Friday 28 May 2021

Cat refuses to drink water except from cupped hands. Why?

This is about a feline drinking problem and a cat whose owner posted a request for help on the website. He said that his cat would not drink water except when he cupped the water in his hands and presented it to him. He's tried everything possible including changing the water receptacle and using different kinds of water including bottled water. He could not go on doing this because he wasn't at home all the time and his cat was becoming dehydrated. 

I'm not sure how the story ended because it's about six years old but he received some good answers mainly about changing the receptacle. One person thought that the cat could not recognise the water and suggested that he put a ping-pong ball in it.

Cupped hands holding water
Cupped hands holding water. Photo: Pixabay.

I would suggest that the problem might be to do with the odour of the water. When it is cupped in the hands of the cat's owner the water would smell of the body odour of the person. Cats are very much into the scent of their owner. They recognise their owner by their scent. It is possible that this cat is very anxious and timid and needs the reassurance of his 'surrogate mother' (owner) to drink and he achieves this by drinking from the hands of his owner. He will even lick fragments of water from his owner's hands rather than drink in the normal way.

If I am correct and it is about the smell of the water through the person's hands then the problem may be resolved by using a water which is as near as possible without smell, such as bottled water, pouring it into a receptacle, ideally a glass receptacle, and dipping his hands into that receptacle and aerating the water with his hands for about 20 seconds. 

That should deposit some of his scent into the water to make it smell a bit like his hands. That is quite a big guess but I have a feeling that the problem is not about recognising the water but about the bond between the cat and the person which in this instance is very strong. The cat needs to feel that he is being nursed by his owner. I think it's an act of nursing, a throwback to when he was a newborn kitten.

In fact, this cat may have been weaned too early and this may be an example of behavioural problems due to early weaning - not uncommon. That's my best guess and I think it is worth a try. Unfortunately, the problem was discussed about six years ago, as mentioned, and therefore my thoughts cannot be relayed to him in comments on the website because comments have been archived.


  1. You are a very cat-wise man. I agree with you assessment and solution. Too many animals develop these sorts of issues as a result of human ignorance.

    1. Well thanks. My thoughts do seem to fit the circumstances and are more likely to be correct although, of course, I am not sure. I just know that cats sniff food and water all the time before eating and drinking. The odour of the water is vital to them. This points me in the direction I took.


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