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Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Her Water Dish?

Q: Dear Nora,
Sometimes I catch my cat scratching all around her water dish. Why does she do this? 

iamthegreatwent @ instagram
iamthegreatwent @ instagram

A: We scratch around our dishes (water and food) to say “hey, this is mine– hands off!” to our parents and other animals in the home. This works in two ways. First of all, we have scent glands in our paws (near the base of our claws), marking the area when we scratch around the bowl. Second, scratching feeds our instinct to bury our prey for future snacks.

If you live in a multi-cat home with an alpha cat, or if there is obvious tension between your cats, you can help alleviate stress by providing multiple feeding and watering stations throughout the home. That way, your less aggressive cat won’t feel the need to battle with your more aggressive cat to get food and water.


  1. Rachel | | Reply

    Yes! I’ve often wondered why one of our cats does this! Its interesting, because the cat that seems the most aggressive doesn’t do it, but I guess maybe the less aggressive one is doing it to mark his space? And of course, it could be that the cat that seems most dominant to us, actually isn’t. Thanks Nora!

  2. Diana Gonzalez | | Reply

    Our cat, Phoenix, has his food on a window sill. When he is finished eating he scratches the window. It is hilarious because he looks like he is just batting at the window!

  3. Pamela Lynn Gilbert-Buck | | Reply

    I wish scratching their food, or water was the least of my problems. My male cat sticks his paws in the self feeder/water & tips them over. This is especially annoying w/the water, because it floods the floor & then the other 2 cats don’t get any until the humans realize he has done it again. I know the problem is that cats like fresh water, but this is not always possible with schedules. I tried 1 of the fresh water bowls, but none of the cats liked it because it bubbled out like a water fountain. They would rather go try to drink out of the toilet like a bunch of dogs than deal w/the fresh water bowl. Only problems I have w/that is that it’s just totally gross to drink out of the toilet! lol As well we have to keep our toilet lids closed as we also have 3 ferrets(cats on crack!) in the house that would go toilet bowl swimming if we left them open.

  4. Tatiana | | Reply

    My kitten does it the same way she scrached her moms tummy while drinking her milk so maybe that’s why

  5. Michelle Cannon | | Reply

    That makes sense! The cat I see doing it is the one who is always “run off” from the bowl at meal time. The one who runs her off never does that.

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