Cat Food and Hydration

Why Do Cats Drink Dirty Water? (Puddles, Pools + Plant Pots)

Your finicky cat refuses to drink clean water from its bowl, preferring to drink from dirty puddles, barrels, ponds, bathtubs, pools, and sinks instead. Some cats will even drink water from the toilet bowl. It makes you wonder why cats find these unclean sources of hydration so appealing.

The most common cause of cats refusing their water bowl is keeping the water too close to the food. In the wild, cats don’t like to drink near their kill. Your cat may dislike the type of bowl you’re using, especially if it is plastic or too narrow. The smell of chlorine or other chemicals in tap water may be putting your cat off drinking from its bowl as well.

Cats need to stay hydrated, and it can be difficult to make them drink fresh water. However, this doesn’t mean it is safe for them to drink outdoors. Stagnant water can contain a host of parasites and diseases that may lead to negative reactions, such as vomiting and diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress, fever, and severe symptoms such as irregular breathing.

Why Do Cats Like To Drink Dirty Water So Much?

If a cat chooses a puddle over fresh water, it often means there’s something wrong with the location, type of water, or the bowl itself.

Because your cat can’t get its water elsewhere, it will drink from murky puddles, streams, barrels, and other unclean sources. What seems filthy and unhygienic to humans may seem completely natural for your cat.

Location of the Water Bowl

Most owners keep their cats’ food and water bowls together so that it’s convenient for them. However, cats don’t like the two to be close together.

In the wild, cats instinctively avoid drinking water near their kill. Any water source near a cat’s dead prey is likely to get contaminated. Cats will, therefore, choose water that’s further away from their hunting zone to avoid getting sick.

If you’re placing your cat’s food too close to its water bowl, understand that your cat’s ancestral instincts are just kicking in at this moment. Cats in the wild go through great measures to avoid illness.

Many cats also don’t like their water to smell like their food. If your cat’s food is too close to its water, chances are some food debris will land inside the water bowl.

You can try moving your cat’s water bowl far away from its food, preferably in a different room or floor of your house. Try a few different locations until you determine where your pet likes to spend most of its time.

Alternatively, you can keep a few water bowls in different areas of the house and allow your cat to decide where it wants to drink from.

Old Water

Cats don’t like to drink water from a bowl that has been sitting out for hours. Cats prefer fresh water and most cats have a completely different definition of clean, which is why some may opt for puddle or rainwater.

cat drinking from puddle

The longer you leave your cat’s water bowl unattended, the more dust, dirt, and bacteria it collects on the surface. If your cat enjoys playing with the water in its bowl, it will get dirty faster. Think about what can transfer from your cat’s paws into its bowls (mud, soil, litter, household detergents, and snow salt).

Moreover, the food and different odors from your home can make water taste stale to your cat.

Disinfect your cat’s water bowl every day with boiling water. Keep your cat’s water far away from its food, change the water daily, and refill it as necessary throughout the day.

Cats Prefer Hunting for Water

Some cats may prefer hunting for water, just as they prefer hunting for food. This is the reason most cats like their water away from their food.

Let your cat become the hunter by placing water in multiple locations of the house. This will allow your cat to choose its favorite drinking spot.

Cats like to feel that they’re the ones in control of their actions. Restricting their water to one location makes them feel less in command of their turf.

Chemicals in the Water

Tap water is often treated with chemicals, such as chlorine, to keep it clean. However, what seems to keep our water clean may appear as a source of contamination for your cat.

Cats have a highly sensitive sense of smell. They’re more reliant on their sense of smell than they are of their sight or touch.

Dirty water is far more appealing to cats. Puddles may be high in microbes and rotten vegetation, but for most cats, this smell is organic and attractive. The smell of chemicals and detergents in water, on the other hand, is revolting, even for the most domesticated cats.

Try giving your water boiled water that has been cooled. You can also let tap water stand for a few minutes before pouring it into the bowl for your cat. This will allow the chlorine and some of the chemicals to dissipate.


