How to Stop Your Cat From Spilling the Water Dish

It's not usually a cause for concern

cat playing with water
Melanie Defazio / Stocksy United

Cats and kittens have a well-earned reputation for being water phobic. Most cats avoid getting wet if at all possible, and when a cat is drinking a lot from its water dish, that's a sign it may be sick. If you find your kitten splashing in its water bowl rather than drinking it, it's possible it has a health issue that's affecting its innate need to hydrate itself. Some cats do like water, especially if the play is on their terms (and not someone else's spray bottle). Playing with a water bowl is not unusual for some cats.

Why Do Kittens Splash in Water?

As a general rule, kittens are playful, since they have a natural impulse to manipulate things with their paws. Although this could be why they might play with or in water, it's unlikely that curiosity is the only reason. While there's some debate about whether cats need to be bathed and how frequently, cats generally groom themselves by licking their fur. If they eat wet cat food, that takes care of some of their hydration needs.

Some types of cats do like water. There are certain breeds that tend to be more tolerable of water (Maine Coons) and if a kitten was exposed to a lot of water play, it will likely tolerate bathing and getting wet as it ages. Finally, some cats just truly prefer fresh water and don't like to drink stagnant water in their bowls. They may be playing with the water to recreate the rippling effect of fresh water.

Health Issues

Before you start to work on behavioral issues, take your kitten to the vet to see if there's a medical reason for your cat's interest in splashing its water. Diabetes, kidney failure, and thyroid issues all can make cats thirsty. They may drink from their water bowls more frequently and make a mess if they're not feeling well. Most cats with one of these conditions show other signs of illness, such as lethargy, confusion, or a lack of appetite. It's extremely rare for a young kitten to have one of these conditions, any of which could be fatal within a short time.

Stress

Anxiety or stress sometimes prompts strange behaviors in cats. A cat may put its paws into its water bowl or try to climb in. Separation anxiety often motivates cats to seek attention from owners by acting out. Sometimes this manifests as litter box issues, such as when a cat sprays or defecates in an inappropriate area. For some cats, separation anxiety may lead them to splash in the water dish, push it aside, or try to overturn it to get your attention. Obsessive-compulsive disorders can become worse with stress as well, but kittens are rarely affected by these types of long-term behavioral patterns.

How to Stop Cats From Spilling Water

Sometimes a kitten playing in water is just a kitten acting its age. Some young felines love patting around in the water, while others simply can't stand the stuff. Kittens are inclined to grow out of behaviors like splashing in the water, though, so patience may be the best solution if your young cat is using its water bowl as a toy.

Kitten object play is most active up through the 5-month age and starts to decline thereafter, but if the behavior doesn't begin to wane by the time the kitten starts reaching maturity, it may be helpful to redirect its focus to a better outlet for play.

Resolve Any Health Issues

If a cat is spilling water because of a health issue, your vet will help resolve this. Your cat may need prescription medication for the condition. Treating the health issue should resolve bad water bowl behavior.

Changing Stressful Situations

Managing stressful situations can be tricky. If you cannot pinpoint the exact problem, a pet behaviorist can help identify the problem and work with you to help it. In the meantime, try some tricks that are focused solely on the water bowl:

  • If you have a shower or bathtub, consider placing a bowl filled with water in it and showing it to your cat. You can reinforce your cat's play with treats and praise to encourage it to only play with water bowls inside the shower, where spillage won't be an issue.
  • Change your cats water often. You can add ice cubes so the water is cold.
  • Try alternative water bottles like non-spill bottles that are used for guinea pigs or other small animals.
  • Try a fountain type water bowl that has a continuous flow cycle, so the water is always fresh.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.