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Cats: People love them, but few understand them. From chilling in the sink to hanging out their tongues, cats have certain behaviors that can be puzzling to owners. A common habit for cats is to put a paw in a bowl of drinking water. Is the cat afraid that its owner will poison it? Do you realize that this is not hygienic behavior? Why do cats do this?
According to Pam Johnson-Bennett, an expert in feline behavior, cats have a number of motivations for getting their paw wet. One relates to the sensitivity of their whiskers. If a cat dips its head in a bowl before examining the flatness or depth, there is a risk that it will feel pressure on its hair from the sides or bottom of the bowl. To avoid the discomfort, cats assess the “feel” of the bowl or simply use their paws like a spoon and sip water from it to avoid irritating the hair.
Cats don’t like deep water bowls for another reason. If bowing their head makes them unable to see their surroundings, they may feel vulnerable, especially in a multi-cat household. If the bowl is too close to the wall, it can cause them to use the paw-as-a-utensil trick as well, otherwise they would have to turn their backs to the room to drink from.
Cats can also dip their paw because this creates ripples in the water. This may be of interest to you for two reasons. First, from an evolutionary point of view, cats may have the instinct to choose sources of water that flow rather than stagnate and are potentially harmful. (If they prefer to move water, you might catch them drinking from taps.) Second, the cat can do it for pleasure.
If you don’t like your cat’s habit, you can try using a wide, narrow bowl of water to soothe the whiskers. If you think this could be for personal safety reasons, try having multiple water bowls in your house for the cats. If the cat is doing it for stimulation, then more recovery time may be appropriate.
In rare cases, cats may interact with their water bowl due to poor eyesight due to age or illness. You can always have them examined, but in most cases, cats pawing at their bowls is typical cat behavior – a little strange, but mostly justified.
[h/t Cat Behavior Associates]