My cats' self-filling water bowl has started getting dirty rather quickly since we got a new kitten (who's now about 6 months old). There's quite often a bit of cat litter at the bottom of the bowl, so I assume that she's been washing her paws in it after using the litter box.

She seems to otherwise have the normal feline aversion to getting wet in any way, so it's odd to me that she'd be intentionally doing it. Is there anything I can do to break her of this habit? Should I just get rid of the self-filling bowl since I need to empty and wash it every day anyway?

  • 1
    I have two cats boy and girl. My cats are bathed in bathtub to help keep shedding to a minimum. Both cats love the water. But in answer to your comment after they use their litter box they both will go to their water bowl and dip their paws in it and lick them clean. Ive witnessed this on numerous occasions. Something else I've also witnessed is my boy will get his food and drop in water dish with his paws and then go back and eat after its wet. This is not an all the time thing but very often. My opinion, cats have their own distinct personalities thats what makes them so loveable. Did i ment
    – user3575
    Feb 7, 2015 at 3:38
  • 1
    If they are washing their paws, might it help to leave a bowlful of water kinda close-ish to the litter box, so they aren't washing in their drinking water? Having a second bowl somewhere about may also give them an option for someplace else to drink from if there is any issue with their primary water bowl, actually, if it ends up dry or dirty or whatever.
    – Megha
    Aug 9, 2017 at 7:23

3 Answers 3


Have you seen your cat doing this? Cats don't usually use water to wash themselves - they'll use their own tongues, even when it's something really gross like litter. (I have seen cats washing actual feces off themselves with their teeth/tongues.)

If you haven't actually witnessed this "washing" behavior, it's more likely that your cat is dipping her paw in the water bowl to drink from it, which is a common cat behavior (even in cats that hate getting wet).

The litter getting into the water from the cat's paws is a byproduct of this behavior. Try a different brand of litter that might be less "sticky", or make sure that you are scooping the litter box frequently so it's nice and dry in there.

I would be willing to bet that this problem will solve itself over time. Kittens are not notorious for their cleanliness, especially in the litter box. As the cat grows up she'll get better about keeping herself clean, and even if she still dips her paw in the water to drink, she'll make less of a mess.

  • 8
    Sometimes cats like to play in the water too. Not so much that they get wet, but splattering water on the floor around the dish (and dropping dirt and cat litter from their toes in the water at the same time). Dec 29, 2014 at 19:31
  • 4
    My cats insist upon hopping into the tub to drink the water left over from my showers. One of them is perfectly willing to have his head dripped on while he does this. A friend's longhaired cat used to just sit in the shower and let the remaining water soak into his fur. It makes sense to them, and it's harmless, so...
    – keshlam
    Oct 14, 2015 at 2:12
  • My sixth cat does exactly this (paw washing at water bowls). I highly dislike it because she also drinks from that bowl, and in the cleaning routine she will also lick the paw she is washing. She ONLY does the paw washing in the basement (same floor as the litterboxes). She does get a lot of litter jammed in between her pawpads, and I'd like to convince her to paw at something dry to remove the litter.
    – Dan S
    Mar 13, 2021 at 19:06

Some of my cats will bite, swipe, and otherwise play with/at moving water (like from the pet fountain or from a tap). I see it as healthy play or hunting behavior so I don't think you can train her not to do it without substantial effort. Possibly from someone experienced in animal training (e.g. conditioning the cat over time to remove the behavior).

Try using a regular old-fashioned water bowl and see what she does with that. You may have to experiment some to find a bowl in a size that she prefers. She may not like a small bowl, or she may go wading and play in a large bowl. One of my cats likes to vigorously dig in large pans of water, quickly emptying them onto the floor.

Some cats like to drink by dunking their paws in water the licking their paws. This may be due to them not liking the sensation of their whiskers touching the side of the water bowl.

  • 2
    Drinking by trying to lick from a bowl is very inefficient. I suspect some cats think licking wet fur just works better.
    – keshlam
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:01

I have had a cat, who recently passed away, for 17 years. He washed his paws in his water dish every time he got out of his litter box. I changed litter brand and types probably 30 different times and he still washed his paws.

I currently have a 5 month old kitten, who started washing his paws at least once a day after using the litter box. He also drinks from a faucet and the remaining water in the tub. He does not like to get his head or back wet though. I think they just like having clean paws. I noticed litter between his toes, so I put a very shallow puddle of water in my sink and he dipped and shook until he was clean!

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.