Why Does Your Cat Like to Make a Splash? The Reasons Behind the Water Fountain Tip Over


It’s 3 AM and you’re suddenly jolted awake by the sound of crashing water and scrambling paws. You rush into the kitchen to find your cat guiltily backing away from the water fountain, now lying on its side and pouring water all over the floor. This scene is all too familiar for cat owners who have purchased water fountains for their furry friends. Cats tipping, pawing at, batting, or full-on body slamming and knocking over their water fountain is a common feline behavior that can be perplexing and frustrating for pet parents. But why do cats persist in treating their water fountain like a toy at bath time? Understanding the reasons behind this peculiar behavior is the first step to curbing it.

Normal Cat Drinking Behavior

Cats have a unique way of drinking water that is quite different from other animals. According to research from MIT, cats use an intricate lapping method to drink, extending their tongue onto the surface of the water and creating a column of liquid that they then capture by closing their mouth (The surprising physics of cats’ drinking | MIT News). This allows them to drink at a rapid speed – about 4 laps per second.

When drinking from a bowl or fountain, a healthy cat will lower its head to the water’s surface and start lapping steadily. The cat will likely pause occasionally while drinking to breathe. Cats tend to take several breaks while drinking, rather than lapping continuously for long periods. Overall, most housecats will drink water around 10-12 times throughout the day, consuming about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight daily.

Cats use their rough tongues to pull liquid up into their mouths very efficiently. Their lapping motion creates a small column of water that adheres to the tip of their tongue due to adhesion and surface tension. As gravity pulls the water column down, cats snap their mouths shut around the base to capture the water for swallowing (Pet Physics: The Uncanny Lapping Of Cats). This fast lapping allows them to drink rapidly from shallow water sources.


Cats are naturally very playful creatures. It is common for cats to play with their water fountains out of curiosity or just for fun. Cats may bat at, paw at, or even tip over their water fountain as they investigate it. The moving water can be intriguing and exciting for cats to play with.

Kittens especially are very energetic and playful. They may see the water fountain as a fun toy to play with. Batting at the fountain or tipping it over provides mental stimulation and entertains them. Even adult cats can still retain some of that playful kitten spirit.

As stated on Reddit, “By nature they don’t want to have to bend their head too far down into a bowl or have whiskers touching the bowl. By nature they prefer running water” [1]. The unfamiliar fountain encourages curiosity and play.

While it can be annoying to have a cat tip over their water fountain, it usually comes from an innocent place of curiosity and fun. Providing other toys and activities can help redirect some of that playful energy.

Asserting Dominance

Cats are territorial animals and can view objects in their environment as intruders. This includes items like water fountains. A dominant cat may tip over its water fountain as a way to mark its territory and assert its dominance in the home.

According to Dealing With Dominant and Anxious Cat Behavior, cats exhibit dominance by marking or spraying urine on territory, stealing and hoarding toys, and rubbing their faces on items. Tipping over a water fountain achieves a similar effect of marking territory.

When a cat views the fountain as an intrusion into its space, tipping it over is a means to claim that territory back. This territorial behavior allows the cat to feel in control of its environment. A dominant cat wants to make it clear that it’s the “boss” of the area.

Often this behavior is seen when introducing something new into a cat’s environment that it views as a threat. The cat tips the fountain over to send the message that this is its domain. Once the cat feels its dominance is established, this territorial behavior may subside.

Stress and Anxiety

Cats are sensitive creatures and can be easily stressed by changes in their environment. This stress and anxiety may cause them to exhibit unusual behaviors like tipping over their water fountain.

Common environmental stressors for cats include introducing new pets or people into the home, moving to a new house, construction noises, or having strangers over. Even subtle changes like moving furniture or their litter box location can be disruptive. The unfamiliarity makes cats feel insecure, which leads to anxiety.

Tipping over the water fountain gives cats a sense of control during stressful times. It also helps release pent-up energy and frustration. The sound and motion of water spilling activates their natural play instincts as well. So when feeling anxious, they may channel their stress into this counterproductive behavior.

To help reduce a cat’s environmental stress, make any changes gradually. Give them time to adjust through positive reinforcement and treats. Maintain a predictable routine as much as possible. Provide safe spaces they can retreat to like cat trees. Using calming pheromone diffusers can also ease anxiety. With a stable comfortable home, cats will have less need to tip their fountain when stressed.

Medical Causes

Certain medical conditions can cause cats to tip over their water fountain more frequently. Issues like dental disease, neurological conditions, and kidney problems may lead to increased water intake and clumsier drinking behavior.

