How can I get my cat to use a rabbit drinking bottle?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

How can I get my cat to drink from a drinking bottle — like the ones they use for hamsters , but bigger? I bought one because my cat likes to drink from the tap, but he won’t use it.


Siouxsie: Well, Hanna, I have to tell you that you just won the Most Unique Question About Cat Training award for the year! Sorry, there’s no big prize, but we will give you lots of headbonks and kisses!

Thomas: Our first instinct was to answer, “good luck with that.” But apparently, cats can and do learn how to drink from gravity-fed bottles.

A standard water bottle for rabbits and small animals

A standard water bottle for rabbits and small animals. Image courtesy of Rabbit Hutch Warehouse.

Dahlia: For those of you who haven’t raised rabbits or other small animals, we’ve added a photo (at right) of the type of bottle Hanna is talking about.

Siouxsie: A rabbit drinking bottle works by keeping the water from leaking out through the use of a spring-loaded ball bearing at the bottom of the metal tube. When a rabbit or other animal licks the bottom of the tube, he pushes the ball bearing up and a small amount of water is dispensed.

Thomas: Because cats, dogs, ferrets, and other animals drink the same way as rabbits do, it is possible for a cat to use a gravity-fed water bottle.

Dahlia: We found an article at the Cat Fanciers Association website where the author actually recommended using rabbit watering bottles in catteries because they’re more sanitary than open bowls. Another bonus of using these bottles is that owners can see exactly how much water a cat is drinking, which can be important if you’re trying to monitor an ill cat’s drinking habits.

Siouxsie: The author of the article says some of his cats take to the rabbit bottles right away, while some need a couple of days to figure out and get used to the way the bottles work.

Thomas: You could try showing your cat how the bottle works by running your fingertip (a clean fingertip, of course — wash your hands and rinse them well before you do this) along the bottom of the spout until a bead of water comes out, then show it to your cat and allow him to lick the water off your finger.

Dahlia: Another option might be to rub a tasty liquid along the bottom of the nipple so your cat licks it. As he’s licking off the yummy stuff, he’ll probably hit the dispenser with his tongue and water will come out.

Siouxsie: You don’t want to use solid or sticky foods because they may clog the dispenser. Also, be sure to clean the dispenser right away after your cat has learned to lick it. Food or food-based liquids will grow bacteria, and you don’t want colonies of bacteria growing in your dispenser or your water bottle.

Thomas: If your cat still won’t drink out of the water bottle, it may be because the plastic gives the water a weird taste. If you one of those standard-issue cloudy white plastic bottles a sniff, you’ll detect a weird chemical scent. Mama says she knows from experience that these white drinking bottles (the kind designed for humans, of course) give water a strange and rather unpleasant flavor.

Dahlia: Some companies make rabbit bottles out of a clear plastic similar to Nalgene. Nalgene has much less after-taste than other plastics.

Siouxsie: You’ll also need to mount the bottle where your cat can have access to it without much difficulty. Rabbit bottles are designed to be mounted on cages (We hope you don’t have your cat in a cage!) but with a little adaptation and creativity, you can place the bottle within easy reach of your cat. Put a bowl or absorbent mat under the drinking bottle to catch any leaks.

Spigot-style water bottle. Image courtesy of Rabbit Hutch Warehouse.

Spigot-style water bottle. Image courtesy of Rabbit Hutch Warehouse.

Thomas: Of course, it’s just as important to clean your watering bottle as it is to clean your cat’s drinking bowl. Rinse and refill the bottle two times at most, then give both the bottle and the dispenser a good wash with dish soap or detergent and soak it in a mild bleach solution. Of course, it goes without saying that you must rinse the bottle very, very well before you make it available to your cat again.

Dahlia: One thing that rabbit and small animal owners have found is that the spring-mounted ball in a standard drinking bottle can be pretty noisy and bothersome, especially if the bottle is in your room and you’re trying to sleep. If you’re concerned about the noise, or if you think the noise of the ball is driving your cat away from the drinking bottle, you could try a spigot-style model (shown at right). They work in much the same way, but the licking presses the spigot and opens a valve, which causes water to come out.

Siouxsie: Good luck, Hanna. Please let us know how this works out, because we’re dying to know!

