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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

How can I get my cat to drink from a drinking bottle — like the ones they use for hamsters , but bigger? I bought one because my cat likes to drink from the tap, but he won’t use it.


Siouxsie: Well, Hanna, I have to tell you that you just won the Most Unique Question About Cat Training award for the year! Sorry, there’s no big prize, but we will give you lots of headbonks and kisses!

Thomas: Our first instinct was to answer, “good luck with that.” But apparently, cats can and do learn how to drink from gravity-fed bottles.

A standard water bottle for rabbits and small animals

A standard water bottle for rabbits and small animals. Image courtesy of Rabbit Hutch Warehouse.

Dahlia: For those of you who haven’t raised rabbits or other small animals, we’ve added a photo (at right) of the type of bottle Hanna is talking about.

Siouxsie: A rabbit drinking bottle works by keeping the water from leaking out through the use of a spring-loaded ball bearing at the bottom of the metal tube. When a rabbit or other animal licks the bottom of the tube, he pushes the ball bearing up and a small amount of water is dispensed.

Thomas: Because cats, dogs, ferrets, and other animals drink the same way as rabbits do, it is possible for a cat to use a gravity-fed water bottle.

Dahlia: We found an article at the Cat Fanciers Association website where the author actually recommended using rabbit watering bottles in catteries because they’re more sanitary than open bowls. Another bonus of using these bottles is that owners can see exactly how much water a cat is drinking, which can be important if you’re trying to monitor an ill cat’s drinking habits.

Siouxsie: The author of the article says some of his cats take to the rabbit bottles right away, while some need a couple of days to figure out and get used to the way the bottles work.

Thomas: You could try showing your cat how the bottle works by running your fingertip (a clean fingertip, of course — wash your hands and rinse them well before you do this) along the bottom of the spout until a bead of water comes out, then show it to your cat and allow him to lick the water off your finger.

Dahlia: Another option might be to rub a tasty liquid along the bottom of the nipple so your cat licks it. As he’s licking off the yummy stuff, he’ll probably hit the dispenser with his tongue and water will come out.

Siouxsie: You don’t want to use solid or sticky foods because they may clog the dispenser. Also, be sure to clean the dispenser right away after your cat has learned to lick it. Food or food-based liquids will grow bacteria, and you don’t want colonies of bacteria growing in your dispenser or your water bottle.

Thomas: If your cat still won’t drink out of the water bottle, it may be because the plastic gives the water a weird taste. If you one of those standard-issue cloudy white plastic bottles a sniff, you’ll detect a weird chemical scent. Mama says she knows from experience that these white drinking bottles (the kind designed for humans, of course) give water a strange and rather unpleasant flavor.

Dahlia: Some companies make rabbit bottles out of a clear plastic similar to Nalgene. Nalgene has much less after-taste than other plastics.

Siouxsie: You’ll also need to mount the bottle where your cat can have access to it without much difficulty. Rabbit bottles are designed to be mounted on cages (We hope you don’t have your cat in a cage!) but with a little adaptation and creativity, you can place the bottle within easy reach of your cat. Put a bowl or absorbent mat under the drinking bottle to catch any leaks.

Spigot-style water bottle. Image courtesy of Rabbit Hutch Warehouse.

Spigot-style water bottle. Image courtesy of Rabbit Hutch Warehouse.

Thomas: Of course, it’s just as important to clean your watering bottle as it is to clean your cat’s drinking bowl. Rinse and refill the bottle two times at most, then give both the bottle and the dispenser a good wash with dish soap or detergent and soak it in a mild bleach solution. Of course, it goes without saying that you must rinse the bottle very, very well before you make it available to your cat again.

Dahlia: One thing that rabbit and small animal owners have found is that the spring-mounted ball in a standard drinking bottle can be pretty noisy and bothersome, especially if the bottle is in your room and you’re trying to sleep. If you’re concerned about the noise, or if you think the noise of the ball is driving your cat away from the drinking bottle, you could try a spigot-style model (shown at right). They work in much the same way, but the licking presses the spigot and opens a valve, which causes water to come out.

Siouxsie: Good luck, Hanna. Please let us know how this works out, because we’re dying to know!