Should Fido and Fluffy Share a Bowl? The Answer May Surprise You

Introducing canine and feline cohabitation

Over 60 million households in the U.S. have both cats and dogs as pets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. With two very different personalities under one roof, pet owners often wonder if it’s safe and healthy for dogs and cats to share things like food bowls and water dishes.

This is an important question for multi-pet households. While we often see images of cats and dogs “fighting like cats and dogs,” the truth is they can coexist peacefully with some care and training. Understanding the risks, setting boundaries, and finding compromise is key to a harmonious home.

Health Risks

Sharing water bowls between dogs and cats can potentially spread germs and parasites between the pets. According to Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, a veterinarian at 1800PetMeds, parasites like Giardia and Coccidia can be passed from one pet’s saliva into the shared water bowl and then ingested by the other pet.

In addition, bacterial and viral infections like kennel cough can also spread between cats and dogs sharing a water bowl, according to veterinarian Dr. Chyrle Bonk in an article from Hepper. Upper respiratory infections are another potential risk cited.

For these health reasons, most veterinarians recommend against dogs and cats routinely sharing the same water bowl. Keeping separate bowls can help reduce the spread of parasites, bacteria, and viruses between pets in the same household.

Behavior Differences

Dogs and cats have very different drinking styles and behaviors. Dogs are known for lapping up water quickly and gulping it down. They use their tongues like a ladle to scoop up water and swallow it rapidly, sometimes drinking an entire bowl of water in just a few seconds. Dogs’ drinking behavior is driven largely by instinct and evolution as cursorial (running) hunters where they needed to drink quickly.

Cats, on the other hand, sip water much more delicately and slowly. They curl the tip of their tongue into a spoon shape and lightly lap up the water. Cats take their time and sip water methodically typically taking several minutes to finish a bowl. This dainty drinking behavior may have evolved from cats’ hunting style, where they needed to sneak up quietly on prey and required a light tread.

A 2013 study published in APS News examined the physics of how cats and dogs drink using high speed videography. They found cats only dip the top surface of their tongue into the water whereas dogs submerge a larger portion of their tongue. Cats also keep their tongue consistently perpendicular to the water’s surface while dogs’ tongues vary in angle.

Preventing Conflict

Sharing a bowl can lead to resource guarding, which is when dogs or cats assert possession or control over items like food, resting spots, or toys (1). Resource guarding may begin with subtle signs like turning their body to block access or ceasing to eat when someone approaches. But it can escalate to aggressive behaviors like snapping, lunging, or biting, putting pets and people at risk of injury (2).

To prevent this, it’s better to feed dogs and cats in separate bowls placed a comfortable distance apart. Providing adequate resources for each pet reduces competition and eliminates the triggers for resource guarding (3). Separate bowls also allow customized diets if pets have different nutritional needs.

With patience and training, some resource guarding behaviors can improve over time. But separate bowls is the safest and most effective way to prevent conflict from developing in multi-pet households.

Bowl Cleanliness

Cats are generally more fastidious than dogs and do not like sharing water bowls for hygiene reasons. Cats have a strong sense of smell and may be put off by a shared water bowl that has traces of dog saliva or food particles. Dogs tend to be messier drinkers and will slobber in shared water bowls, which can deter a cat from drinking [1]. A cat that is used to having a pristine, fresh water bowl may refuse to drink from a shared bowl if it has become dirty or smells like dog. Maintaining cleanliness is important, as a cat not drinking enough water can lead to serious urinary tract problems.

Some fastidious cats may even develop an aversion to shared water bowls and stop drinking entirely rather than share a bowl with a dog. The dog’s slobber and tendency to make a mess while drinking can be unappealing to a cat’s sensibilities. Providing separate, clean water bowls can help prevent this issue. Overall, a cat’s dislike of unclean water may make sharing a bowl with a less tidy dog an unsatisfactory arrangement for the cat [2].

Location Matters

Where you place food and water bowls in your home is an important consideration when owning both cats and dogs. It’s best to keep their bowls separated to avoid conflict over shared resources.

Place dog and cat bowls in different areas of the house, as far apart from each other as possible. This reduces the chances of them eating out of the same bowl or competing for food. The AKC recommends placing your cat’s food bowls in an area your dog cannot access, like a high table or counter (source).

You can also elevate your cat’s bowls above the ground on a stand or small table so your dog has a harder time reaching it. Your cat can jump up to eat while your dog stays focused on its own food area. Just make sure the elevated bowls are sturdy and secure so they don’t fall over and spill (source).

Strategic bowl placement allows your pets to eat comfortably without competing for resources. Keep dog and cat bowls separate by placing them in different rooms or elevating the cat’s to make it dog-proof.

When Sharing Occurs

While sharing food and water bowls between dogs and cats is not recommended, there are some occasions where it has occurred without issues. Some heartwarming stories of cat and dog friendships show them peacefully sharing bowls and toys. In a YouTube video of two rescue pets, a cat and dog happily eat and drink side-by-side without conflict. However, anecdotal evidence should not encourage owners to regularly allow sharing. Even in cases where no aggression or disease transmission is observed immediately, risks can still develop over time. Gradual exposure does not guarantee immunity to problems.


The best solution is to provide separate water bowls for each pet. This prevents issues like resource guarding over the shared bowl, contamination from saliva and germs being passed back and forth, and gives each pet their own space.

However, some pets may insist on drinking after one another. Here are some tips for managing shared water bowls:

  • Clean the shared bowl thoroughly each day with soap and hot water to kill germs and bacteria.
  • Place bowls in separate areas of the home so pets have some physical separation while drinking.
  • Monitor pets closely for signs of resource guarding like growling or blocking access to the bowl.
  • Consider a large, communal water fountain that allows space for multiple heads to drink at once.
  • Use bowls that attach to crate doors/walls so each pet has designated access to their own water.

While not ideal, sharing bowls can work for some pets. Maintain excellent hygiene and watch for any conflicts.


While generally not recommended, there are certain situations where dogs and cats sharing a water bowl may be unavoidable or the only practical option, such as when traveling together. In these limited cases, proper sanitation and management can help reduce potential issues:

When traveling with multiple pets, using one large shared water bowl can be easier than bringing multiple bowls (source). Collapsible bowls like the Dexas Popware allow owners to provide fresh water access even when space is limited. The bowl should be cleaned thoroughly between each use.

During airline travel in cargo holds, attaching a large shared water bowl ensures pets stay hydrated, as access to water is limited once crated (source). Be sure to freeze water in the bowl so it lasts longer while allowing gradual melting.

In rural areas where indoor plumbing is limited, a shared outdoor water bowl may be the only option. Take steps to change the water frequently and sanitize the bowl daily.

While not ideal, with proper precautions, sharing a water bowl in these types of exceptional situations can be managed to limit health risks.


In conclusion, there are some health risks associated with dogs and cats sharing the same water bowl, mainly due to the potential transmission of bacteria, viruses, and parasites between the two species. While entirely preventing sharing may not always be realistic, it is generally better to be safe and provide separate bowls when possible.

Allowing routine sharing of bowls can increase the chances of contagious illnesses spreading between pets. Certain bacteria, viruses, and parasites that may not cause illness in one species can be harmful to the other. Regular disinfection and cleaning of shared bowls is recommended, but does not eliminate the risk entirely.

Pet owners should be mindful of their pets’ needs and minimize food and water bowl sharing whenever feasible. Providing adequate fresh water access for both dogs and cats in separate bowls is ideal for their health and wellbeing. While occasional sharing may be unavoidable, the risks can be reduced by following proper hygiene and monitoring pets closely when it occurs.

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