I’ve written about water source options for cats before, but thought I’d revisit the topic, focusing on water fountains.
We know that people need to drink lots of water in the summer. We don’t want to get dehydrated. The same goes for cats. Cats have a low thirst-drive, and they should have easy access to fresh, clean water at all times. I’ve even seen videos of people setting out giant ice balls for their cats to lick to help cool off – it’s on my to-do list for my own cats!
At every cat visit, even if it is twice in one day, I empty water bowls, wash them with soap, and replace with clean, fresh, cold water. I generally let water fountains go every other day before washing with soap, but if they are dirty – particularly if I see anything inside the water, like kitty litter or dust – I will also wash them at every visit.
It’s better to wash out the water bowl than to keep refilling it with water without washing it. If you’ve ever noticed a slimey or reddish film coating the sides of the water dish, you’ve seen the bacterial biofilm that can live in those water bowls. Also mineral deposits from hard water that are hard to scrub out. Don’t make your cats drink slimey water! It could discourage them from drinking and lead to health problems like urinary tract blockages.
I’m becoming increasingly familiar with various water fountain models. But they’re all similar to clean, even the big elaborate ones and the small cute ones. They all need to be unplugged, taken apart, and washed with soapy water every few days to clean off bacteria, dirt, and contaminates. Even the ones with filters.
I think a lot of pet owners assume that an electric water fountain cleans itself, or that it doesn’t need cleaning. But that motor is only recirculating the same water, and any contaminants introduced to that water remains trapped in there, sloshing around. A cat’s water fountain with a filter is not like a Brita water pitcher, though both help make water taste better by running it through charcoal filters. We don’t need to clean a Brita pitcher every couples of days simply because we don’t drink directly from it – our saliva never touches it, and we keep the pitcher on the counter or in the fridge, where it won’t accumulate the amount of saliva, dirt, dust, and fur that a cat’s water fountain will on the floor. Some cats like to paw at their water, which also introduces kitty litter into it. So yes, those nice big electric water fountains still need to be cleaned every couple of days.
If I have enough time at a cat visit, I sometimes even use q-tips dipped in dish soap and a child’s tooth brush (which I carry for this purpose and disinfect after each use) to get all the corners and crevices of the fountain totally clean. It’s a good feeling when you get all the yucky stuff out and the fountain looks squeaky clean!
Filters in fountains also need to be replaced regularly, roughly every 1-4 weeks, depending on usage. If it feels slimey or looks greyish/brownish/reddish, it needs to be replaced. When you look at an old filter next to a new filter, you’ll understand what a clean, working filter is supposed to look like. A client recently asked me which way the filter is supposed to face, and I contacted PetSafe, which makes many of the water fountains I encounter, to find out. I’m always curious and I love learning new things and helping clients. For models that take the rectangular filters, the white side of the filter is to face the incoming water, and the black part faces the water going out. So water flows in through the white and out through the black.
Don’t let this discourage you from getting a nice water fountain for Fluffy. I like water fountains. If I had a conveniently located outlet and the floor space, I might get one for my cats. Cats like them, they’re usually too big and heavy to knock over, they are pleasant to listen to, and help provide moisture during the dry winters. While they need to be cleaned regularly, it might save you a day or two in between cleanings, whereas a simple bowl of water needs to be cleaned once or twice per day. There are many models of water fountains available, and some are quite beautiful and charming.