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 your cat has a health issue that's affecting its innate need to hydrate itself. This is especially true if you've already tried changing the water regularly or alternated drinking bowls and the problem still persists.
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. And if they eat wet cat food, that takes care of some of their hydration needs.
Before you start to work on the behavioral issues, take your kitten to the veterinarian 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. However, it's extremely rare for a young kitten to have one of these conditions, any of which could be fatal within a short time.
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 that 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.
Shower or Bathtub
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. If given the space for water play, the cat is less likely to play with bowls meant to be left out and filled with water for drinking.
Alternatively, you could investigate water bottles (used for guinea pigs or other small pets) from pet product stores as a means to water your cat; many cats can be taught to drink from these nonspill water sources. To get the kitties attracted to the water bottle and help them learn to drink from it, flavor the water with tuna juice.
While any sudden change in your cat's behavior should prompt at least a phone call to the vet, a kitten being playful isn't cause for serious concern. As long as it's getting the food and water it needs and doesn't show any signs of illness, just keep some extra paper towels handy for kitten's playful splashing.