I have two young cats (a male and a female, litter mates, 19 months old) who have developed an intriguing behaviour that I haven't seen in any other cats before.

Without fail, when I come downstairs in the morning, one of them has dropped a toy mouse into their (ceramic) water bowl. They don't do it with other water receptacles; they don't put anything else in there (no food, no other toys). And although they mostly do it during the night (when there's nobody awake to pay them attention) they also do it during the day. The water in their bowl is changed twice daily (morning and night).

I don't think it's attention seeking behaviour, but to avoid reinforcing it, I'm removing the toy from the bowl when they aren't around.

And I don't think they're bored -- they're indoor cats, but they have a selection of cat trees, chase toys, boxes with holes to make them work for their food. And of course a hard-working slave who will play fetch with them in the evening for hours on end, or chase the light-pointer.

It isn't a problem (except maybe for the repeatedly wet toy mice), unless it's a sign of something I shuld be worrying about, but it is puzzling me.

Edited to add (in response to a comment): These are the 19th and 20th cats that I've had, and I've never encountered this with any others, hence my puzzlement. They don't do it any other fabric items that they play with (socks) or drag around (duvet covers, draught excluders).

  • I'd say this is a common behavior, my cat puts whatever she would find into her water bowl (but never food bowl) as long as it is fabric based (toys, socks, sometimes whole tshirts that she drags from cloth basket). You might want to switch to water fountains if it is bothering you much, cats tend to drink more from fountains anyway
    – JuniorDev
    Aug 8, 2017 at 18:07
  • @JuniorDev I've addressed some of your comment in an edit. Re water fountains, the hard water around here doesn't play well with them, and when I've tried them with other cats, they haven't been a success. The behaviour isn't bothering me; I'd just like to understand it.
    – user10093
    Aug 8, 2017 at 18:46
  • My cat has put the dead mice in the water bowl as well. Strange. I am following this question.
    – ychirea1
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:17

4 Answers 4


I see this behavior more often in cats with a high prey drive. It might help to reach her to chase a thrown toy and/or a laser pointer. If you exercise her prey drive by getting her to run and chase, and you feed her well the behavior may fade. I think this toy caching behavior may be a displacement behavior to compensate for a frustrated prey drive. Play with her and wear her out.

  • Useful -- I do play with both of them in the evening (they love to play fetch for hours) so maybe they're missing that stimulation overnight.
    – user10093
    Aug 13, 2017 at 11:55
  • I tend to play with them pretty hard right before bed. We play until they don't want to play anymore, then I go to bed.
    – fmorales
    Aug 14, 2017 at 8:19

Thinking about it, hiding a mouse (i.e. something a cat killed for food) underwater is going to hide the smell of the dead mouse.

Cats have a habit of burying their food (and poops) specifically because they don't want to alert other animals to their presence. One of my cats will "fake bury" all three food bowls after the cats are done eating because his instinct tells him to.

It's likely that your cat is trying to dispose of the mouse after playing with it, because of the same instinct that leads them to dispose of a carcass after they've eaten.

It isn't a problem (except maybe for the repeatedly wet toy mice), unless it's a sign of something I shuld be worrying about, but it is puzzling me.

I wouldn't worry about it.

Also, if you want them to stop doing it, it might be better to leave the mouse where it is. At some point it's either going to give off a smell to the water, or they're going to have to take it out of the bowl if they want to play with it. Either case would eventually teach them that it's nicer to not put the mouse in the bowl.

If they persist even when you don't take the mouse out, then that's their decision.


I have a 5-year-old neutered male DSH. He always leaves toys in the water and food bowls, sometimes the toilet too. From my observation, he is doing this because he carries the toy around and then decides to get a drink. While drinking, he drops it in and gets his drink. Sometimes he picks it back up if he can. He plays fetch very well and once he's tired from playing, he just carries his toys around. He does this with tiny mice and small nerf type balls.


It’s Starts With Instinct 

Your cat’s tendency to put their toys in the water bowl might seem cute at first, but there is much more to this behavior than meets the eye. According to Mieshelle Nagelschneider, founder of the Cat Behavior Clinic in Portland, cats putting their toys in their water bowl boils down to instinct! She believes that when cats continually drop toys in their water bowls, they think the toy is real prey. Below are a couple of reasons of why cats are wired to do this!

Hiding: This behavior is similar to how cats behaved years ago before they became domesticated. Wild cats often took their prey back to their nesting areas in an effort to hide it from potential thieves. This could have been how early cats protected their prey from other predators.


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