Do Cats Need A Water Fountain?

Updated November 28, 2020

Isn’t it always the way. You’ve been recommending something for 25 years with complete confidence. Then along comes a piece of very inconvenient evidence.

This time it’s about cats preferring moving water. It turns out that despite a whole industry devoted to promoting cat fountains, until now no one has bothered to see if they actually work.

It turns out that they don’t. At least not these ones. Hats off to these researchers for questioning what must have seemed like a no-brainer.

The Cat Fountain Study

Fourteen healthy cats were offered water from one of three types of bowl for two weeks each. Before each trial they were given a week to adjust before measurements began. The bowls were:

  • A still water bowl (stainless steel)
  • A circulating plastic water bowl (brand unknown)
  • A free falling water bowl (Drinkwell® platinum)

Water intake, urine output and urine concentration were all measured for each two week period.

The Results

For all three types of bowls:

  • Water intake was the same
  • Urine output was the same
  • Urine concentration was the same

So clearly, on average, healthy cats do not show a preference towards one specific style of water bowl. But there’s one interesting thing…

Three individual cats showed a marked preference for one particular bowl type. And you guessed it- each one preferred a different type!

Some limitations of this study might be:

  • They didn’t try ceramic bowls
  • The cats were healthy, not sick
  • The cats lived in a lab, not a house

So what do we make of all this?

Should Cats Have Water Fountains?

The evidence does not support the widespread promotion of moving water for cats. However, there are clearly some cats who have strong individual preferences. We should therefore provide cats with a choice if water intake is a concern.

If you do this, it’s important to measure the results. This study showed that one cat actually drank still water better.

In the meantime, there are lots of other ways to get cats to drink more water that you can find here.

Robbins, M. T., Cline, M. G., Bartges, J. W., Felty, E., Saker, K. E., Bastian, R., & Witzel, A. L. (2018). Quantified water intake in laboratory cats from still, free-falling and circulating water bowls, and its effects on selected urinary parameters. Journal of feline medicine and surgery

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

Picture: TrainSimFan [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4 Replies to “Do Cats Need A Water Fountain?”

    1. Very true! Also, I have had many water fountains . One that was made like a flower, the little motor stopped working and there was no water in the top for over a day. I only noticed it when my cat started drinking from the toilet! I felt terrible. So, now I keep a bowl of water next to a fountain. I’m the crazy one.

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