Why Does My Cat Knock Over Her Water Dish?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I adopted a sweet little female kitty in the fall. She has quirky little rituals which are very cute, and … well, very quirky, especially with her food and water. After she’s done eating, or if she doesn’t want to eat when you put her food down, she will “cover it up.” She walks around tbe bowl and paws around it like she’s covering her litter. I’ve read this is a trait from the wild. Is it a habit I can break or should I just let her do this? A few times she has dragged kitchen towels out of the kitchen and also covered her food/water with them.

Also, she constantly knocks over her water bowl. I put fresh water down every day and she stares into it, steps a little back from it like she’s scared of it, paws at it like she’s not sure what it is, and then moves it around until she knocks it all over the floor. Then, she will only drink her water from the side of the bowl, almost like she’s licking the inside of the bowl with minimal water in it. I’m so confused and frustrated because she spills so much water every day. What gives and how can I help her?

~ Jennie

Siamese cat drinking water from a running faucet

Some cats have very strange drinking habits. Photo by Yuval V, distributed under a Creative Commons-Attribution-Share Alike license

Siouxsie: First, let’s talk about the food burying. That is behavior from the wild: big cats will often hide the food they catch if they’re not ready to eat it yet. I guess you’re lucky she’s not dragging it to the top of the cat tree and leaving it there like leopards do with their prey.

Thomas: That’s probably a behavior that’s going to continue until she starts realizing that nobody’s going to eat her food when she’s not around.

Siouxsie: As for the water bowl tipping — well, there are a few ways you might be able to deal with that.

Thomas: First of all, we’d recommend a water dish that’s wider on the bottom than it is on the top. This will make it a lot harder for her to knock it over.

stainless steel water dish

Stainless steel dish with non-skid bottom

Siouxsie: It’s pretty easy to find stainless steel dishes with a non-slip rubber mat on the bottom, and you might try one of those.

Thomas: Our water dish is made of food-grade ceramic, and it’s wider on the bottom too.

Siouxsie: Mama got that because when Sinéad and Siouxsie were kittens, they used to paw in the water and knock the dish over, too.

Thomas: A heavy crockery-style dish could also help because the weight could keep her from moving it.

Siouxsie: We’d recommend that you not use plastic dishes: first of all, they’re too light to be safe for cats that like to move their dishes around; and secondly, they can develop very small scratches in them that harbor germs.

cookie sheet with rim

DIY spill-catcher

Thomas: Another solution to the water spillage problem is to get a plastic cafeteria tray or a cookie sheet with a small rim and place your cat’s water dish in that. The sides will contain the water spill, and also make it harder for her to drag her bowl all over the floor.

Siouxsie: If your cat is knocking her water over because she doesn’t like the taste, consider getting a filter pitcher or a faucet-mounted water filter and run her drinking water through that.

Thomas: City tap water can taste pretty yucky to cats because it has chlorine in it. So can hard water, because sometimes it has a metallic or sulfury taste.

Siouxsie: We’d recommend that you start with all of these tips, and if the wide-base water dish keeps her from knocking over her bowl, you can remove the cookie sheet and see what happens.

Thomas: Sometimes a pet drinking fountain can also help water-tippers. If your cat prefers to drink from shallow water or moving water (for example, lapping water dripping from the faucet), a fountain could resolve this problem.

Siouxsie: Again, we’d recommend a stainless steel or ceramic fountain rather than a plastic one.

Thomas: Good luck, Jennie. We hope this helps.

  • InterestedPerson

    My dear Lily did this, inadvertently, when she would be sweeping up the water in her paw. She was on the street as a very tiny baby. We found her when she was about 8 weeks old, already abandoned some time. It seemed to me that this was learned behavior to get water out of odd receptacles on the street…puddles,tin cans, paper bags, that she could not drink out of, due to the shallowness of the water, or the fear of being seen, white, deaf, lame baby that she was. I always thought it was very brave and precious. The bowls were on ceramic tile or wood, o n large plates, so it didn’t matter much.

