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Why Do Cats Drop Toys In Their Water Bowl?

Why Do Cats Drop Toys In Their Water Bowl?

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Have you ever found interesting items in your cat’s water bowl? By now you know cats are silly, but putting stuff in their water bowl is especially weird!

After all, you don’t feel the urge to put your car keys in the water you drink. Even though we are cat owners, we still tend to apply human logic to our pet’s behaviors.

Cats putting toys in their water bowls is common behavior for indoor house cats. Sometimes it can be entertaining, but I’m sure you’re still left wondering: why do cats put toys in their water bowl?

Keep reading to find out why cats drop their toys in their water bowl.

If your cat has dropped a toy in their water bowl, you’re not alone! Most cat owners have seen their cats behave this way.

Some cats will do this with weird objects such as toy teddy bears, rubber bands, socks, whatever they purrr-fer.

It’s Starts With Instinct 

Your cat’s tendency to put their toys in the water bowl might seem cute at first, but there is much more to this behavior than meets the eye.

According to Mieshelle Nagelschneider, founder of the Cat Behavior Clinic in Portland, cats putting their toys in their water bowl boils down to instinct!

She believes that when cats continually drop toys in their water bowls, they think the toy is real prey.

Below are a couple of theories on why cats have an instinct to do this.

Theory 1: Hiding/Nesting Their Prey

This behavior is similar to how cats behaved years ago before they became domesticated.

Your kitty will hunt the “prey” around your house and then bring it back to his/her “nest.”

Since cats don’t have a nest, they tend to consider their food and water bowls as the safest parts of their territory.

Before cats were domesticated, felines would do this to keep thieves from finding their prey first. This could have been how early cats protected their prey from being stolen from other predators.

Theory 2: Collecting/Gathering Instincts

Another explanation could be that this behavior is simply collecting/gathering behavior. 

Cats are quite the collectors of toys and knick knacks and this is because of an ancient instinct.

For example, cats will transport the toy to the water bowl in the same way that a mom will return her wandering kittens back to the nest, or move her kittens from one place to another by the loose skin on their neck.

When your cat brings toys to its feeding area it could also be a reflection of this collecting/gathering behavior.

Theory 3: Removing the prey’s smell

This ties into theory 1, which is hiding their prey. Before cats were domesticated, they might have dropped their prey in the water to wash off the dead animal’s scent that would attract another predator.

By washing off the scent, the cat would avoid both losing it’s meal and becoming another animal’s meal.

It’s possible that this instinct stuck around long enough for our house cats to do it too!

Theory 4: It is a response to your reaction

According to Dennis Turner, expert on domestic cat-human interactions and author of “The Domestic Cat”, this behavior is a learned pattern.

He says that most cats like attention, whether it is praise or scolding. The first time your cat brought toys to the water bowl ignited some sort of response from you, which your kitty probably found rewarding.

The response you gave your cat probably only strengthened that behavior which is why it has continued to happen.

Theory 5: Your cat is trying to teach YOU how to hunt.

Another possibility is that your cat is actually trying to teach YOU how to hunt, just as it would its own kittens.

Your kitty could be trying to teach you how to hunt and gather your own prey by trying to persuade you to start hunting, too.

The Department of Animal Science from Berry College in Georgia conducted an experiment that proves cats are hunters by nature, and play is solely for perfecting those hunting skills.

Cats have always been great hunters, and bringing toys to the water bowl is their way of showing off and teaching your their skills!

Theory 6: Just for Fun

Cats are notorious for being playful. They love to swat, pounce, and fish things out of water.

Putting their toys in the water bowl could be a playful game for them.

Cats simply enjoy the sensation of fishing and dropping their toys in the water bowl might spark a special feeling that makes them feel wild again!

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The Water Bowl = Something to Invest in 

Whatever the reason, it is obvious that your cat believes their water bowl is a safe place for their toy.

This means you definitely want to have the best “safe space” for your cat and by default, their toys! Business Insider recommends stainless steel or ceramic bowls for your cat, they are also easier to clean and they attract less bacteria.

Below are a some features you should keep in mind when you purchase a good water bowl:

Stainless steel: As mentioned above, a stainless steel water bowl is extremely easy to clean and prevents bacteria from collecting.

Rubber base: A rubber base on your cat’s water dish will help avoid slippage. This is helpful, especially when there could be toys going in and out of the bowl!

Shallow and wide: A shallow and wide bowl will help prevent your kitty’s whiskers from hitting the sides of the bowl.

Elevated: An elevated dish helps your cat eat and drink in a more natural position. When the dish is elevated to your kitty’s chest this can relieve undue stress that is otherwise put on your kitty’s joints and bones.

This will also help with digestion and comfort, perfect for a happy kitty.

**AUTHOR’S TIP** The Dr. Catsby Food Bowl pictured below is by far the best choice for both food and water because it prevents whisker fatigue, a very painful condition in cats.

It’s whiskery friendly, stainless steel, dishwasher safe, and stays secure do to it’s rubber mat!


Hunting instincts show reason for this behavior, but at the end of the day no one can be 100 % sure. The real reason is probably a combination of the theories.

Keep in mind that cats don’t actively try to make sense of their behavior. They might do something because of an old instinct and not realize that the behavior isn’t useful anymore.

Although it’s cute, it’s also puzzling. Hopefully science has cleared up some of your confusion so you can understand some of the drivers behind when your cat does this!


Many animal scientists have different theories about what the true motives are for cats who put their toys in their water bowls.

Here’s the top theories for why cats put their toys in their water bowl:

  1. Instinct to protect their prey from being stolen by other predators.
  2. Instinct to remove the prey’s smell.
  3. Collecting and gathering instincts.
  4. It is a response to your reaction.
  5. Your cat is trying to teach you how to hunt.
  6. They do it for fun.

QUESTION: Does your cat put their toys in their water bowl? Leave us your story in the comments below!

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Gloria A Peyton

Wednesday 7th of July 2021

I have a tabby munchkin one year old and she use to knock her bowls of water and food all over my slippery floor.I tried everything to get her to stop.I finally found a cat tray with bowls and stainless steel bowls inside the rubber tray.Well she got the bowls out and knocked them every where.So I took them out and now she can not knock the tray around but puts her toys in the water.

Jacqueline Thompson

Monday 10th of February 2020

Our young cat has recently started dropping toys and scrunchies ( hairbands) into her water bowl. The first and second time we thought it was an accident but after the fifth time we realised that she did it on purpose. The only problem is that she likes to play fetch like a dog and she retrieves the dropping wet toys uit of the bowl and drops them on you to throw. Last night she dropped a dripping wet Kipling bag monkey in my neck while I was lying on the settee watching tv.


Saturday 2nd of July 2022

@Jacqueline Thompson,


Friday 2nd of August 2019

The start of all my problems started when my new kitty jumped up on my vanity and took my diamond watch. I was getting dressed so I thought I’ll find it in a minute. Well, I looked ad looked and couldn’t find it, so I got dressed and left. When I came home I found it in his water bowl! Well that was the end of that watch!! From then on anytime I wanted to find anything it would be in the water bowl! I am 73 yrs old and have had many cats in my life and have never had a cat do this.


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

My cat has a stuffed fish he loves. He will place the "fish" inside the water every time he finish playing with it. He also has other toys that will only end in the water bowl when the stuffed fish is drying in the window.

Toby’s mom

Thursday 9th of May 2019

Toby likes to drop his toys, hair bands (not like Poison, but for your hair lol), and q-tips into his water bowl. I’m forever clearing them out!


Sunday 25th of August 2019

“Not like Poison” made me laugh!