Dental disease can make it painful for cats to keep their tongue in their mouth while drinking. The tongue hanging out can cause splashing and tipping of the water fountain. Treating dental disease through professional teeth cleaning and extracting bad teeth can resolve this issue.

Conditions like cerebellar hypoplasia, a non-progressive neurological disorder, can impact motor skills and cause clumsiness. Affected cats may have difficulty balancing and coordinating movements needed to drink properly from a fountain. Providing a wide, shallow bowl can make drinking easier.

Kidney disease often increases thirst and urgency to drink. Cats may drink greedily and quickly, causing splashing and tipping of the fountain. Addressing the underlying kidney problem through medication, fluids, and dietary changes can improve this behavior.

If medical causes are suspected, a veterinarian should examine the cat and run appropriate diagnostic tests. Treatment of the underlying condition along with making the fountain setup more cat-friendly can help resolve tipping behavior.

Improper Fountain Setup

The placement, type, or size of the water fountain can lead to tipping. Improperly placed fountains may be accidentally bumped or easily accessed for play. Large, heavy fountains are more stable but small, lightweight fountains can be easily tipped. The material is also important – plastic and ceramic fountains slide more easily across smooth floors compared to rubber-bottomed fountains. Consider the cat’s size – a small kitten may have trouble accessing a tall fountain. Place the fountain in a low-traffic area and on a mat or towel to prevent sliding. Choose a fountain appropriate for the cat’s size that is not too light to be easily tipped over. Refer to equipment guides for proper setup and placement tips (source). With some adjustments, an improperly setup water fountain can be stabilized and prevent tipping over.


Cats can tip over their water fountain for a variety of reasons, but luckily there are some tips you can try to prevent and respond to this behavior. Here are some solutions and tips that may help:

Source 1

  • Place the fountain in a corner or against a wall to provide more stability.
  • Try securing the fountain to the wall or floor using museum putty or removable adhesive.
  • Consider getting a heavier fountain made of ceramic, stoneware, or stainless steel.
  • Use a wide and low fountain design that is less prone to tipping.
  • Put the fountain in a plastic tub, bin or boot tray to contain splashes.

Source 2

  • Add marbles or stones to the basin to weigh it down.
  • Try taping down any removable parts.
  • Use double-sided tape on surfaces cats try to grip.
  • Consider a covered or enclosed fountain.
  • Provide additional water bowls around the home.
  • Redirect the behavior with toys when caught in the act.

Be patient, as it may take some experimenting to find the right solution for your cat. Respond calmly if they tip the fountain and be sure to clean up any water right away.

When to Seek Help

While tipping over the water fountain can sometimes be innocent behavior, it may also indicate an underlying medical issue that requires veterinary attention. Here are some signs this could be problematic behavior needing vet care:

Excessive thirst or increased water intake – If your cat is drinking significantly more water and tipping over their fountain frequently, it could signal conditions like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or diabetes. See your vet to test for these diseases. [1]

Weight loss – Cats drinking more water and tipping their fountain can sometimes lead to weight loss. Rapid weight loss warrants a veterinary visit to diagnose the cause. [2]

Urinary problems – Straining to urinate, blood in the urine or inappropriate urination can indicate FLUTD or bladder stones. The cat may tip over their fountain due to discomfort. Seek veterinary care for urinary issues. [3]

Lethargy – If the cat seems overly tired and is tipping their fountain frequently, an underlying illness like kidney disease could be to blame. Seek medical attention for lethargy. [2]

Pawing at the mouth – Excessive lip licking or pawing at the mouth along with tipping over the water fountain can indicate health problems like kidney disease or oral pain. Have your vet examine your cat.


In conclusion, there are many potential reasons why cats may tip over their water fountain, ranging from playfulness and harmless behavior to more concerning underlying issues like stress, anxiety or illness. While an occasional tipping incident may not be cause for alarm, if it becomes a chronic behavior, it’s important to take steps to get to the root of the problem. This may involve adjusting the fountain set-up, managing stressors in the home environment, scheduling a veterinarian visit to rule out medical causes, or trying different styles of fountains that are more difficult to tip. With some patience and investigation, you can get to the bottom of fountain tipping and help provide your cat with stable access to fresh drinking water. The key is observing patterns in the behavior over time and understanding your individual cat’s personality and needs. By making small tweaks and being attentive to changes, you can curb tipping behavior and keep your cat healthy and hydrated.

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