Why Cats Do Weird Things: Pawing Around Water

cat water bowl

We know why cats play with their water: they paw it and lick it from their paws, to try to make their water ripple and thus seem fresher.  Cats love fresh water.  But I’ve noticed Cole sometimes do something a bit stranger than that: he paws around his water bowl.  He doesn’t actually dip his paws in, but he scratches at the floor around the water bowl.  Why is he doing that?

There isn’t a clear answer as to why; a lot of cat behavior is mysterious to us.  But there are a few educated guesses out there.  The first is that cats like to bury their food in the wild.  If your cat is pawing the area around its water bowl, it may be mimicking burying its food.  That makes sense if the cat’s food dish is right by the water bowl: maybe now that the cat is done with its food, it’s following some ancestral impulse to bury the remainder before going for a drink.

That doesn’t entirely fit with Cole’s behavior.  His food bowl isn’t next to his water bowl, because he shares water with the dog, whereas the cat food is kept beyond the dog’s reach.  I haven’t paid that much attention to his pawing behavior, but perhaps he does go and paw around his water bowl after finishing eating in the other room.  Still, it seems like another explanation might fit better.

Another suggestion is that it’s an issue of territory.  As we know, cats have scent glands all over their body: the common ones are in their cheek area, which is why cats rub their faces on everything.  But it’s hard to rub one’s face on the ground.  Cats also have scent glands in their paws.  So pawing at the area around the water dish might be your cat’s way of marking its territory.

This explanation makes a little bit more sense for Cole.  He does have to share his water dish with both Chihiro and Chrestomanci, after all.  Though I have to say, if he is attempting to mark the territory as only his, he hasn’t been very successful.

I have noted that Cole is more likely to paw around his water bowl at the same times that he also paws in the water.  So he might be doing all that pawing for reasons related to wanting fresh water.  He is more likely to engage in all of this behavior when the water bowl is getting low (and thus the water isn’t as fresh).  If Cole ever stopped drinking enough water, I would consider getting him a fountain, perhaps one he could keep privately by his food.  But as it is, he’s drinking enough water, so I’m content to be amused by his cute behavior.


*(The above image by Luca Masters is licensed by the Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution License).