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Why Does My Cat Dip Her Paw in the Water Bowl?

why does my cat dip her paw in the water bowl

For many cats, drinking water is a simple process. They walk over to the water bowl, lower their faces near the surface of the water and stick out their tongues to get a little drink. For other cats though, a front paw becomes a vital tool when thirst strikes. Why do these cats dip a paw in the water and then use it almost as if they’re licking a popsicle? There are a few reasons for this behavior.

Whisker Discomfort

The whiskers on your cat’s face are very sensitive tactile hairs. They are more deeply rooted than normal hairs and are rich in nerve endings. If the water bowl is too small or deep, the whiskers can get squished when the cat lowers her head for a drink. To avoid this discomfort, a cat may learn it’s easier to just dip a paw in the water.

Ensure your cat’s water bowl allows for whisker comfort by using one wide enough to accommodate those long whiskers. It’s better to have a shallow, wide bowl that you can refill every day rather than use a deep, narrow one to avoid having to replenish the water supply so often.

gray dsh closeup

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

Inconsistent Water Depth

If you are inconsistent in how much water you put in the bowl, your cat may use her paw to test the depth. I’ve seen this with cat parents who don’t refill the bowl until it’s almost dry and then when they do replenish the water it gets filled to the very top. In a multicat house where there may be some tension, a cat may not feel comfortable lowering her head into an almost-empty water bowl so far that she can’t see over the side. It may be safer for her to use her paw so she can keep watch for any opponents entering the room.

It’s important to clean the bowl and refill the water on a daily basis in order to ensure your cat is getting fresh water. By doing this, you are also better able to maintain a consistent water level in the bowl.

Water Bowl Placement

This has more to do with safety and security. If the bowl is up against a wall where a cat would have to have her back to the room in order to drink, she may choose to dip her paw in so she doesn’t become too vulnerable.

To encourage your cat to feel more comfortable drinking the traditional way, slide the water bowl out from against the wall so she can position herself more securely. Have multiple water stations as well because each cat may have preferred drinking locations.

cat licking paw

Photo: Shutterstock

Water Fun

Cats love to play and your kitty may have discovered that when she puts her paw in the water, she can create movement. She may have initially started doing it when she first noticed a piece of fuzz or food in her water bowl. Maybe she started paw dipping out of boredom. For some cats, the behavior is simply based on having a little fun.

Everyone wants their cats to have fun but dipping a paw in the water isn’t great for keeping the water clean. If you think your cat may be exhibiting this behavior out of boredom then it’s time to rev up the fun factor in your house. Make sure your cat is getting adequate stimulation in the form of daily interactive play sessions with you as well as having opportunities for solo play. It may be time to buy or create a food-dispensing toy to keep your cat busy. Look at her environment as well and see if there are other areas that could use a little enrichment.

Need More Information?

If you need more specifics, here are some articles to help you.

What is Environmental Enrichment and Why Does Your Cat Need it

Interactive Play Therapy for Cats

Your Cat’s Whiskers

How to Introduce Your Cat to Puzzle Feeders

How Appealing is Your Cat’s Water

You can also find more information in the books by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. Think Like a Cat is Pam’s comprehensive guide to cat care and behavior. In CatWise, Pam’s latest book, she answers 150 behavior questions.


This article is intended for general information purposes only and is not meant to diagnose a medical condition, dispense medical information or be a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care. If you have questions about your cat’s health or behavior, contact your veterinarian.


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