Why Does My Cat Dip Her Paw In Water?

Cats are known for being finicky creatures, with quirky behaviors that sometimes perplex their owners. One common cat mannerism that often leaves cat parents scratching their heads is when felines dip their paws into their water bowl before drinking. This peculiar ritual is not uncommon among cats, but the reasons behind it remain a mystery to many. Though the behavior may seem odd, there is often a reasonable explanation for why cats dunk their paws in water. Getting to the bottom of this peculiar cat conduct can help decipher the method behind the madness and understand the needs of our fastidious feline friends.

Instinctual Behavior

Dipping their paws in water can be an instinctual behavior for cats that stems from their ancestry. In the wild, cats needed to check water sources for safety and purity before drinking. According to Better Pet, cats have scent glands between their paw pads that can detect chemical cues in water to determine if it’s safe to drink or contaminated in some way.

Cats may dip their paws out of habit even though their water bowl at home is clean and safe. The water ripples created by dipping may also appeal to their natural prey drive since it mimics the movement of small animals they would hunt. As natural hunters, cats are stimulated by movement and intrigued by anything new in their environment. According to Mental Floss, dipping their paw causes a novel change that sparks their curiosity.

Overall, paw dipping allows cats to examine their surroundings and satisfy instinctual needs even though these behaviors are no longer essential for survival as domesticated pets. It’s an innate behavior passed down from their ancestors. https://betterpet.com/why-cats-paw-at-water/


a cat dipping its paw in a water bowl

One of the main reasons cats dip their paws in water before drinking is that it helps them drink more easily. Cats have a strong instinct to be aware of their surroundings when drinking, as they are vulnerable to predators in that position. By dipping their paw in first, they can test the water while still keeping an eye out for potential threats. As obligate carnivores, cats did not evolve to drink large amounts of water at once like other mammals. Scooping water up with their paw allows them to take smaller sips that are more natural for their physiology. According to [URL][/URL], “Drinking water by paw scooping enables cats to easily see who is around and make a fast escape if necessary.” The dipping motion also aerates the water, releasing more scent cues that cats use to ensure the water is safe to drink.

Cooling Down

Cats have a higher internal body temperature than humans, averaging 101-102°F. To help regulate their body temperature, especially during hot summer months, cats may dip their paws in water. The pads of a cat’s paws have sweat glands that allow heat to escape their body. When cats lick or dab their wet paws on their face and ears, it has a cooling effect.

According to the Blue Cross, “Most cats hate getting wet, so they’re unlikely to want to take a dip in water. But dampening a small towel with cool water and dabbing it over your cat’s ears, paws and around their neck can help them keep cool.” [1]

As Dr. Aliya McCormack states on Daily Paws, “If you’re concerned your cat is hot, putting cool water on the cat’s paws can cool them down.” She recommends using a damp washcloth to wet your cat’s paws and coat as a simple way to beat the heat. [2]


One of the primary reasons cats lick water off their paws is for grooming purposes. The paw pads have sweat glands that release perspiration, which builds up dirt and debris. By licking their paws after dipping them in water, cats can clean between their toes and remove that buildup more effectively.

Cats’ tongues are covered in small, backward-facing barbs called papillae. These act like a hairbrush to help detangle and remove loose hair when grooming. The moisture from their wet paws activates these barbs so they can brush out their fur and distribute natural oils over their coat when licking.

This paw licking spreads saliva all over the cat’s body for cleaning. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, “Primping takes up a lot of a cat’s day, and licking their paws helps them with grooming.”

So licking water off their paws allows cats to efficiently clean and groom themselves through distributing moisture, activating their tongue’s bristles, and spreading saliva over their coat.




Water play can provide great mental stimulation for cats. Cats have a strong natural instinct to play with moving water. According to Katzen World, activities like pawing at dripping water or fishing toys out of a water bowl tap into this instinct in an enriching way. The novelty and interactivity of water keeps cats engaged and entertains their natural hunting behaviors.

a cat playing with a toy in a water bowl

Setting up puzzles or games involving water challenges your cat both physically and mentally. For example, you can float toys or treats in a bowl of water and let your cat figure out how to fish them out. Or try hiding toys around water bowls in different locations to encourage exploration. These types of activities provide mental stimulation that keeps your cat sharp and alert.

