You pour water into your cat’s water bowl and, instead of starting to drink it, your cat starts scratching the floor. You must be wondering, Why does my cat scratch the floor before drinking water?
It certainly is strange. However, there is no reason for concern! Even this seemingly odd cat behavior can be explained.
Continue reading to find out 12 possible reasons behind this behavior (you might be surprised!), as well as 10 tips on how to change it!
Why Does My Cat Scratch The Floor Before Drinking Water?
There is really no “right” answer to this question. All of the reasons provided below are just theories or speculations as to why a cat would scratch the floor before drinking water.
There probably isn’t one single reason why your cat would be doing this; it may be due to a combination of different factors.
Nevertheless, all of these possible reasons make sense and some of them are pretty interesting, so continue reading!
1. Visually Marking Their Territory
Cats are extremely territorial creatures, even more so than dogs. The territory they consider theirs can vary – from the entire block to just one small part of the house.
In the wild, the only way to survive is to defend what’s theirs, therefore cats are keen to mark their territory and are very cautious who gets close.
It does not matter if the cat is an indoor-cat, the urge to protect their territory is deeply embedded within them, no matter where they live.
One way to mark their territory is by leaving visual marks near objects that they consider theirs. This is one of the two most common marking behaviors. You might notice this behavior more frequently if you have more than one pet at home.
A visual mark (the scratches) around the water bowl are a clear sign: “This is MINE!“
2. Leaving A Scent – Releasing Pheromones
The second of the two most common marking behaviors is leaving a scent behind.
Your cat does this all the time. Its scent glands are found on the cheeks, forehead, tail, lips, ears, and importantly – cats paws.
Have you noticed your cat rubbing up against you sometimes? Your cat is leaving its scent behind on you. Congratulations – you’re now labeled as their territory!
This also has some other meanings, such as them being happy to see you, but that’s a topic for another time.
In this particular instance, pheromones are transferred from their paw’s scent glands onto the area around the water bowl, marking the area as theirs.
How interesting is this?
3. It’s Not Them – It’s Their Instinct
Let’s not forget that cats are not inherently domestic. No animal is really. Humans have domesticated animals for a really long time, and cats are one of the most successful examples of a wild animal being domesticated.
Domesticated cats do not have to hunt anymore or look for water. Cat owners provide these things for them, so those skills are no longer in use. That being said, it does not mean that the cat’s instinct has changed.
Pawing and scratching the floor near the water bowl is their instinct manifesting. Cats’ ancestors, as well as wild or stray cats, have to find their way to a water source.
That means removing leaves or waste that can be found floating on top of or around a water pond, for example.
Considering that there are no sinks providing water outdoors, water sources tend to be rainwater puddles and tiny ponds that hold water. By scratching the floor, your cat is mimicking removing whatever’s getting in the way of satisfying its thirst.
4. The Water Is… Bad
Cats are one of the cleanest animals in the world. They really do notice everything!
They keep themselves fresh and clean, and expect their food and water to be the same too.
We humans don’t like the taste or the feeling of drinking day-old, lukewarm water. Cats don’t enjoy it either. Cats prefer cold water over warm water because they associate cold water with being fresh.
Your cat will also notice changes in the water, such as too much chlorination, which is of course not under your control – but they don’t like it. You can buy a water-filter if you know the water from the faucet is heavily chlorinated.
The same goes if the water is dirty in some way – maybe some cat food dropped into it, or some hair from other pets, or even dust.
Whatever the case may be, a cat scratching the floor can be a sign of dissatisfaction with the quality of water.
5. The Water Bowl Is… Bad
Perhaps you were washing their water bowl and forgot to completely rinse out the soap or detergent… Or you rinsed it out well, but the detergent leaves a strong scent behind? You can be sure your cat will smell it.
Maybe the water bowl is a bit rusty in one spot? Your cat will surely notice it and will not be happy. Also, even if the bowl itself is clean, maybe the place where the bowl is placed is not clean? Make sure the floor underneath the bowl is clean too!
A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times better than a human’s sense of smell, so they are bound to notice any scent that is out of the ordinary.
6. Is The Water Bowl Next To The Food Bowl?
It has been proven that most cat breeds do not like having both their food and water bowl side by side. Why? If your house cat has to choose between water and food – it will choose food most of the time.
The smell of food is much more appealing than water (understandable, right?). It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about wet food or dry food, it will always be chosen over water. If this is constantly repeated – in your cat’s brain, this leads to associating water as something undesirable.
That’s why when it’s time to drink water, your cat may show it is not very happy by scratching the floor.
7. Do You Use The Same Bowl For Water And Food?
If you do this, I encourage you to stop. As mentioned before, cats need their water fresh, clean and tasting like… plain water.
If you use the same bowl for both food and water and you don’t wash it afterwards – your cat will sense the unusual flavor and consider the water to be dirty or polluted. Not even stray or wild cats drink polluted water – your cat won’t either!
