My Cat Won’t Drink from Her Water Fountain – Why?

Cats have an evolutionary preference for still water that likely developed to avoid sickness. In the wild, cats tend to avoid bodies of water like rivers or streams that are moving, as they can contain bacteria, parasites, and other contaminants. According to one source, cats instinctively view moving water as potentially unsafe. Instead, they prefer to drink stagnant water that has had time to allow contaminants to settle.

Cats are also uniquely adapted to drink by scooping water with their tongues, which is easier to accomplish in still water. Most cats do not lap water like dogs, but instead curl the tip of their tongue into a ladle shape to scoop and lift water into their mouths. This scooping method works best in calm, stagnant water rather than from a continuously flowing fountain. As feline behaviorist Dr. Marci Koski explains, “Cats don’t have the coordination to lap water like a dog does. Instead, they make little cups with their tongues to scoop and pull water up.”

issues with Water Fountains

Many cats are reluctant to drink from water fountains due to certain aspects of their design that can deter felines. Some common issues cats have with fountains include:

Sound and vibration – The motorized pumping mechanism that circulates water in fountains often creates sounds and vibrations that can startle cats or make them uneasy about approaching the fountain. Cats have sensitive hearing and dislike loud noises (Source).

Whisker stress – The edges of a fountain basin can rub against and irritate a cat’s sensitive whiskers when they lean in to drink. This causes discomfort and deters them from using the fountain (Source).

Plastic taste/smell – Plastic fountains can retain odors and impart a plastic taste to the water that cats dislike. Stainless steel fountains are less likely to cause this issue.

Cat’s Instincts

Cats have natural instincts when it comes to drinking water that originate from their ancestral roots and habits in the wild. One key instinct is that cats prefer to drink water that is away from their food source. In nature, standing water near a food source could be contaminated with bacteria, so cats developed an aversion to mixing food and water.

This instinct remains even though our house cats eat from pristine bowls. According to Treehugger, keeping your cat’s food and water bowls far apart can make them more likely to drink. Cats also instinctively prefer wide, shallow bowls that they can comfortably access compared to narrow, deep bowls. Their whiskers are highly sensitive, so they don’t like squishing them against narrow openings.

Improving Acceptance of Fountains

There are some tips and tricks to help improve your cat’s acceptance of a water fountain.

First, make sure to place the fountain away from their food. Cats have an instinct to not drink water that is too close to their food source, so keeping the fountain across the room can help (Source).

Also choose a fountain that has minimal noise. Some electric fountains can have pumps that make bothersome humming or buzzing noises, which may scare cats off. Opt for a fountain with a quiet motor or consider a gravity-fed fountain with no motor at all.

Look for a fountain with a wide basin and avoid ones where the sides touch your cat’s whiskers. Cats don’t like having their sensitive whiskers rub against surfaces when they drink, so a open, shallow design is best.

Choosing the Right Fountain

When selecting a water fountain for your cat, opt for a fountain made of ceramic or stainless steel rather than plastic. Ceramic and stainless steel fountains are more durable, easier to clean, and less prone to bacterial growth than plastic models.

Consider the size of the fountain basin based on the number of cats you have. Cats prefer larger basins that give them space to drink comfortably. Look for basins at least 4-5 inches wide and 1-2 inches deep.

Water flow is also important. Cats tend to prefer a gentle stream of water rather than a harsh pouring flow. Adjustable flow control is an ideal feature to look for.

Some popular fountains that meet these criteria include the Drinkwell Pagoda Ceramic Fountain, PetSafe Drinkwell Platinum Stainless Steel fountain, and the IPettie Tritone Ceramic Drinking Fountain. Reviews indicate these fountains have durable build quality, adjustable water flow, and large basins cats enjoy drinking from (Source).

