Why Won't My Cat Drink Out Of Her Bowl?


cat drinking from sink

Cats are as unique as humans; no cat is alike. They have their individual likes and dislikes, which can sometimes be a bit ... mindboggling. Like when your beloved fluff absolutely refuses to drink out of a bowl, even though it's always full of fresh, clean water. But if you leave your glass of water unattended, your cat will have her head shoved in the glass and drinking like she's never tasted water before. 

Is there a reason behind this finicky and baffling behavior? Do our cats just get a kick out of giving their owners a hard time? It turns out there are more than a few reasons your cat might be turning up their nose at the water bowl. 


1. It's All About Perception

Cats actually have fairly poor depth perception: they have a blind spot right in front of their nose. This can make it difficult for them to see where the water in the bowl actually starts, resulting in a snoot full of water. This is why some cats will dip a paw in the water to test the level first. 

If your cat prefers drinking from a running faucet, it might be because they can hear the running water better than they can see the still water in the bowl.

Try a circulating water fountain designed for cats that prefer running water to encourage your cat to drink more - without you having to leave the faucet running! 


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2. The Bowl Isn't "Just Right"

Photo: Lara Dietrich

For some finicky kitties, they won't drink from the water bowl unless it's the "purrfect" bowl. What the perfect bowl is depends on your cat, and you may have to try a few different styles to see which they prefer. Most cats tend to prefer dishes that are wide enough to accommodate their sensitive whiskers; if the bowl is too deep and narrow, it may squish or tickle their whiskers and make drinking unpleasant. 

3. Location, Location, Location

Most of us naturally place our cat's food and water bowls next to each other. But this placement can actually go against a cat's natural instinct to keep food and water separate. In the wild, cats will often go to great measures to keep their food and water sources separate to avoid having the food contaminate the water.

If you notice that your cat's water bowl is too close to the food and is constantly getting dry kibbles in the fresh water dish, simply try moving the water dish. It can honestly be as simple as that! 

4. They Don't Feel Safe

This is most common in multi-cat or multi-animal households. When a cat hunches over to drink, it puts them in a very vulnerable position. It opens them up to "attack" from other cats, dogs, or even rambunctious toddlers. Try moving the bowl to a "safer" location, ideally not in a corner or facing a wall. 

5. Taste Matters

The water in your cat’s bowl may taste different depending on the material it’s made from, or the source of water itself.  Just like many of us finicky humans might prefer to drink from plastic, ceramic, or glass, your cat may prefer ceramic or stainless steel

Some tap water is treated with fluoride, which might taste - or smell - unpleasant to your cat. Try giving your cat bottled or filtered water to see what your cat likes best.  

There are more than a few reasons your cat might be ignoring their water bowl. Do you have a cat that is picky about water? What was your water bowl solution? Let us know in the comments below! 


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  • Shelley Hilton Pace

    The photo of black and white cat drinking from dripping faucet (#5) is the copyrighted photography of my brother, Derek Hilton. It is being used without credit or compensation.

  • Robert L Sagarino

    I have also tried all different bowls and sizes and different placements and he still.will.not drink from it. In addition I’ve tried tap and bottle water and nothing

  • Danielle

    I’m at the end of the rope with my cat and drinking water. I’ve tried glass, ceramic, metal, paper and styrofoam bowls all of various depths and sizes. I’ve moved the water bowl away from the food, I put it in the middle of the room, I put it in a corner (it’s never been anywhere near his litter box). I put it on the floor, I put it on a high shelf, I’ve tried a low shelf. I actually stopped cleaning his water bowl and just dumped the water and rinsed it and refilled it. I’ve tried cat water fountains that look like flowers, I’ve tried pet fountains made for cats and dogs, we’ve tried drinkwell, we’ve tried petmate (yes we follow all the instructions change the water and filters appropriately) I swear I’ve spent probably close to $700 on drinking vessels for this furry little bastard that I love but who is driving me insane!!

    What does he drink out of? The gross dirty fish bowl at the pet sitters house (despite the fact he will eat nothing and I mean nothing that contains seafood), my sister’s dog’s slobbery/slimy water bowl, and any plastic glass paper container that I have put MY water in… Right before he swipes it off the counter.

    We’ve moved three times since I’ve had him, this has been an issue trying to get him to drink out of a bowl or some other container for the entire time that I’ve had him. So it’s not a local water supply specific issue I’ve even tried different types of bottled water and none of it makes a difference.

    He is FIV positive, and was when I adopted him. He’s been vet checked many times and he’s healthy. He’s seven now and I want to make sure to keep him as healthy as possible so to help manage his weight the vet suggested that we do half dry food and half wet food . I think in general he’s getting enough water, but the way our house is set up he has multiple litter boxes and multiple sources of food and water just in case he happens to get “trapped” for a few hours on one side of the house. I’m worried if the kids aren’t paying attention and he gets stuck on one side of the house several days in a row during the daytime he’s going to start getting dehydrated because he won’t have access to the gross dog bowl. (I can get over the gross part, but he’ll start guarding the dog’s water bowl. he’s not vicious about it and he won’t attack the dog, but despite being 75 lb the dog is intimidated by the 12 lb cat. the dog ended up with a bladder infection because she wasn’t drinking enough water because she was being stare down by the cat and was afraid to go to the water bowl)
    Any suggestions? He will drink out of the tap if I leave it running (despite refusing every single pet fountain on the market), but that’s not a precedent I’m willing to set. I truly don’t have the time or energy to track and make sure that I give him adequate time drinking out of a faucet.

  • Steve

    I’m tired of running the tap for my Alzheimer’s cat. If he’s thirsty enough he’ll drink it right? I’ll open the tap downstairs and he’ll follow me upstairs to the other. Pet him, reassure him and it doesn’t matter. Help. Never used to do this. Feeling like a hostage. Cats right?

  • Shari

    I have a 2 yr old Male cat that refuses to drink out of a bowl. He used to do the paw test and had tried however it would end with him struggling to clear his nose. I have tried everything and it is getting a bit expensive on my income to keep buying different things to try. I afraid to buy the fountain as he may turn his back on that as well. I just bought him a rabbit bottle that they lick and water comes out. I was wondering if their is anything I can put on it to entice him to give it a go.

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