Regularly engaging your cat’s brain with fun water activities staves off boredom and destructive behaviors. An intellectually stimulated cat is a happy cat. So be sure to incorporate water play into a routine of puzzles, training, and interactive games that exercise your cat’s mind.

Marking Territory

Territory marking is a common behavior in cats. Both male and female cats will mark their territory by rubbing, scratching, urinating, or defecating [1]. When a cat urinates or defecates outside of the litter box, it is usually a sign of territorial marking [2]. Cats have scent glands on their paws, so when they pat or scratch objects, they are depositing their scent [3].

Territory marking could potentially be a reason why cats dip their paws in water. By dipping their paws and then patting or scratching objects, the cats are marking their territory with the scent from their paws. However, this behavior is less common than simply rubbing or scratching objects. More investigation would be needed to determine if marking territory is the main motivation behind dipping paws in water.

Medical Causes

There are several medical conditions that can cause cats to become fixated on water:

Urinary tract infections or blockages may lead to increased thirst and water consumption. According to Water Obsessed Cats, UTIs and blockages cause pain and discomfort when urinating, so the cat associates eliminating with the litter box. Drinking more water allows them to pass urine more frequently and avoid the litter box.

Kidney disease is another common medical cause. As the kidneys fail, they are unable to concentrate urine effectively. This leads to increased thirst and urination. Cats with kidney disease may drink excessively and play with or step in their water bowl.

Diabetes is a disorder that causes increased thirst and urination. According to Pica in Cats, the elevated blood sugar pulls fluid from the tissues, resulting in dehydration. To compensate, diabetic cats tend to consume more water.

Hyperthyroidism also increases thirst and urination. The overproductive thyroid gland essentially puts the body into overdrive, increasing metabolic rate. This leads to increased water intake.

Pica, or eating non-food items, can also cause cats to become obsessed with water. Pica may indicate an underlying medical issue like diabetes, kidney disease, or nutritional deficiency.

If a cat suddenly becomes fixated on water, it’s important to rule out medical causes by having a veterinarian examine them. Treating any underlying condition can help resolve the water obsession.

Preventing Problems

There are several tips cat owners can follow to try and prevent or manage this behavior of cats dipping their paws in water:

a cat drinking water from a fountain

  • Use a heavier water bowl that is more difficult to tip over. Ceramic and stainless steel bowls tend to be heavier than plastic.
  • Try placing a placemat or towel under the water bowl to absorb any splashes.
  • Consider using a water fountain instead of a bowl, as the flowing water may deter paw dipping.
  • Give your cat appropriate scratching posts and toys to prevent boredom and stress.
  • Keep your cat’s paws clean by regular nail trims and grooming.
  • Take your cat to the vet to rule out any medical causes like arthritis.
  • Use positive reinforcement when your cat is not dipping its paw in the water.

While this behavior may be instinctual for cats, the above tips can help prevent excessive water splashing. Be patient and try different solutions until you find what works best for your cat.


In summary, there are several common reasons why cats dip their paws in water:

It is an instinctual behavior that stems from their ancestry as desert-dwelling creatures who needed to conserve water.

a cat splashing water from its paw

Cats may dip their paws in water to get a drink, especially if their whiskers are too sensitive for them to drink directly from the bowl.

Dipping paws in water can help cats cool down on hot days.

It is part of their self-grooming ritual to keep their paws clean.

Playing with water provides mental stimulation and enrichment.

Marking territory by spreading their scent around the house.

In some cases it may be a sign of a medical issue like a mouth injury.

While this behavior may seem strange, it is completely normal feline behavior in most cases. Understanding why cats dip their paws can help prevent problems like spilled water bowls.

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