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Does the type of water bowl determine how much water cats drink? If you judge by the number of fancy water bowls available online and in pet stores you would sure think so. All types or circulating, waterfall, and free-falling self-refilling bowls can now be found. All claiming to enhance water consumption or offer some other health benefit. But which is better? Do cats have a preference for water bowl type?

Which type of bowl is better?

As mentioned in a previous post, cats are thirst tolerant. Owing to evolution in an arid environment, cats adapted to meeting their water needs from their prey. Cats are also prone to urinary crystal formation due to their very concentrated urine to preserve body water. Scientific evidence now shows that if we can encourage cats to drink more water, it will dilute their urine and be less favorable for crystal and stone formation. Hence the goal of creating a bowl that entices cats to drink water even when they don’t want to. Does that work?

A group of veterinary researchers at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine designed an experiment to find out if the type of water bowl mattered. The group was interested in whether water bowl type may help in the prevention of urinary crystals and stones.

Sixteen cats were rotated through periods of drinking from a still water bowl, a circulating water bowl and a free-falling self-filling water bowl. After an acclimation period of a week to each bowl, total water consumption was tallied for two weeks for each cat. Urine from each cat was collected and analyzed for the same two week period.

The researchers found that there was no significant difference in water consumption between the three bowls. Urine was slightly denser when the cats drank from a circulating bowl. Overall the statistics indicated that the type of water bowl had little influence on the urine environment for preventing urinary crystals and stones.

Do cats have a preference for water bowl type?

The researchers did find that some cats do have a water bowl preference. Three of the sixteen cats (19%) showed individual preferences and consumed more water from a particular type of water bowl. Because of the small experimental population size it is hard to make generalities about bowl preferences for cats. But it is intriguing. Why?

I have found that owners of cats with the tendency to form urinary crystals or stones are willing to try almost anything to prevent and manage the problem. If in fact some cats show a preference for the type of bowl their water is in, experimenting with bowl type may not be a bad idea.

A quick Google search for circulating or free-falling water bowls found eight types, ranging in price from $19.97-$44.27. Comparing this to the cost of un-blocking an obstructed male cat, or surgery to remove a bladder stone, trying different water bowls makes economic sense.

If a crystal forming cat has a preference for the toilet bowl or the faucet, don’t discourage it. Where’s the harm? Studies have shown that toilets have far less bacteria than the kitchen sink dish rag!

Remember not to mistake these behavioral preferences for cats that are drinking excessive amounts of water. Excessive water consumption in a cat should be a red flag for a visit to the vet, especially in cats eight years or older. Cats with kidney problems, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism will all show signs of excessive water intake and urination.  

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: CelloPics / Flickr

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