For this reason, your feline friend will scratch the floor, trying to communicate dissatisfaction with the water quality.
It is best to separate the two bowls, so your cat doesn’t smell the food in the water. One small adjustment can make your life (and your floors) much better!
8. Is The Water Bowl New?
Curiosity is a normal part of a cat’s character and this is to be encouraged.
Curiosity is essentially the cat’s way of making sure that there is no danger around. Not to mention that it is also fun for them! Young kittens are known to play with anything and everything, so the bowl can be one of those items that are interesting for them to investigate.
If you’ve just bought a new bowl, your cat might be performing a close-up inspection of the bowl. One of the signs of this is scratching the floor around the bowl. This is their way of getting to know the new environment – the new bowl – and becoming familiar with it.
Cats are absolutely obsessed with routine and familiarity. You must have noticed that your cat has a daily routine and rarely changes it.
If you’ve bought a new water bowl then scratching the floor can be your cat’s way of saying: “I disapprove.“
Changes in routine or environment causes stress to them, but they will get over it soon and hopefully, love their new water bowl!
9. It Can Be Due To Their Vision
It seems that cats are nearsighted, meaning they don’t see clearly if an object is very far away. Also, they cannot see objects that are very close to their face either.
You might not know this and think: “Well they are surely close sighted, right?“
The answer is no. Because their eyes are so large, cats can’t focus on objects that are closer than a foot away from them. Essentially, your cat does not see objects that are extremely close to their face.
If they approach close enough, they won’t actually see the bowl clearly. So what do they do? They start scratching the floor near the bowl, in order to determine the proximity of it, so they can drink nicely and not get wet or spill the water.
It’s amazing how clean and neat cats are, am I right?
10. Compulsive Behavior
It might be uncommon, but our little feline friends can have obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to PetMD: “This is a behavioral disorder where a cat will engage in repetitive, exaggerated behaviors that are seemingly without purpose“.
The act of scratching the floor doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the water, it could be a display of OCD.
But do not panic! This is an extremely rare phenomenon and other manifestations of OCD are more common, including:
- repetitive meowing
- sucking an item
- licking the blanket
If you have suspicions that your cat may be suffering from OCD and you notice this behavior very often, then visit the vet’s office for advice.
11. Whisker Fatigue
Whisker fatigue is a condition where a cat’s whiskers are overly-stimulated, causing the cat stress and discomfort.
This form of sensory overload is commonly observed when the drinking bowl is too deep or narrow, and their whiskers rub against the edges of the bowl.
Your cat scratching the floor before drinking water from the bowl may indicate your cat is not pleased by the bowl as it is causing discomfort.
In order to prevent this, use a water dish that is wide enough to prevent irritation to the whiskers.
12. Your Cat Might Be Afraid Of Water
Hatred of water is one of the most popular characteristics of cats, right? It’s simply not in their nature to enjoy being wet or playing with water. Most cats dislike the water more than they are afraid of it.
Yet cats, just like every living being, need water to survive. If you notice your cat hesitating and stalling when needing to drink water – it can be a sign that your cat is afraid of water.
Another sign of this is when your cat scratches the floor before drinking water, maybe to release some tension or to delay making contact with the water. This is a rare but possible cause of strange behavior.
Should You Be Worried?
In 99% of cases – the answer is No. In rare cases, this behavior can indicate that they’re afraid of water or might have OCD or whisker fatigue.
Mostly, they are just acting upon their instincts, marking their territory or letting you know they’re not happy about the bowl or water quality.
Why Do Cats Scratch Items… In General?
You might notice your cat scratches some other things as well, not just around its water dish. Here, if you’re interested, we briefly mention a couple of reasons cats scratch items.
- To remove the dead outer layer of their paws – this is a healthy behavior.
- To file their nails – completely normal behavior, better they do this job than you.
- Marking their territory – they do this by leaving both visual marks and their scent.
- Urge to mate – among other more common signs.
- Separation anxiety – make sure to relieve your cat of anxiety and reassure them with contact.
- Getting rid of excess energy – if this is the reason, your cat needs to get more physical exercise.
- Stretching – scratching allows for some good stretching of the body.
- Kneading – your cat is using her paws for kneading too and if they choose your thigh as their kneading location, you might end up with a couple of scratches…
- For no apparent reason – just cat-things, huh?
2 Other Instances Of Cats Scratching The Floor
Your house cat may have other episodes of scratching the floor, aside from just before drinking their water.
1. After Eating
This is your cat’s instinct for self-preservation!
Scratching the floor is your cat’s way of “hiding“ any leftover food (otherwise known as food caching). Why?
Because food remains attract predators, which is a huge potential danger. Leftover food, of course, has a scent that is very easily noticed by felines, so leftovers must be buried as well.
Cats are very territorial creatures and do not tolerate intruders that make them feel unsafe in any way. Their instinctive behavior is to protect their territory and food and mark it as theirs!
