cats Love to Drink Running Water?

We have established that cats vastly prefer to drink running water, but why? There are many reasons for this.

  • Instinct tells cats that still water is not always to be trusted. Wild cats would often seek refreshment from a stream, or similar source.
  • Cats do not place much emphasis on their eyesight to negotiate the world. This means that a bowl of still water may be tricky to locate. Running water makes a very distinct sound.
  • Moving water becomes oxygenated. This means that it tastes better to a cat, especially if the water is chlorinated. This is why some cats bat and paw at their water bowls before drinking.
  • It’s just more fun. Some cats love playing with water.

If your cat is content to drink running water, encourage them to do so. Anything is better than dirty water. We have already discussed the possibility of a fountain. Alternatively, you could even tap the side of your cat’s bowl with a spoon. This will create a ripple effect that cats find appealing.

How Can I Tell if My Cat is Dehydrated?

Dehydration needs to taken seriously in cats. Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell if your cat is getting enough liquid. After all, if they barely seem to drink from their bowl, are they not at constant risk?

The short answer to this is yes. There are some very particular symptoms to this condition, though. They include:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Dry mouth and sticky gums
  • Panting
  • Loss of interest in food

The most telling sign, however, is the elasticity of your cat’s skin. Gently pinch the pack of your cat’s neck, or between their shoulders. If your cat is healthy, their skin will quickly return to normal. If it takes some time, or appears reluctant to move, your cat is likely dehydrated.

If your cat is dehydrated, get them to a vet. Call ahead, as a professional will provide first aid advice. You may be advised to submerge your cat in water, or to offer electrolytes.

Every case is different, and a vet’s advice should always be followed to the letter. What matters most is that you get your cat the help they need. Dehydration can very quickly become a matter of life and death. A vet will be able to replace fluids as a matter of urgency.

Cats drinking dirty water is a constant source of concern. You should be vigilant about keeping an eye on your pet, and their health. The sight of your cat at a questionable source isn’t enough to justify an emergency vet appointment. If they appear to be struggling with symptoms afterward, however, seek help. No good can come of ignoring symptoms, and it could be something serious.

The best way to avoid issues is to prevent your cat from becoming thirsty. This may be easier said than done, if your pet is fussy about water. It’s essential though, as when a cat gets thirsty enough they’ll drink anything. Ensure that, when this happens, your cat has a clean source of hydration available. Dehydration may be extremely dangerous, but drinking stagnant water is not much better.