Cat Keeps Flipping Over Water Dish

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, looks at reasons why a cat continues to knock over his water dish.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: April 15, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My 1-1/2-year old cat Boomer likes to knock over his water dish. It does not matter if it is full of water or empty. When he first started doing this, I thought he was telling me that he needed more water, so I would fill up his water dish. He was fine for a while, but then last week he started knocking the dish over when it was full of water, leaving me a mess to clean up.

How can I stop him from knocking over his water dish? Is he trying to tell me he wants to play? This is starting to make me go bonkers.

A: Without observing your cat in action and seeing his environment, it is difficult to determine your cat's motivation for his Water Bowl Olympics. Possible explanations for the behavior include the degree of freshness of the water, the size and shape of the bowl and its location. Additionally your cat may have discovered that he gets your full, undivided attention when he turns his water bowl upside down or he may have found the water bowl is a perfect toy!

Cats need to have freshly drawn water every day and when given the option; most cats will choose to drink fresh water. It is possible that you are not changing Boomer’s water frequently enough and that he is figured out that when he flips his bowl upside down, you respond by refilling it with clean water. The size and the shape of the water bowl may be a factor as well. Cat whiskers contain their own blood supply and nerves. Because of this, small, deep bowls can bother their sensitive whiskers. You may need to change Boomer’s water bowl to one that is wide and shallow, with a solid base. Wide, bottom bowls with solid bases will also be difficult for Boomer to flip over.

Your cat's water bowl should be located in a quiet place where he will feel safe and can easily escape, if necessary. Place it in a quiet location with little activity and a good view. Your cat should be able to see any possible threats, such as other animals approaching.

You may accidentally be reinforcing your cat’s behavior by responding to Boomer’s Water Bowl Olympics. Your cat is smart and he may have figured out that when he flips his bowl upside down, you immediately pay attention to him. Provide him other ways of interacting with you that will satisfy his desires for attention. Every day, engage your cat in play sessions, treasure hunts, petting sessions and clicker training. Giving your cat fresh water on a daily basis and providing him with a water bowl that is wide with a solid base may also help curb his water games.
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Reader Comments

mike    norfolk, VA

12/9/2013 11:52:57 AM

Get rid of the cat and get a dog and it want happen again

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

12/17/2012 10:19:06 AM

Terri -- See if you cat benefits from any of these tips for letting you sleep through the night LINK This could be a case of your cat participating in nighttime shenanigans.

Terri    Battle Creek, MI

12/16/2012 7:00:11 AM

My cat Micah has a big bowl for water, with a quiet pump and filter in it so it stays fresh, and it is in a location where he can escape if he wanted to but he has recently started dumping it over in the middle of the night. Why is he doing this?

Debra    Ravenna, OH

4/28/2011 10:54:50 AM

I own a cat-sitting business and have seen this behavior quite a few times........put a tiny whiffle ball in the water dish permanetely. This gives your cat some depth perseption which should stop him from messing with the dish and the water in it. Good Luck

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