Regular dish soap may make your dishes smell nice, but the smell of most detergents is a repellent for most cats.

Many scented detergents contain lime, lemon or orange fragrance, and cats loathe the smell of citrus. If your cat refuses to drink from its clean bowl every time it gets a whiff of it, chances are your detergent may be to blame.

The chemicals in the tap water and the smell of the detergent are surefire ways of keeping your cat away from its water source.

Try using an unscented, nontoxic detergent to wash your cat’s bowl and make sure every trace of the soap is rinsed off. You can also pour boiling hot water into your cat’s dishes, let the water sit for a while and rinse and scrub as needed. In most cases, the disinfecting properties of boiling water are enough to clean a cat’s bowl.

Water Levels

Cats are creatures of habit and, oddly enough, many cats may have their water intake preferences down to the level of water in their bowl.

Cats are far-sighted. Therefore, your cat may use its paw to test the level of water before it drinks it, whether it’s too high or too low. Once it does put its paw into the bowl, your cat already knows the water is contaminated and will refuse to drink it.

Therefore, when you fill your cat’s bowl, try filling it the same amount every day. If the water has reduced by the end of the day, refill it immediately so that your cat doesn’t quench its thirst elsewhere.

Running Water

Some cats prefer running water over water that is sitting stagnant in one place. This causes them to drink stream water or water flowing down gutters and rooftops. You may have even caught your cat drinking water from a running faucet.

Cats prefer to drink running water because it is more aerated and is richer in oxygen. Your cat may be drinking from a puddle following rainfall because the rainwater aerates the puddle water as it falls on the surface.

Another reason is that cats may instinctively be concerned about whether stagnant water will make them sick. Running water is almost always cleaner than still water in the wild.

Your cat may choose running water because it’s uncomfortable to hunch over a bowl. Cats know that hunching over is a more vulnerable position in the wild as a predator can easily pounce over them.

A study by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery revealed that 12 of 13 cats had a greater intake of water from a fountain.

Most water fountains for cats come with a filter. The added bonus with a filter is that it removes unpleasant odors and tastes from water.

cat drinking from bathtub

Your Cat Doesn’t Like its Water Bowl

The material of your cat’s bowl may be putting it off. Plastic can taint the water and can sometimes give it a faint smell. Metal is reflective and some cats may not like this.

The shape of the bowl can also be a problem for many cats. Narrow bowls may hit your cat’s whiskers, making your cat less willing to drink from its bowl. Remember that whiskers are an extremely sensitive aspect of a cat’s anatomy. Cats can experience “whisker fatigue” when their whiskers constantly hit the sides of a bowl.

To make your cat’s water dish more appealing, try a wide-brimmed, ceramic bowl. You can also keep a similar bowl outside so that it catches rainwater. Rainwater collecting in a clean bowl is less dirty than rainwater puddles. You may have to test several different water bowls.

Water Temperature

Cats can be picky about the temperature of their water. When the weather is hot, some cats may prefer an ice cube placed in their water. Others may choose to lick the condensation off windows or steam from a hot shower.

Try playing with different water temperatures, keeping in mind how warm or cold the weather is.

Cats are obligate carnivores that thrive in desert environments. The domestic cat’s ancestors received most of their hydration from animal meat. Because their meals often contained sufficient moisture, they instinctively drank less water than many other animals did.

However, when a cat is fed a low-moisture, kibble-rich diet, it’s more likely to be dehydrated. Dirty puddles carry a host of disease-causing microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Spirochetes, and Giardia that cause severe reactions in cats, according to the International Journal of Environmental Health Research and the American Society for Microbiology.

However, keeping cats away from outdoor water sources isn’t the solution. Finding better ways to encourage your cat to drink more clean water is far more beneficial.

If your cat continues to be selective about its water sources, be on the lookout for symptoms of dehydration, such as dry mouth, sunken eyes, lethargy, and an elevated heart rate.