Alternatives to Fountains

If your cat refuses to drink from a fountain, there are some alternatives that can provide fresh flowing water without the fountain design:

  • Self-replenishing water bowls automatically refill themselves when the water level gets low, providing a constant source of fresh water. These bowls connect to a water bottle or reservoir to refill themselves as needed. Popular self-replenishing water bowl brands include Drinkwell and Petmate Replendish.
  • Having multiple water stations around your home can encourage cats to drink more. Place water bowls in different areas your cat frequents like the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. This provides easy access to water sources throughout their territory.

While not as ideal as fountains for providing flowing fresh water, these alternatives can work well for some cats who refuse to drink from fountains. Checking frequently to refill gravity-fed water bowls is also an option. Work with your cat’s preferences to find a watering method they are comfortable with.

Safety Considerations

Using a water fountain for your cat requires taking some safety precautions. Here are a few key things to keep in mind:

Change the water frequently. The water in a fountain can become stagnant after a day or two. Refresh the water at least every other day to prevent bacteria from accumulating according to Litter Robot. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific model.

Clean the fountain regularly. Even with a filter, biofilms can build up over time. Take apart the fountain weekly to clean all components and prevent the growth of mold and bacteria according to Thirsty Cat Fountains. Use mild soap and hot water.

Use filtered water. Tap water can contain minerals, chemicals, and microorganisms that may cause health issues. Use filtered or distilled water to minimize potential risks.

By keeping the fountain clean and the water fresh, you can provide your cat with a safe and appealing water source.

When to Seek Help

If your cat refuses to drink water for an extended period of time, it’s important to seek veterinary help. Dehydration can cause serious health complications in cats. According to Rover, signs of dehydration include lethargy, sunken eyes, dry gums, weakness, and lack of elasticity in the skin. If you notice any of these symptoms along with a refusal to drink, take your cat to the vet immediately.

Cats with pre-existing urinary or kidney problems are also at high risk for dehydration. According to PetMD, kidney disease is one of the most common causes of increased thirst and dehydration in cats. If your cat has a history of these issues and suddenly stops drinking, a vet visit is crucial to avoid a life-threatening situation.

In general, if your cat refuses to drink water for more than 24 hours, and you cannot identify an underlying cause, it’s best to seek veterinary help. A vet can run tests to check for potential illnesses and provide supportive care such as subcutaneous fluids. The sooner dehydration is addressed, the better the outcome for your cat.

Transitioning to a Fountain

When introducing a cat to a new water fountain, it’s important to make the transition gradually so they have time to get used to this new water source. Start by placing the water fountain right next to their normal water bowl filled with fresh still water. This allows them to investigate the fountain while still having access to their familiar water bowl.

To encourage interest in the fountain, try adding some catnip or a few treats into the fountain basin or on top of it. The scent of catnip or a tasty reward may entice your cat to explore and try out the fountain [1]. Let them lick the water coming from the fountain and get used to the sound of the pump and water flow.

Over a few days, gradually move the water bowl farther away from the fountain. This will transition your cat’s main water source to the fountain. Make sure to keep both water sources very clean and full during this process. Be patient and give your cat time to adjust. The key is taking it slow and making the fountain seem appealing and rewarding.

Providing Enough Water

Cats need to drink adequate amounts of water every day to stay properly hydrated. According to veterinarians, the average cat should drink around 60 ml per kg of body weight daily. For a 4 kg cat, that equates to approximately 240 ml or 1 cup of water per day. Cats eating mainly dry food require more water than those on wet food diets. Insufficient water intake can lead to potential health issues like urinary tract infections or kidney problems.

If your cat doesn’t seem to be drinking enough water, here are some tips to encourage increased consumption:

  • Try different water bowls – Wide, shallow bowls may be more appealing than narrow, deep ones.
  • Add extra bowls around the house.
  • Use a fountain designed to entice cats to drink.
  • Flavor the water with tuna juice or low-sodium broth.
  • Switch to a wet food diet to increase moisture intake.
  • Place bowls away from food and litter boxes.
  • Frequently change and refresh water.
  • Consider getting a pet water fountain if your cat likes moving water.

Monitor your cat’s water intake and take action if it seems inadequate. Increasing moisture in their diet is crucial for feline health.

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