Pet Connections

Toilet Water

Toilet water? We “go” there, don’t they know that? So why do cats drink out of toilet bowls when they’ve got a water bowl, and maybe even more than one?

But their water bowl may be filled, or half-filled, or so…with water that you put in there days ago. It still looks fine to us, but it may be stale, room temperature water, and may have a light coating of cat hairs that float around in the air and land on the surface. And the bowl itself may have collected minerals from the water coating the bottom and sides, and perhaps even some slimy stuff in there that you really can’t see.

Whereas the toilet—each time we flush the toilet, likely several times a day, it’s refilled with fresh and usually cool water.

A cat’s biological instinct for water

Biological instincts guide cats still from the time when they lived without convenient water bowls. In nature water can be difficult to find so cats will often take a sip of any water source they find as long as it seems fresh and clean, like puddles. Also in nature they share those water sources with other species and finding a water source free of other animals is rare so they take advantage of it.

Looking at the toilet as a cat, then, they are after an essential element in their life and the toilet bowl holds a gallon or so of it ready to go and free of interspecies dangers. Plus, it’s fun! Lots of cats like a challenge for those dull old daily activities.

Why you should stop your cat from drinking toilet water

Toilets are washed with various sanitizing chemicals, nearly all of which are toxic to cats, even residue, even fumes. Paws inside the toilet could touch that reside, and the toilet water could hold residue as well. Also, if a device of some sort emits sanitizing chemicals with every flush you don’t ever want your cat to come near that.2 Plus, we probably don’t clean our toilets every day and nasty things can build up in there.

And the same as letting them drink from a sink faucet, if it becomes their preferred water source it may not be available when they need it, and cats need fresh water available to them at all times.

Setting your cats up for water enjoyment success

Like all other behaviors that we deem “bad” we need to understand why cats are doing what they’re doing and find an acceptable substitute for it.

So cats need to drink water each day, they will drink water opportunistically, they want the freshest water available so they know it’s safe, and they like to have a little fun while they do. That sounds like cats need multiple water sources including fountains to fulfill all the requirements on their list.

If cats seem to avoid water sources we provide it’s usually not because they don’t like to drink water. It’s true that a wet food only diet may fulfill the basic water intake requirement for a cat, but all cats have different requirements determined by total dietary intake, age, health condition and more variables. For instance, dry food in the diet will increase their need for supplemental water, older cats don’t process fluids as efficiently as younger cats, and we all need a higher fluid intake during hot weather. With a cat’s ancestral desert beginnings to concentrate urine, they can never have too much water.

So if they’re not drinking water it’s usually because the water source we’ve provided is poorly placed or we’re not keeping it as clean as their instincts say they need.

You should provide more than one water source so they can get their water in various places, as they would in nature. Those sources can be fountains and/or bowls of still water, one placed in each room or area where they spend time. A fountain keeps the water fresh and aerated and cats are attracted to both the sight and sound of moving water. Bowls only need to hold a cup or two.

Place water out of direct sun and away from traveling paths around the house both to keep the water clean of household dust and fur that might be raised with a human or cat passing by, and for the drinker to be undisturbed while drinking. Like food bowls, try to place it so the cat isn’t facing a wall to drink, but can see the room.

You can choose from a huge variety of fountains and follow instructions for cleaning and filter changes. Water in bowls should be changed daily, and the bowl washed. I use the “cat water” to water plants and have a stack of glass, ceramic and stainless steel bowls in the bathroom, kitchen and basement so that I can easily wash and always have clean bowls on hand. The smell of tap water can turn cats away so try filtered water.

Checking daily for good health

If the level in a particular bowl or fountain seems to reduce quickly, check to see who uses it and if anyone seems to be drinking more water than usual. It may be that source is just really convenient for the feline household, or it could indicate a health issue.

Resources:

  1. Cat Behavior Associates, “Why Does My Cat Drink From The Toilet?”:
    https://catbehaviorassociates.com/why-does-my-cat-drink-from-the-toilet/
  2. AVMAArticle, “Household Hazards”:
    https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/household-hazards

 

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