cat drinking rainwater
Cat Food and Hydration

Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water?

Cats have been living alongside humans for 10,000 years. For half that time, we didn’t even keep them indoors. While 10,000 years may seem like a long time, it’s not long enough for cats to completely adjust to domestic life. This results in cats developing odd habits, like drinking dirty water. Even if you provide fresh, clean water, your kitty may still choose to drink from a plant pot or puddle.

Cats prefer to drink dirty water when they dislike the water, bowl, or where the bowl is placed. In the wild, cats refuse to drink where they hunt. The animal carcasses would contaminate the water and make the cat sick. Because of that, if a domestic cat’s bowl is near its food, it may refuse to drink it out of instinct.

Plastic containers also get scratched up over time, allowing bacteria to build up in the small crevices. Since cats have sensitive noses and taste buds, they will refuse to drink clean water if it’s in a bowl that’s possibly contaminated. Bowl shape is also a factor. Cats dislike lapping up water in bowls where their sensitive whiskers touch the brim. Even with the “perfect cat bowl,” cats are picky, and it might take a while before your cat accepts the bowl.

Why Do Cats Drink Muddy Water?

Even when cats have better options, they may still choose to drink muddy water. This is a problem many owners encounter. They provide bowls filled with fresh drinking water. Even still, their cats turn up their noses and drink out of:

It may seem like your cat is being rebellious on purpose. However, it’s perfectly natural for a cat to take its chances with muddy water over what you’ve poured into its bowl.

Most of the reasons have to do with instinct. Cats haven’t turned their back entirely on old notions and cues. After all, they have yet to be completely domesticated. Your cat prefers to drink muddy water because:

Water Bowl Too Close To Food Bowl

Cats instinctively avoid water sources that are too close to where their food is. When cats hunt animals in the wild, the carcasses decompose and rot. Cats know that water sources near the dead animals potentially contain bacteria. As such, they go elsewhere to drink.

Of course, many cats eat all the food in their bowl, and it doesn’t contaminate their water. Nonetheless, there is still something in them that tells them to drink water as far from their feeding area as possible.

cat drinking from puddle

Water Bowl Is Plastic

Plastic containers may get scratched or marred by your cat, your dishwasher, or even you. When this happens, bacteria can develop in the little cracks. Even if you routinely clean it, the microbes can survive and thrive in the tiniest crevice.

Even if you don’t spot this, your cat will notice. Cats have an impressive sense of smell, and their whiskers help with sensory input much like our fingertips. Your cat may understand that its water has been accidentally contaminated, or will be soon. Instead of taking the risk, your cat will decide to find its water elsewhere.

Water Bowl’s Shape Isn’t Right

With that in mind, cat whiskers are very sensitive. If they continuously brush against the water bowl as the cat drinks, that will irritate the cat.

That’s especially common for bowls that are very deep or that have a narrow brim. Instead of being tickled or poked every time it drinks, the cat will just move on to another option.

Cats Like Multiple Drinking Sources

In the wild, cats don’t always drink from the same water source. The location may not always be available, it may have predators nearby, and it’s always good to have options.

Domestic cats are more likely to drink water if they have to search for it. It’s in their nature to look for their resources and pretend they are powerful little hunters, trying to survive, instead of pampered house pets.

Water Sitting in Bowl For Too Long

Cats are fussy and refuse to drink water that has been sitting out for too long. After a few hours, dust particles and bacteria will cover the surface of the water. Even though the muddy water that cats drink is far dirtier, it might smell more appealing than what is in the bowl.

Water Doesn’t Taste Right

Human drinking water is often purified with chemicals. Cats can smell these chemicals. Although they are harmless to us, the cat may think that it is toxic contamination.

Bowl Wasn’t Cleaned Correctly

If the bowl wasn’t cleaned right, your cat will refuse to drink from it. This doesn’t just include bowls that are washed badly, but also those washed with chemicals.

Remember, cats have sensitive noses, so don’t use bleach or any other harsh cleaning products to wash the bowl. If that smell isn’t completely removed, your cat won’t drink from it.

Do Cats Like Stale Water?

In the wild, animals drink from running streams and rivers. Bacteria and dust are more likely to settle in stagnant water. As such, cats are usually drawn to sources with moving water (like faucets), because they think it’s safer to drink. Running water also contains more oxygen than still water. This can make it taste better.

Do Cats Prefer Dirty Water?

Cats will always try to drink from a source they believe is safe. Even though they have an innate antiviral immune system, according to Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, cats like to play it safe.

If the condition or position of the water bowl is unsatisfactory, the cat will drink from somewhere else. Even if you change the water, once a cat decides that bowl is off-limited, it’ll be hard to change its mind.

Cats don’t understand that certain water sources (such as the toilet) are unhealthy to drink from. In their mind, their water bowl is fully contaminated. Any other water that smells or tastes different will be far more acceptable.

Likewise, what’s clean for cats is not always what’s clean for us. Good-smelling water may still include chemically-treated water, or water that’s contaminated with toxic liquids. Traces of salt and minerals will also be appealing to cats, since it smells more earthy and natural.

