Do Cats Really Like Water With Their Meals? The Surprising Truth

Water and Food: What Do Cats Prefer?

For most cat owners, figuring out the ideal location for their cat’s water and food bowls can be puzzling. While cats need access to fresh water at all times, many cats seem to prefer that their water be far away from where they eat. What gives? Do cats like having water next to their food bowls or not?

Water Needs for Cats

Cats require an adequate amount of water in their diet to stay healthy. According to PetMD, cats need approximately 50-70mL of water per kilogram of body weight per day [1]. For a 10 pound cat, that equates to around 5-7 ounces of water daily. Cats obtain moisture not just from drinking, but also through the moisture content of their food. Still, fresh water should be constantly available.

Dehydration poses significant health risks for cats. According to Catological, dehydration can lead to kidney failure, constipation, urinary tract infections, and other issues [2]. Dehydration makes cats lethargic and causes dry mouth, sunken eyes, poor skin elasticity, and other symptoms. Kittens, elderly cats, and sick cats are most vulnerable to dehydration. Providing easy access to fresh, clean water every day is essential.

Cats’ Natural Instincts

In the wild, a cat’s ancestors relied on getting most of their moisture from the prey they consumed rather than drinking water. This means that today’s domestic cats still have some remnants of these ancestral feline behaviors when it comes to food and water. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, cats do not have a strong natural thirst drive compared to other mammals, so they may not drink enough water on their own to stay optimally hydrated.[1]

Feral and wild cats also tend to avoid having food and water sources near one another due to their hygienic instincts. In nature, stagnant water located near kill sites could harbor bacteria. This instinct remains in domestic cats, making some cats reluctant to drink water that’s placed right next to their food bowls.[2]

Benefits of Providing Water Near Food

Placing water close to food can be beneficial for cats in several ways. One of the most notable advantages is that the convenience of having both resources nearby can promote better hydration. Cats don’t have a strong thirst drive like humans, so they can often forget to drink enough water if it’s not readily available when they eat (1). Having water within easy reach makes it simpler for cats to lap up some fluid when they stop to have a meal or snack. Supporting adequate hydration is important for urinary tract health, kidney function, and overall wellbeing.

Additionally, providing food and water in the same area can mimic natural hunting and eating behaviors for cats in a home environment. In the wild, cats tend to find prey near water sources and then consume the food and water in the same vicinity. Placing food and water bowls close together allows cats to exhibit similar instinctive behaviors


Potential Downsides

There are a couple potential downsides to providing water bowls next to food bowls that cat owners should be aware of:

First is the risk of contamination between food and water. As noted in this source, putting food and water bowls in close proximity can lead to cross-contamination. Food particles landing in the water bowl can spoil and make the water unpalatable for cats. Likewise, water dripping into the food bowl can cause the food to spoil more quickly. To minimize contamination, it is generally recommended to separate food and water dishes by at least a few feet.

Secondly, some picky or finicky eaters may not like having their water bowl right next to their food bowl. As explained in this article, some cats prefer to keep their eating and drinking areas entirely separate. Having the bowls side-by-side may deter them from drinking enough water. Pay attention to your cat’s habits and preferences – if they seem opposed to the arrangement, try separating the bowls to encourage proper hydration.

Tips for Placement

When it comes to selecting a bowl and determining the best location for your cat’s food and water, there are some important factors to consider for your cat’s health and happiness:

Choose ceramic, stainless steel or glass bowls, as plastic can harbor bacteria. Bowls should be heavy enough not to tip and wide enough for your cat’s face. Many cats prefer shallow, wide bowls. Elevated bowls can make eating and drinking more comfortable for some cats.

Place food and water bowls in separate locations, ideally in a quiet, low-traffic area. Cats don’t like to eat and drink near their litter boxes or noisy appliances. Make sure the area is easy to access and offers visibility for your cat to ensure they feel comfortable and safe while eating and drinking.

Avoid placing bowls next to walls or in corners, as this can stress cats when they feel trapped and unable to survey their surroundings. Ideally, bowls should be about 10 feet apart to promote hydration. Place water bowls away from food to prevent food debris from getting in the water. Provide multiple water bowls around the home.

Be consistent with placement and avoid abruptly moving bowls once your cat is used to a location. Gradual changes can be introduced to find the optimal spots for your cat over time. Monitoring how much they eat and drink in different locations can provide helpful insight.

Monitoring Water Intake

It’s important to monitor your cat’s water intake to ensure they are getting enough hydration. Dehydration can cause serious health problems in cats, so recognizing the signs early is key.

According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, some signs of dehydration in cats include:1

  • Dry or sticky gums
  • Skin that is slow to snap back when pinched
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargy

To monitor water intake, take note of the following:

  • How much water is left in the bowl throughout the day
  • The number of times your cat drinks per day
  • Any changes in water consumption

It’s a good idea to measure out the water before placing the bowl down to get a baseline. Track the amounts consumed each day in a notebook or log. A sudden decrease in drinking may signal dehydration or an underlying health issue.

Besides visual cues, be attentive to any changes in litter box habits as concentrated urine can indicate dehydration. Seek veterinary help immediately if you suspect your cat is dehydrated.

When to Be Concerned

Changes in a cat’s drinking habits can sometimes indicate an underlying medical issue. According to veterinarians, owners should watch for both increased and decreased water consumption compared to their cat’s normal patterns.

Excessive thirst or drinking significantly more water than usual may signal conditions like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease or infection. A sudden decrease or disinterest in drinking could mean dehydration, oral pain or nausea. Dramatic shifts in water intake warrant a veterinary visit to check for illness.

Along with monitoring daily water consumption, owners should watch for other potential signs of sickness like lethargy, weight loss, vomiting or changes in appetite or litter box habits. Any symptoms paired with abnormal drinking merit an urgent vet visit to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

Providing Alternatives

If your cat doesn’t seem interested in drinking enough water next to their food, there are some alternatives you can try to entice them to increase their water intake:

Offer different water sources – Try placing bowls of water in various locations around the house, like next to windows where natural sunlight streams in or near play areas. Cats often prefer fresh running water, so a cat water fountain can provide a flowing water source that may pique their interest more than stagnant bowl water (source).

Flavor the water – Adding a bit of tuna juice, low-sodium chicken broth or a pet-safe water flavoring to the water can make it more enticing for some cats. Just be sure to only add a small amount of flavoring and keep the water fresh and clean.


In summary, while some cats may prefer having their food and water sources separated, most cats enjoy having fresh water located right next to their food bowls. This access aligns with their natural instincts to hunt for prey and then hydrate right afterwards. Providing water near food comes with many potential benefits for your cat, including increased daily water consumption, convenience, and a reduction in stress. However, there are a few potential downsides to consider as well, like possible contamination. Overall, it’s recommended to place water bowls close to food dishes, while monitoring your cat’s preferences and intake. Make adjustments if needed, like purchasing a cat water fountain. Be on the lookout for signs of dehydration. With a little preparation, having water adjacent to food can optimize hydration for your feline friend.

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