  • Marie

    Question: I have a soon to be one year old tuxedo cat, named Oreo. He is such a good cat, until he wakes from a nap. When he does, he comes over to me, sits on my lap, purrs, and butts his head against my hand…to be petted, I am assuming. He then ‘attacks’ me, ears back, and tries to bite. I have to pull him away by the scruff of his neck to get him off me. The rest of the day and night he is fine…a playful, fun cat. I don’t understand when he does this biting……..what could I do about it?? Better yet, WHY does he do this???


  • Wendy Sones

    My cat doesn’t like to drink water out of a bowl she will only drink from either a fountain or a special drinking thing that is made for cats. I like the new drinking system made for cats because it has a filter that insures she gets fresh filtered water.

  • Pat Benoit

    I have a cat just like the kitten mentioned above. She has “hid her food” by trying to cover her dish of food (and any dish of food she sees) since as far back as I can remember. I have six all together and she’s the only one who does it. At first I was a little annoyed wih her but now I know it’s just something she does and I deal with it. The only time it really bothered me was when she got to close to the hard food dish and scratched the hard food on the floor (have since moved the hard food dish.) As for the spilling of the water I always felt it was just to get the water to move (moving water is more appealing, I guess) so since getting a water fountain for cats there is less spilling of water from the other regular water dishes (with six cats I felt one fountain wasn’t enough. Even though all my cats now drink out of it. At first they weren’t sure of it but now I have to add water to it twice a day so it doesn’t run out, plus the filter in it helps filter out all the “bad taste” and leaves it pure which makes them drink all the more.) Deal with the “burying of food” and get a fountain – all will be happy!

  • Denise

    Cats do weird things with water past posts ate the tip of the iceberg. Knocking over possible water sources is important to many cats. Some cats think digging in water will reveal something amazing and it must be done. Cats and water cannot be explained. But the importance of cats having a clean source of water delivered in a way they drink a lot is a vital part of all cats health

  • Denise

    Place food and water dishes in all those Frisbees you don’t use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406093589 Yessica

    Feed your cats what they like and something that is heltahy within reason. While fish may not be a natural part of a domestic or wild cat’s diet neither is chicken, turkey or beef. When was the last time you saw a cat take down a beef cow and eat it? In the wild cats eat small birds, frogs, mice, chipmunks etc. They also eat garbage and all parts of the animals they catch including bone, blood and sometimes even feathers and hair. In reality, a natural diet for a cat that simulates what they would eat if they were starving in the wild is not always what’s best and healthiest for a cat that’s living in a domestic situation. After all, the lifespan of an outdoor feral cat is only 2 years or less. An indoor domestic cat’s lifespan is 12+ years. Since stores don’t sell a wild mouse and bird formula, it’s up to you to pick the healthiest food that your cat will eat. For some cat’s that’s fish based food and others it’s meat or poultry based. What you are feeding is heltahy and if your cats like it that’s even better.

  • http://www.allpetspictures.com cats

    My cat does not drink water from the fountain. i take the new drinking system made for cats, i think it more in healthy.

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  • Richard Matthews

    My cat will take his water dish or a 3l water dish thing i got for him to keep water for him and he just paws at the water spilling it all over the floor and cry’s when he wants water and i have no idea why he does it or how to get him to stop so i am lost right now

  • Nik

    My cat just started knocking over his water bowl about a week ago, and he’s 8 months old. At first I thought I wasn’t replacing the water enough, so I put fresh water in a few extra times a day, but he’s still tipping it over.

    My guess is that, since he hasn’t done this before, it’s a new “game” he’s discovered, along with talking to himself in mirrors, knocking over bottled water or any container with liquid in it, and doing this bizarre, funky dance with bow paths in the air. He’s a weird cat.

  • Nik

    My cat just started knocking over his water bowl about a week ago, and he’s 8 months old. At first I thought I wasn’t replacing the water enough, so I put fresh water in a few extra times a day, but he’s still tipping it over.

    My guess is that, since he hasn’t done this before, it’s a new “game” he’s discovered, along with talking to himself in mirrors, knocking over bottled water or any container with liquid in it, and doing this bizarre, funky dance with bow paws in the air. He’s a weird cat.