Should You Keep Cat Food And Water Separate?

Updated August 24, 2023

The short answer for whether you should keep cat food and water separate is – yes. Cats prefer to eat and drink at different locations.

This preference stems from ancient times when cats weren’t yet domesticated.

Food and water bowl location can affect a cat’s appetite and fluid intake, so you shouldn’t take it lightly. If a cat doesn’t like its bowl location, it can refuse to drink entirely.

Some cats adapt and have no issue with their bowls standing together, but the proximity of food to water still has risks you should be aware of.

However, don’t change the bowl location suddenly. Cats like routine and find changes distressing, so be careful when moving your cat’s water.

Why Cats Don’t Like Their Water Near Their Food

Cats don’t like water near their food, although some cats will tolerate it. The reason for this phenomenon lies in feline nature. Wild ancestors of domesticated cats were very careful with their water sources.

To avoid poisoning, feral cats only drink from clean water sources, not contaminated by anything. Mixing food and water can lead to bacterial growth and cause medical conditions.

For the same reason, many cats refuse to drink from the bowl and prefer running tap water. In the wild, stagnant water in ponds has a higher risk of being contaminated with bacteria, algae, and parasites than water in rivers.

Plus, cats in the wild strive to switch their feeding, resting, and drinking areas to hide from larger predators. They do it to ensure that predators cannot track them down by scent.

Many domestic cats feel more natural hunting down bowls in different places than having them conveniently standing together.

Another reason cats don’t like their water and food bowl together is that they are sensitive to water taste and smell. When a cat’s food is too close to its water bowl, the flavor transfers.

One may think that a food bowl located close to the water cannot affect its scent drastically, but cats have a significantly stronger sense of smell than humans.

On the other hand, cats don’t like changes and can have strong opinions about their food and water placement. Although drinking where one eats isn’t natural for cats, they can get used to their bowl placement, even if it isn’t perfect.

If you suddenly move your cat’s water or food bowl, it can become anxious and stop drinking entirely.

If your cat doesn’t seem to mind its water bowl placement, leave it as is or move it a few inches at a time to avoid distressing your pet.

Food Makes Water Dirty

Even if your cat tolerates its water and food bowl being close to each other, you might want to separate them because food makes the water dirty faster.

Some cats will drink right after they’ve eaten, particularly if a cat eats kibble that’s too dry. In that case, food chunks left in the cat’s mouth and on its chin will fall in the water bowl.

You should change your cat’s water regularly regardless of the bowl placement because it becomes contaminated with bacteria from your cat’s saliva and air.

However, food chunks speed up the process, creating a perfect environment for bacteria to flourish. You should change your cat’s water every day if it’s located far from the food bowl but several times a day if it’s located close.

Sometimes, you might notice your cat dropping its food into the water bowl on purpose. Your cat isn’t trying to soften the food by making it wet – it’s an instinctive response inherited from its wild ancestors.

Although they do it themselves, most cats will refuse to drink their water after they’ve dropped food in it. So, even if your cat intentionally drops food in the water bowl, don’t keep the bowls close.

What If I Change the Water Frequently?

Alright, cat food makes the water dirty. But what if you change the water more frequently? Can you leave the bowls in their current spot, or should you change the location regardless?

Veterinarians recommend changing cat water once a day if the bowl’s placement is correct.

If the air temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you should change the water even more frequently because high temperatures speed up bacterial growth.

If the food bowl is located close to your cat’s water bowl, you need to change the water several times a day. In summer, you would have to change it non-stop.

Furthermore, even if you change the water frequently, your cat may be hesitant to drink it because of instincts. In the long term, it can lead to dehydration and have lasting effects on your pet’s health.

Separating the bowls is much easier than dealing with a cat’s dehydration or changing the water every two hours.

Correct Food & Water Bowl Placement

Now that you’re aware of the risks of keeping cat water and food bowl together, you may wonder what the correct cat bowl placement is. How far should a cat’s food and water bowls be from each other depends on what your space allows.

The distance between your pet’s bowls should be at least five inches, but some cats will only drink from a water bowl located in another room from the food bowl.

Furthermore, not all spots in your house are suitable for food and water bowls. The location should be calm and quiet, away from traffic.

Don’t put your cat’s water and food bowls near the kids’ room, in the hallway, or near the entrance door.

A better place is a spare bedroom, the living room, or the dining room. A kitchen is a great place for cat bowls because of its proximity to the sink and trash.

However, don’t put the bowls near the counter where food crumbs can fall into the water or food. The kitchen may not be the best cat water bowl location if your family spends a lot of time there.

Your cat’s bowls should be away from the litterbox because otherwise, litter particles can end up in the water. Furthermore, smells from the litterbox can transfer to the food and water.

Cats don’t like a chilly breeze, so keep your cat’s feeding and drinking area away from windows and doors. Move your cat’s bowls gradually.

Sudden change in routine can be very distressing for felines, so you want to move the bowls a few inches at a time every couple of days.

If you suddenly move your cat’s bowl to another room, it may struggle to find it or refuse to drink or eat from it. The place you pick should be permanent to avoid stress in the future.

Why Is My Cat Putting Food in The Water?

Given that cats are careful with their water quality, a habit of dropping food and toys into their water bowl doesn’t make sense. There are several reasons cats put food in their water bowl.

The most likely reason is the ancient instinct of hiding prey. Cats aren’t apex predators, so they risk becoming a target for other animals. When they catch prey, they strive to hide it in a safe place away from dangers.

Kibble or toy mouse is your cat’s equivalent of prey. And because your cat doesn’t have a traditional nest, it may consider its feeding area a safe enough place to keep its food.

Another theory is that cats try to wash off the scent by putting caught prey in water. However, there is no scientific evidence from feral cat observation to back up this idea.

Some cats are collectors. They have an odd habit of collecting their belongings in a specific location, which could be their bed, your wardrobe, or the water bowl.

Lastly, some cats do it for fun. Many felines, particularly kittens, fancy water games – although they don’t like to swim, they find splashes amusing. For the same reason, cats sometimes flip over their bowls.

How to Understand Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Bowl Placement

If your cat refuses to drink from its water bowl but doesn’t mind drinking from other sources, it either doesn’t like the bowl placement or stagnant water in general.

Some cats only like running water from the tap or water fountain. Try switching the bowl’s location and see whether the issue persists.

Some cats refuse to drink because they think their water isn’t fresh. Move the bowl farther from the litterbox and food bowl to keep the water clean for longer.

Even if your cat drinks from its water bowl, it might not like its placement. Pay attention to your cat’s behavior – if it constantly looks back, your cat might not feel safe when drinking.

If your cat paws at its water, it either finds the bowl shape inconvenient or is concerned about the water freshness. However, your cat could also be playing.

Cats that don’t like their water bowl location, material, or shape sometimes knock the bowl over, spilling the water on the floor. A cat can also scoop out its food if it doesn’t like the food bowl location.

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