Cats and Water

Why do we insist on putting the cat's water and food side by side?

With a few exceptions, humans are the only species that drink liquids with their food. Raccoons, for example, are noted for "washing" their food first, but this is because they lack salivary glands that would provide the moisture to help the digestive process. It's hard, if not impossible, to swallow, say, dry crackers without something to wash them down. With people, the saliva wets the crackers and helps us get them down. Or, we take a drink of something.

Raccoons don't eat crackers, of course, but they must find external moisture to enable them to "wash" their food down. It has nothing to do with being sanitary, as some have thought.

While there are other exceptions, it is a primarily human thing to do - to take a sip of some beverage during a meal, then perhaps wash everything down afterward. Many people also imbibe significant quantities of liquid before and after a meal, often in the form of coffee, or perhaps a cocktail. A proper table is set with plates, silverware, and cups and/or glasses for the beverages. Everything in one place.

These are cultural habits. And as we all should know, cats have no culture. Sure, some of them may enjoy the strains of a symphony playing in the house, but the definition of culture here refers more to the creation of a moral society along with the performance of expected behaviors that coincide only with what is in vogue at the time.

Cats are guided by instinct, not culture. Their expected behaviors never go out of fashion - within the world of cats - and are "hard wired" into their beings. This is not to say they cannot adapt to what we expect of them, nor does it mean they have no feelings. They are indeed quite capable of loving their caretakers, for example, provided we treat them so as to deserve their devotion.

But we humans often force our own cultural eating standards on them. This may or may not be a problem, as cats will learn to eat and drink where you tell them to. Just don't try to force them to drink as they eat. If they come to their food station, eat, and then walk away, don't assume they don't like the water you put down for them. They will come back later to drink - at which time they won't eat.

This is normal. Have you ever seen cats in the wild eat next to a stream or river so they could take drinks with their food? This might occur, but only if they just happened to be near a stream or river at the time of their kill. More typically, they kill what they need, drag it away to a safer area, eat, then wander off to sleep or cruise the area. If they get thirsty later, they find water, drink, then walk away to sleep, or cruise the area.

Now how does this translate to our household feline companions? At our house, we have found that our cats tend to drink a lot more water if they can do so as a separate activity. In other words, we do not put food and water in the same spot on the floor. If there is enough room, it works very well to put food and water in separate rooms. If that won't work for you, then at least put the dishes farther apart, such as different corners of the same room. If that won't work because you're pressed for space, a separator can help. Place either the food or the water into a separate box, or somehow build a "wall" between them.

Water is an essential part of everyone's diet: people, animals, birds, snakes, lizards, and even plants.

Keeping food and water separate results in the pets actually drinking more, and that can have beneficial effects, providing there are no health problems. It also prevents food pellets from bouncing into the water dish and making a grungy residue in the bowl.

Copyright 2006 - 2007 - RJ Peters 
Dr. R.J. Peters, a retired physician, established an animal rescue shelter in 2002. She has worked with hundreds of dogs and cats and shares much of what she's learned, at The Problem Cat.