Question: How can I stop my cat spilling the water?
Brittany writes about five-month-old Harley, and two-year-old Ripley. “Harley splashes in her water frequently. She knocks over bowls or splashes out the water. This water is shared by our other cat, Ripley. We come home and find it empty. We originally had a plastic water dish that would automatically dispense from a large quantity. When the problem started, we removed this dish and tried several other bowls, some shallow, some deep, different colors, materials etc. We have now purchased a fountain, but she continues to splash. This is a serious issue as our other cat does not have enough water since Harley spills it all over the place. We need a solution to the behavior problem, not a recommendation to put the bowl in a dish to allow for spilling.”
Behavior specialists and veterinarians examine the cat’s physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct to help figure out problem behaviors and find solutions. Think of this as the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers.
Kittens play with objects a great deal. The instinct to manipulate with paws is a natural impulse.
Stress sometimes prompts strange behaviors. Obsessive/compulsive disorders can become worse with stress. But again, kittens rarely would be affected.
Brittany, I’m sorry you’re frustrated by the kitten’s water-play. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand—most such things actually are managed rather than “solved” so you may not be happy with my answer.
From what you describe, Harley is indulging in normal kitten play. I wrote about a similar water-loving kitty in a previous Ask Amy column. Harley may outgrow the behavior, or it could continue the rest of her life. Kitten object play is most active up through the five-month-age and starts to decline thereafter.
But rather than trying to stop the behavior, it's most effective to redirect it to a legal outlet. Your note about “allow for spilling” actually is close to the mark, because if Harley has a way to get the water play out of her system she’ll be more likely to leave Ripley’s water bowls alone.
Do you have a shower or bathtub? Place bowls filled with water inside, and show them to Harley and encourage the kitten to indulge. Reward with praise and treats. Make it an “okay” game instead of forbidden. Like kids, a forbidden pastime has much greater appeal than those that are encouraged.
Meanwhile, investigate water bottles (used for guinea pigs or other small pets) from pet product stores. Many cats can be taught to drink from these non-spill-able water sources. To get the kitties attracted to the water bottle and help them learn to drink from it, flavor the water with tuna juice. Good luck!