Why Do Some Cats Like to Drown Their Toys in Their Water Bowls?

Well, this cat was clearly set up.
Well, this cat was clearly set up. / Marina Troynich/iStock via Getty Images

There’s something sort of perversely sweet about cats’ tendency to present their owners with dead mice or whatever other prey they’ve freshly killed. Less sweet is their habit of “drowning” toys in their water bowls. Is there some scientific explanation for the behavior, or are these cats just jerks?

Though we don’t know for certain what cats are thinking when they submerge their favorite playthings, experts do have some theories. One, as PennLive.com explains, is that domestic cats consider their water bowls to be safe, protected territory in the same way that their undomesticated forebears would’ve viewed a nest or shelter. While their ancestors had actual prey to conceal there, our cats have toys—which, in their eyes, are a kind of prey, especially if they’re shaped like birds, fish, or other potential food.

“Most cats would associate their prey-based toys with food, and choose to ‘collect’ them near their food and water dishes,” animal behaviorist Beth McGonigal told BeChewy.

Some cat species, like tigers, have shown an affinity for literally drowning their prey. But when your cat bats a plush mouse around its water bowl, it might just be trying to entertain itself. “It becomes a fun little game, or a stimulating form of play for them—they’re not necessarily trying to further ‘drown’ the toy,” McGonigal said.

It’s also possible that you’ve inadvertently trained your cat to soak its toys simply by reacting every time it happens. Even if it’s not necessarily positive attention, it’s still attention—and as cat behaviorist Dennis Turner told The New York Times, cats like that.

As long as the routine isn’t interfering with your cat’s water intake, it’s fine to let it continue. But if you want to discourage it, try to ignore it. You could also replace any animal-shaped toys with ones that your cat is less likely to see as prey.

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