There are a lot of different options for keeping your cat hydrated.
Pet stores sell tiny, cutely decorated cat food dishes and cat water dishes. They can come in matching sets with little stands and they have little fish and cats on them. But if you were shopping for a new water bowl for your cat, I’d probably steer you to the dog section, which has nice, big wide-mouthed bowls. Your cat will be no less cute and cuddly if they have a big, practical water bowl with bones on it, instead of the thimble-sized ones with sardines on it marketed for cats.
There are water dishes with reservoirs, so you never have to worry about an empty water dish. These have the advantage of being heavy, so cats can’t move them around. You develop a routine of cleaning it out, filling the reservoir, putting the base bowl on top, then quickly upending it so it doesn’t spill as the water settles. I always wash them and refill the water at every cat visit, so it’s always clean.
Some cats drink out of mugs or tall plastic cups. Their owners swear the cats prefer it this way, and that works for them. I suspect this is because the cats don’t have to bend down as far as they would with a small water bowl. For older cats, who may have arthritis, this might be more comfortable for them. Or maybe it’s because they see their people drinking this way and they want to do it, too.
My personal favourite low-tech cat water bowl is a simple large casserole dish. I saw one of my clients using a pie plate, and went home and tried it with my own cats with an 8 x 8 pyrex casserole dish I rarely use. My elderly cat Ethel paws at her water and constantly overturns water bowls. She moves them around so that I often kick them accidentally. The heavy pyrex casserole dish is too heavy for her to overturn or move, even though she tries. The wide opening means there is less “whisker fatigue” – cats suck back their sensitive whiskers when eating and drinking, which can be tiring for them. Having a wide-mouthed water bowl makes drinking easier. There are handles on both sides, which makes carrying a dish full of water easy. It’s heavy and durable. It’s clear so I can see anything that’s not supposed to be there. It was lying around in my cupboard, so I didn’t go out and buy anything new.
If you have the floor space and space on your electrical outlet, cats like water fountains. It’s like drinking from an open faucet all the time. Let’s face it – there’s something nice and soothing about hearing running water. Like a mini waterfall, or a burbling brook. And it’s great for keeping the home humidified in the winter. They are usually heavy enough so cats won’t knock them over, and have a large capacity for water. Your wallet might cry a little if it breaks and you need to get a new one, but I haven’t encountered any problems yet with my clients’ fountains. If the water level gets too low, the motor will grind, so they need to be topped off daily. And yes, despite having filters, they still need to be cleaned with soap and water. Just like a basic water bowl, a water fountain will develop a reddish ring of bacteria around the water’s edge which needs to be cleaned off. Hard mineral deposits also form around the water level, too, as well as other parts of the fountain. For cats who paw their water a lot, I might clean out the water fountain every day or even at every visit to remove litter from the bowl. For others, I might only do it a couple times a week.
I always empty, scrub with dish soap, and refill water bowls at every cat visit. Like a person’s water glass that is left out on the table, cat water bowls collect dust (“there’s a speck in my water!”), debris, litter, and a filmy bio scum from saliva. I make sure my cat clients have clean, fresh water all the time.