You must remember that your cat is a predator to small animals – but on the other hand, your cat is prey for larger animals too!
This is not necessarily a risk in the comfort of your own home, but instincts are a very powerful thing that your cat will never get rid of!
2. After Using The Litter Box
Cats are probably the cleanest animals out there. They are professionals in hiding their urine or poop and if the litter box is not according to their standards, you have a problem.
Scratching the floor after using the litter box can be your cat’s way of demonstrating that something is wrong.
What could your cat be saying?
- “You did not change the litter – now it is too dirty and you need to change it immediately”
One time, my friend completely forgot to change his cat’s litter and freshen her water bowl. His cat did not approach him for two days straight because she was so mad at him. Sassy, huh?
- “I did not like the litter – change it”
- “Good job – but you put too much litter in the box”
- “Good job – but you put too little litter in the box”
How To Stop Your Cat From Doing This?
If you think (and you probably do) that this problem is annoying and bad for the floor, then you will want to stop the behavior.
Is not an easy problem to solve. The most common reasons for this cat behavior are so ingrained in their primal instincts that it might be impossible to get rid of it.
There are, however, a few things you can try (apart from hope). A few potential ways to stop this behavior are presented below.
1. Give Your Cat Its Own Space
Your cat should have her own space for eating and drinking, away from the rest of the household.
The reason for this is that your domestic cat needs a place to mark as its own. Cats are territorial and another cat, dog, or even family member can be unwelcome in your cat’s space.
2. Change The Water Often
Cats want their water fresh, clean and cold. Lukewarm, day-old, dirty water is a big NO for cats. Always make sure your cat has fresh, clean water.
How often should the water be changed? At least once every day, but twice is the best option. The most important thing is that your cat always has fresh water and never gets dehydrated.
3. Keep The Bowl Clean
If the reason your cat is scratching the floor is the fact that the water dish is dirty, contains food leftovers, or some odd scents – there is an easy fix.
Just keep the bowl properly cleaned and separated from the food bowl and it will be all good.
4. If You Have Multiple Pets – Introduce More Water Bowls
More pets means more potential intruders to your cat’s territory – the place around the water bowl and the bowl itself. This means your cat might have an increased desire to mark their territory by scratching the floor surface.
In order to prevent this, give each of your pets their own water bowl and maybe that will make your cat scratch the floor less.
If your cat is super-picky, you can even place water bowls at multiple drinking locations throughout the house.
5. Get A Cat Water Fountain
Getting a water fountain might be an unusual solution to your problems! Many cat owners report that getting a cat water fountain solved their cat’s floor-scratching issue.
It probably has something to do with their instincts of needing to find a water source by themselves, so maybe this is kind of like discovering a water spring, right?
6. Purchase A Mat
In order for you to try and save your floors (especially if they’re new), you can simply buy a mat or a cat carpet. Place it under the drinking bowl so your cat has something to scratch aside from your floor.
Cats are pretty picky when it comes to what they touch, so the mat or the carpet has to be comfortable for the cat!
7. Distract Your Cat
Make sure to bring your cat’s attention to something else. As soon as you see your cat is about to scratch or is scratching already, distract her in a way you know will work for your cat.
8. Never Punish Your Cat For Doing This
It might be hard to find a direct solution for the problem, but punishment is never to be encouraged. There are other ways you can help your cat to stop this behavior.
9. Reward-Based Training
Considering punishment is not an option, reward-based training is the way to go. Reward your cat with treats every time you succeed in distracting them from scratching.
Your cat will associate not scratching with receiving a reward, and this could ultimately lead to your cat abandoning this behavior.
10. Visit A Vet
If you observe that floor-scratching is getting out of hand and none of the tips seem to be working – talk to your veterinarian.
If a quick trip to the vet can help ease your mind and potentially help your cat – absolutely do it!
A Little Bit Of Science For Cat Lovers: Scratching Is In Your Cats Genes!
Okay, maybe this title is a bit misleading. There are no actual genes responsible for the act of scratching. However, we do know one thing – it’s a behavior with roots in their wildcat ancestry!
Cats were domesticated approximately 10,000 years ago in the East, where deserts are extensive. According to a theory, cats were once desert creatures that had to dig to find water sources.
When translated into modern times, the same goes for wild and stray cats.
They need to find their water somewhere and they do so by finding small pools of water. Those pools of water are not always readily available – cats sometimes have to dig through dirt and remove fallen leaves to get to it!
Do cats scratch the floor because of their inherited instinct of scratching-their-way to survival? Yes, it’s very likely that they do!
This article provided a list of possible answers to Why does my cat scratch the floor before drinking water? Considering almost all of them are completely harmless, we hope now you have a good grasp of this unusual behavior.
No matter if your cat is doing so because of its ancestral drive to find water, hide food remains, mark its territory or show their dissatisfaction with the quality of the water, the good news is that these things are completely understandable and easy to fix!
Now go and spend some quality time with your little furry friend!