All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cat drinks water with paw...

Dear Marie,
Do you know why some cats (including my Siamese) drink with their paws?  My cat is left-pawed and drinks her low sodium chicken broth very slowly (vet-recommended when he thought she didn't drink enough). I once timed it to 18 minutes, very relaxed and focused.  It seems very pleasurable for her, like a human sipping brandy while smoking a good cigar, only I don’t let her smoke. She’s a good drinker now that I give her bottled water.


Dear Michelle,
I’m glad your Siamese is a non-smoker!

Seriously though, providing low-sodium broth to a kitty that is not drinking enough water was an excellent recommendation by your veterinarian.  In addition to keeping your kitty hydrated, it will add a few extra calories, carbohydrates, and fat to its diet.  Depending on how old your cat is now, that could be a very good thing.  Older kitties sometimes don’t eat as much as they should, so every little bit helps.

As far as paw-drinking goes, no one really knows for sure why this behavior occurs.  The most widely accepted cause for this behavior stems from water bowls not having an adequate diameter to allow cats to drink the "normal" way.  In other words, if your little girl drinks from a small bowl, her whiskers would press against the sides and that would trigger a nerve impulse that tells her that she is putting her head into something that is too small, which could be dangerous—think photos of animals with their heads stuck in cans, boxes, etc.  Whiskers are quite sensitive and some cats truly take the sensory impulses received from them very seriously.  Try using a wider bowl for her soup and see what happens.

Some researchers believe that this behavior is linked to a very old instinct revolving around living in arid climates.  Cats who could not find fresh water, would dip their paws into mud and then lick the water off from between their toes and paw pads.

Another possibility is that as cats get older, their vision tends to deteriorate.  If a cat wasn't bothered by a small bowl in its younger days, it may shift to paw drinking later in life because it can no longer gauge the level of the water in the bowl.  Usually this happens after kitties accidentally dunk their faces one or two times.  This is not pleasant at all for them, so being the intelligent creatures they are, they figure out how to use their paws to get the water they need and keep their heads dry!

Regardless of age, a lot of Oriental breeds, or mixed breed cats that have some Siamese, Burmese, etc. in their family trees, use their paws.  Many of these cats don't have good depth perception to begin with (a lot of cross-eyes).  Consequently, they are in the same boat as senior cats with poor vision.  If you get a water dispenser that has flowing water, that usually ends the paw drinking activities.  Still, if it seems like your kitty enjoys her ritual, I wouldn't worry about it.

The main reason you would want to be concerned is if your kitty is getting to be less resistant to germs—then drinking off one's dirty paw probably isn't the best thing for her to be doing.  Imagine sticking your hands in a litter box, even one that is cleaned regularly, than using your hands to drink water.  Clearly, this isn't an ideal situation.

As I mentioned, some unusual behaviors are related to lingering wild instincts.  One of my cats actually paws at the floor while he drinks.  Occasionally, he’ll even paw at the water and splash it all over the place.  (He’s not the brightest bulb out of my three kitties!)  This behavior can be traced back to the activities of felines in the wild who buried their leftover food to keep it safe from other hungry animals. Drinking with one’s paw may be connected to this old instinct.

No matter what the cause, it's rather fun watching kitties with bizarre behaviors and trying to figure them out!

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