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If your kitty ignores water bowls, you’ve probably had someone suggest a cat water fountain to encourage healthy hydration. The sight and sound of sparkling, bubbling water is supposed to attract cats’ attention and motivate them to drink. But a cat water fountain can be a bit of an investment, and it’s hard to know if your own quirky cat will be interested. Plus what about your own preferences—how much noise do fountains make? And how much cleaning and maintenance do they require?
To get answers to these questions, we tested some fountains on our own cats, read a lot of reviews, and spoke with veterinarian Dr. Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.
How Cat Water Fountains Work: Pros and Cons
Dr. Kornreich says the average ten-pound cat needs about one cup of water per day (four ounces for every five pounds of body weight). “If you are giving your cat wet food, a lot of that water may be provided in the food,” he says, noting that most wet foods are about 80 percent water.
But if your cat eats primarily dry food, they will depend on you to provide the water they need. That water could be from a bowl, from the bathroom faucet—or from a cat water fountain.
Just what is it that makes a cat water fountain better than a plain old water bowl?
Theoretically, a water fountain should be more interesting than a water bowl to feline senses. In some fountains, the water emerges from a high faucet. In others, the water comes up through a bubbler and then cascades down a slope into a “pond” at the base of the fountain. The motion of the flowing water and the noise of the fountain are supposed to attract the cat’s attention and encourage them to drink.
Some have hypothesized that this speaks to an instinctual preference for running water, which would have been safer for a cat’s wild ancestors than stagnant pools, which could harbor dangerous bacteria.
There’s also the fact that the filter keeps debris out of the water, making it easier for fussy cats who will avoid a water bowl that has fellow pets’ fur or plant matter tracked in from outside.
From the household viewpoint, a fountain may be more convenient than a water bowl. It needs cleaning less often than a water bowl, thanks to the replaceable charcoal filters that remove cat hairs, bits of food, and particles of dirt and litter from the drinking water.
But cat water fountains do have some drawbacks.
Consider that cat-attracting bubbling: with some fountains, the splashing water can be quite noisy. So can the continually running water pump. This isn’t a problem if your fountain is in the basement, but if it’s near your bedroom, it could get very annoying. Our testers found some good quiet fountains that avoid the problem.
There’s also maintenance to consider. While a fountain needs cleaning less often than an unfiltered water bowl, it does need regular and thorough cleaning to prevent biofilms from growing on the surfaces, and the process can be more intensive than the milder cleanings a standard bowl requires. Consider getting a fountain that can be cleaned in the dishwasher rather than by hand.
Finally, cat water fountains are a running investment. The filter needs to be cleaned weekly and replaced once or twice a month. Replacement filters aren’t expensive, but buying more than a dozen a year will add to the overall cost of your fountain.
The Different Kinds of Cat Water Fountain
Cat water fountains come in a few different styles to accommodate different preferences—both yours and your cat’s.
Some fountains make quiet and a low profile their priority; they typically have a gentle pump and a ramp that lets water slide almost silently into the basin. The Pioneer Pet Stainless Steel Raindrop Fountain, for example, has a virtually silent pump and minimal splashing sounds, as our testers discovered. It lets cats drink from the bubbling stream or from the basin of fresh water and is made of high-grade stainless steel that can be washed in your dishwasher.
There are also cat fountains that mimic the appeal of the bathroom faucet by offering a jet of water that drops into a basin. If you don’t mind splashing sounds, one of the simplest and most attractive fountains is the Pioneer Pet Swan Cat Drinking Fountain. It holds up to 80 ounces of water but doesn’t take up much space. This model is also dishwasher-safe.
Then there are fountains designed for multiple cats or big pet families. They have a large capacity and are meant to reduce water bowl crowding. The Drinkwell 360 Stainless Steel Pet Fountain is a good example: it offers multiple streams of water, an adjustable water flow, and a high-capacity basin that can hold up to a gallon of water. Again, stainless steel is easy to clean and sanitize.
Not seeing the right fountain yet? You’ll find several more in our review of 10 cat drinking fountains, ranging from basic models to high-end ceramic fountains.
Are Water Fountains Good for Cats? What the Experts Say
The short answer is that it’s hard to generalize—Dr. Kornreich notes that there’s not much research on the effectiveness of cat water fountains. The one very small study he’s read found that cats will drink as much from a bowl as they do from a fountain.
That said, there are a lot of pet parents who swear by them. “I know anecdotally that some cats are fascinated by fountains,” Dr. Kornreich adds. “There’s nothing wrong with fountains, and for individual cats, they may be beneficial.”
As for whether they’re a good investment, that depends on your household’s needs. Multi-pet households may see a reduction in the amount of work required, as will pet parents with cats fussy about debris—both should find themselves refilling the bowl less often.
To keep things simple, Dr. Kornreich recommends choosing a fountain that is easy to clean. He favors models made of non-porous materials such as ceramic, glass, and stainless steel. He also suggests getting one that allows you to adjust the rate of water flow—some cats prefer a quieter, gentler stream of water.
And for those of us who’ve had cats turn their noses up at a new fountain, he has a tip. “Adding a drop of tuna juice or low-sodium chicken broth to the water can get them started,” he says.
Final Verdict: Does Your Cat Need a Water Fountain?
Water fountains for cats aren’t the answer for every household. Your cat may be doing perfectly well with wet food or with dry food and an easily accessible water bowl. But if you are concerned that your cat isn’t drinking enough water, we think it’s worth trying one or two inexpensive water fountains to see if they’ll pique your kitty’s interest.
We think you’ll like a fountain if:
- Your cat already enjoys drinking from a faucet
- You have multiple cats who share water bowls or a big pet family
- You have a cat who’s fussy about debris in their bowl
- You don’t mind cleaning a fountain weekly and replacing the filter every two or three weeks
You might want to stick with water bowls and/or wet food for hydration if:
- Your cat tends to ignore new toys or gadgets
- Your cat prefers wet food anyway
- Ordering and replacing fountain filters seems like too much fuss
How We Chose
The products described in this article were chosen through hands-on testing by Rover reviewers, an examination of customer reviews on a variety of sites selling pet products, and interviews with veterinary experts. We evaluated cat water fountains based on capacity, usability, noise level, and maintenance requirements. We also took into consideration feedback from our own strongly opinionated cats.