  • gp

    hey, im amazed you’ve got no comments on this article cos it seems such a natural and great idea – don’t most cats like to lick on a tap in the hope that water will come out and start flowing! :P
    and i’m definitely gonna try it out… my cat even licks my mineral water bottles, so plastic shouldn’t be a problem for either.
    nice alternative for them more expensive drinking fountains (although these are fun in their own way, too).

  • Sabrina Fies

    Hi my name is Sabrina. I was surfing and found your blog, which I liked very much, which is quite pleasant to read. I return next week to read you again. Greetings Sabrina

  • annie

    I googled “how can I get my cat to use a rabbit bottle” and came up with this result, because I’m trying to train my very intelligent 10 year old Maine Coon, because he’s obsessed with water and water from the tub tap. We can’t leave it running for him because of hard water stains, so I’m trying this rabbit thing using every trick in the book, but he is just sort of refusing. I think you’re right about the plastic. He seems to prefer this tap for some reason and hates drinking out of bowls even though we use ceramic. I thought it might have something to do with positioning, but it may be a matter of taste. Now all I need is a kleen canteen version of animal bottles.

  • Krystine

    My cat kept tipping over her water bowl, so I thought I’d try this, .. she seems to be getting a hang of it, but I don’t think she likes it, well we’ll see how it goes!

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the article! My cat just had surgery and has to be restricted to a kennel space for 8 weeks (so hard!). He always knocks his water bowls over so I have to get him big heavy dog bowls, but I wanted to keep it small so he has more space to move around in the kennel. This sounds like good option, I’m going to go out tonight to find a bottle!

  • Cher

    Glad for the post. It is a unique question and glad for some solutions..
    I want it for international travel with our 2 cats in their kennel that doesn’t leave a wet cage due to spillage. They’ve actually grown comfortable with their cage and now use it for sleeping with the door open at odd times during the day. (Started as a preventative to their clever ways: door scratching and jumping up to open the door handle..)

    As for the bottle:I’ve seen it before with other travelers and wanted to try the rabbit bottle but they need more coaxing.. I’ll try the lick approach..

  • Gina

    My cat also continually licked the faucet for water no matter how much was in his bowl. I bought a rabbit bottle for him. I tried poking the end with my finger to get it to drip and he wasn’t interested enough. So I put a small dish under it and squeezed the bottle a little while he was there to make the water drip out. That was all it took. He loves it and uses it regularly. Not that he doesn’t still go in the sink but we’re still working on breaking that habbit. Hope that helps.

  • Sarah

    I’m definitely gonna give this a go, whenever I put fresh water down for my kittens they just jump in the bowl, splash about and spill it all within minute. Not only causing a real mess but they’re probably not getting enough to actually drink. Will let you know how we get on!

  • Zaytia

    My cat (part Maine) pretty much just wants anything that’s not hers (really doesn’t matter… Avo, broccoli, curry. Even if she hates it she must have it because someone else wants it) and always uses her paw to drink the water in the rabbits cage (dipping her paw in and then licking her paw) instead of drinking her own water. So I changed the rabbit over to a bottle. Now I catch the cat in the rabbit cage drinking from the bottle. No training needed. She just saw the rabbit do it and wants it

  • rosie

    hello my name is rosie i have a 9month old ginger queen called chelsea she wont drink out of a bowl she just knocks them over or puts things in the bowl them sucks the water out of what ever she put in the bowl she is a strange little thing.
    i am going to try training her to use a rabbit bottle as i am scared she with get dehydated and i could bear it if she got ill. when we got her she was far to young so we have work hard to keep her going, she isnt a normal cat she doesnt like to run around all the time she has her pen where her litter tray is and on the far side her food bowl(before anyone says the pen is huge) then she has her travel box with her uses all the time as her bed so when ever we have to take her to the vet she is never stressed which is great.
    unfouturanlly when we got her the people we got her from hide the fax that she has very bad hips but we never get rid of her cuz of that. we love her to bit.

  • Melissa

    I got a drip feeder for our cats because they loved to slap the water in their bowls, making a big wet mess. My girl kitty seems to have no problem with it, but my boy kitty heaves like he’s got a hair all after drinking from it. I was wondering if you knew why, if it will pass or should I be concerned. I AM concerned and can’t find any information about this happening to other cats. Do you have any insight? Thanks!

  • BB

    Melissa, i think your kitty is getting a snootfull of water! My big Buster does that when he drinks upwards from the tap but not sideways. Try lowering the bottle so its about shoulder height to him. Good luck. Some of mine love it n some refuse. That is their birthright!