Cat Is Paw-Dipping to Drink Water

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger says changes in health could affect actions.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: April 23, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: We have a 16 year-old-cat who has been in our family since she was 5 weeks old. Why is she now drinking her water by first dipping her front paw in the bowl then licking the water off of her paw?

A: There are a few reasons that might be influencing your cat to use her paw as a drinking implement. Some of these include the shape and size of the water bowl, changes in the household, medical challenges and possibly, other resident animals.

Have you made a change to your cat’s watering bowl? The bowl your cat is drinking from might be too small and deep. Cat whiskers are very sensitive since they contain nerve endings. Your cat’s whiskers touching the sides of the bowl as she drinks might be very irritating to her. She will appreciate your placing large, shallow bowls in different areas of the house.  Automatic pet fountains may help stop the paw dipping also, since she can either drink from the fountain bowl or drink from the stream of falling water.

Has your cat had her eyes checked recently by a veterinarian? Aging cats can lose their eyesight. Sometimes cats who aren’t seeing as keenly as they did when younger use their paw to both test the water depth and paw dip and drink. Consider having your veterinarian check your cat’s eyes.

Have there been recent changes in your household? Cats need consistency, and changes can cause cats to not feel safe. Drinking water by paw scooping enables cats to easily see who is around and make a fast escape if necessary. Additionally, your cat may be more sensitive to change since she may feel more vulnerable as a senior citizen then when she was a spry youngster. Other changes that can cause cats to feel less secure include redecorating, a change in schedules, or simply moving the water bowl to another location.  

Have you recently adopted a new cat or dog? Bringing in a new animal companion can be very stressful for your resident cat. Introductions need to be done slowly. Additionally, make sure that each household companion animal has their own food and water station. Adding extra water bowls in different areas of the house can also help your cat feel more secure and relaxed when drinking water.

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Reader Comments

Rosemary    Ambler, PA

1/20/2014 5:04:04 PM

why change it - cat drinking water with paw is unique

Claudia    International

2/13/2013 6:49:18 AM

My cat has diabetes and the first thing he did when he came down with diabetes was to start dipping his paw into the water bowl. Diabetic cats are usually more thirsty and dipping with their paws gives them more water. I would have your cat checked by a Vet, urine test is the first test for diabetes

Lee    Durham, NC

10/13/2012 6:04:55 AM

My cat has always dipped her paws in the water to drink, followed by normal drinking. She is a Siberian cat which is a Russian breed, and apparently this is a characteristic of the breed. Siberians have also been known to wash thier food, like raccoons.

joan    wildwood, FL

12/31/2011 3:32:24 AM

I have a cat rescue and watched many many cats come and go. Many of my cats dip their paws and eat with their paws. Right off hand the two cats that do it that I am thinking of were bottle fed babies. I think at the rescue perhaps as the answer states they may be doing it to watch both sides to see if another cat will attack them. But I don't think this is the only reason. I saw in movies how wild animals drink that way. Maybe it is the carry over of the wild thing. Just be happy they are not sitting in the bowl while drinking.

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