Why Do Cats Drink Plant Water?

Plant water usually contains more oxygen and has more minerals than tap water. Dirt has:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Sodium

This enriches the water, making it taste and smell more organic. Cats prefer this over human drinking water. Our water is usually purified with chemicals and overly filtered.

Cats in the wild get their minerals from the freshwater they find in rivers and streams. Depending on their diet, domestic cats lack any sources of minerals. Yet their bodies still require it as much as we do.

Cats will smell the microbes that plant water contains and be drawn to the earthy smell. As long as the plant isn’t dangerous for the cat to eat, it is perfectly healthy for it to drink plant water. This is especially true if the cat was previously feral. It will have a tougher immune system due to living on the streets.

How to Get a Cat To Stop Drinking Dirty Water

Cats may get seriously ill from drinking dirty water. It’s best to discourage this behavior, and drive your cat back toward its clean water bowl. The best ways to accomplish this include:

  • Getting a shallow bowl with a wide brim
  • Cleaning the bowl every day (no bleach)
  • Getting a ceramic, metal, or glass bowl
  • Placing the bowl away from its food
  • Placing multiple bowls around the house
  • Changing the location of the bowl whenever the cat gets bored of it
  • Pouring new water every 24 hours
  • Getting a water fountain
  • Using rainwater instead of tap water (only if you live in a rural area)

If you decide to get your cat a fountain, make sure that it doesn’t have a plastic dispenser or container. Water fountains made entirely of ceramic or metal are a lot more expensive than plastic ones. However, you can find affordable options that include a plastic body that’s paired to a metal container and dispenser.

Cats are finicky. They might dislike drinking from bowls regardless of how appealing you make them. If your cat refuses to drink water from a bowl no matter what, you can always just pour some water into the wet food. This will make a yummy soup that your cat will never turn down.

Is it Safe for Cats to Drink Rainwater?

Rainwater is only safe for cats to drink if meets two criteria:

  • It’s collected directly from the sky
  • It’s collected in an area with minimum pollution

Rainwater is distilled and purified from being evaporated by the sun. However, rainwater picks up contamination in the air as it falls. If you live in a big city or near a factory, it’s not advised for you to collect rainwater. The pollution will make it harmful. If you live in an area with clean air, you should collect the rainwater carefully. Use a:

  • Clean glass
  • Metal container
  • Ceramic container

The rainwater should be directly from the sky. Once it touches the ground or your roof, consider it contaminated. Don’t let your cat drink it.

Cat Drank Mop Water

If your cat drank mop water, you need to act fast. If there was any bleach in there, no matter how little, it will burn the cat’s mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines.

You should not try to make the cat vomit it out. The corrosive nature of the chemicals will only cause further damage to the cat’s insides as it comes back up. In order to dilute the chemicals in its stomach, feed the cat:

  • Warm milk
  • Soft foods that don’t contain any acidic content

Wash the cat’s mouth with water. If the cat’s fur or paws came into contact with the water, wash those areas too.

You should continue to feed the cat milk and soft foods throughout the next few days. You can mix the food with small amounts of heartburn medication that’s safe for pets in order to settle the stomach.

Most importantly, you should take your pet to a vet, even if the home remedies seem to be working. Within 4 days of drinking mop water, consider it an emergency and take the cat to the vet immediately if it:

  • Starts to vomit
  • Seems lethargic
  • Appears to be in pain
  • Refuses to eat
  • Starts complaining

Can Cats Get Sick from Drinking Dirty Water?

Cats can get sick from drinking dirty water. The most common kind of infection a cat will get is leptospirosis. It’s a bacterial infection present in:

  • Subtropical environments
  • Marshy, muddy waters
  • Heavily inundated areas, such as crop farms

Outdoor cats are more likely to get infected than indoor cats. Likewise, juvenile cats that haven’t been vaccinated are at the greatest risk, according to the Journal of Comparative Pathology. That’s especially true for those that like being outdoors during the rainy season. Cats that live in areas with other animals are also at risk. The infection can be transmitted by drinking the urine of an infected animal.

cat drinking from bathtub

Can Cats Get a UTI From Dirty Water?

Cats cannot get a UTI from dirty water. That’s because water gets absorbed into the bloodstream once it reaches the stomach. From there, it goes to the kidneys, but by then, all the bacteria and germs have disintegrated. If the water was in any way contaminated, it would affect the stomach and intestines, not the bladder. Cats typically get UTIs due to:

  • Lack of hydration
  • Diabetes
  • Fungal infections

Can Cats Get Worms from Dirty Water?

Cats can get worms from dirty water. The most common types of worms include guinea worms and tapeworms. Stagnant water (especially in warm climates) is a breeding ground for flies and fleas. This usually happens when:

  • Cats drink from puddles outside during the summer
  • Cats are left by themselves for days if the owners are away

Flies and other pests settle on the stagnant water. If that’s the only source of hydration the cat has until the owners come back, the cat has no other choice.

It’s always smart to provide your cat with clean, safe water, even if it refuses to drink it. By applying the advice above, you can help make this option more appealing.