Most cats have a water bowl by their food station. Our fuzzies have a water glass on the living room coffee table.

It’s unusual and I should say here that it wasn’t our idea but theirs. You see, some years ago, our old cat Scoop insisted on sharing my drinks. He poked his face into my water, my tea and even my coffee. When I gave him a water glass of his own, he stopped.

Scoop passed away 10 years ago but the water glass remains.

We have, on occasion, tried to innovate. At various times, we’ve put a big bowl in the bathroom and another in the kitchen but the cats have never taken to them. The way they delicately turned up their noses said it all. They like their glass where it is, thank you very much.

It’s all good except I came home a few days ago and found water all over the table. I thought someone must have jumped up, miscalculated and knocked it over.

But when it happened again, I wondered if I was missing a case of whisker fatigue.

water glass

Guido tends to lap up the water doggie-style. Photo: ELLEN WHYTE

Cat whiskers are more than just pretty long hairs; they link directly into the brain and send all kinds of sensory messages. Whiskers do all kinds of jobs – from helping the cat gauge how wide spaces are, to sensing airflow.

Because whiskers are incredibly sensitive instruments, some people think cats can at times become overwhelmed by the information they transmit. However, the subject is controversial.

I’m not sure if whisker fatigue is a real thing or not but I suspect some older cats may find their faces a little more sensitive, just like older human people find their hands and feet becoming more tender with age.

Also, when it comes to my pets, I’d rather go the extra mile, just in case. So I looked at the spillage and wondered if we should rethink our cat bowls. But that’s not as clear-cut as it seems.

Food bowls are easy because we just picked large ones that comfortably fit a kitty face, whiskers and all. Our treat plates for our Saturday chicken liver lunch feast are flat, so also no problem.

But water bowls are different. You see, because of their unique tongues, cats aren’t very good at lapping up water. They have to lap rather quickly – and that tends to be messy. As a result, the wrong bowl can mean a dehydrated cat.


This could well be the look in Swooner’s eyes as he observes his idol Guido. Photo: StockSnap

Target and Swooner take their time, and don’t mind a bit of splashing. But Guido is dreadful. Our big, striped bruiser sits right over the bowl, sticks his tongue almost up against the far side and then slurps, doggie-style. It gets the job done but he’s messy.

As it is essential for cats to stay hydrated, our cat water glass is a pate terrine. It is low, has a fairly wide top, holds enough water for cats to have a long drink and is very simple to lean over. If we tried a taller one or a wider one, it wouldn’t be as comfy.

While it has worked well for years, cats do grow older, changing size and maybe suffering from tender whiskers. Therefore, I set aside a few hours for some practical observation, just so I had all the proper information.

Over a few hours one morning, I observed them all. To my surprise, all three cats were fine. No whisker twirling, no hesitation and no big splashing.

I was baffled.

I was going to chalk it up as “one of those things” when Guido marched in again, mid-morning. He was dogged by Swooner because the kitten is obsessed with the big cat. Guido is tolerating the hero worship with little grace because he’s not a kitten person but Swooner is relentless.

So Guido came in with his shadow, jumped up on the table and settled down for a drink. And that’s when it happened. Swooner snuck up, took one look at the big cat’s stumpy tail hanging over the table top – and pounced.

scaredy cat


Guido went three feet in the air, water splashing everywhere, and like a streak of lightning, Swooner shot out of the door. He was giggling, the evil fluff.

I didn’t laugh, or at least not much. I condoled with my poor Guido, mopped up the spillage, refilled the glass and guarded the table while he drank.

So there you go: All that angst and drama are down to one naughty kitten pulling a big cat’s tail. But, hey, at least we’ve revisited and reviewed our water policy, and that can only be good.

How to keep your cats hydrated

Cats need to drink water just as we do but, because of their spiny tongues, getting a drink is a lot more difficult than you might think.

Hi-tech speed cameras show that cats use their spiny tongues to flick a column of water up into the air. They then nip off the top, and swallow. To keep that water up in the air, and to keep nipping off the top, our pet cats lap at about four times a second. In other words, it takes effort and patience. As such, you need to make sure your pet enjoys his time at the water bowl.

Cats tend to crouch when drinking, so to make things comfortable, get a bowl that’s some three inches tall and that’s wide enough for a kitty to get its face into comfortably. Some cats like huge bowls where their whiskers won’t touch the sides while others like to lean over and use the side to get that water column going. So put down both types, and see which your pet prefers.

Water should be very clean and fill at least three-quarters of the bowl. You’ll need to clean the whole thing every day, and top up several times a day. Try placing it by the food bowl and, if your pet has a favourite napping place, put another nearby.

You may also try a hi-tech water fountain. One of our friends gifted the fuzzies with one a few months ago. It was awfully swish and I loved it but Guido was terrified by it. He crept around it, growling, and was so jumpy that Target and Swooner refused to go near it, too. But the cats across the street think theirs is totally pawsome.