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Water Fountains? Yea or Nay


It is well established that cats don’t drink as much as they should. We think this is because cats are descended from desert dwellers and for that reason do not have a good thirst drive. In an ideal world they would make up for this by getting lots of moisture from their food. This is one of the many arguments why canned food is better than dry for our cats. More on this later.


One of the many ways we can encourage our cats to drink is to have lots of big water bowls all over the houses. And a very popular item is the water fountain. They’re often cute or nice looking and sometimes make nice water sounds. I do have a couple of water fountains for my cats. But I will admit to having a love hate relationship with them.


The cheaper fountains are often plastic, and plastic can really hold onto bacterial growth and can be hard to clean because it is porous. Most of the plastic fountains also rely on gravity to filter the water but if the power goes out or the pump stops working then kitty can no longer get to the water. I’ve seen this happen. I arrived at someone’s house one day to find the fountain not functioning and all the water was sitting under the cover and undrinkable. If you do have one of these, I would highly recommend having at least one back up plain old water bowl.


The ceramic fountains are more expensive but easier to keep clean and most of these have an open bowl that kitty can drink from even if the pump stops working. Most of our tap water will eventually leave hard water deposits on the ceramic fountains and any rough surface gives bacteria a great hand hold, so even these fountains really need to be cleaned well and often.


At least once a month I take my fountains completely apart and scrub them and replace the filters. If I had more time, I’d probably do it every 2 weeks. This will always be more time consuming than cleaning regular old water bowls. I did find that toilet bowl cleaner works wonderfully to get those water deposits off the ceramic fountains! I know it sounds silly until we think about it for a moment. Both are ceramic and both are in constant contact with water, and both get water deposits on them.


Also, when I clean my fountains, I clean the pump with hot water and dilute vinegar as bacteria can grow inside the pump as well. Anywhere there is water there is a nice cozy home for bacteria just waiting. If you’ve ever seen chunky bits flush out of the pump when you turn it on, that a big visible clump of the biofilm coming off the inside of the pump. Plug the pump in and put it in a bowl with hot water and vinegar and let it run for 5 minutes or so. Don’t forget to rinse it too! And of course, replace the filter monthly. If you read the instructions, those things do not work indefinitely and keep in mind, they are just simple general filters meant to keep out big stuff like hair and bugs. It cannot in any way filter out bacteria. Bacteria is way too small to be caught by a filter like that.


One product I would really like to preview is the AquaPurr motion activated water fountain. This thing is so cool! It is the only fountain that you don’t have to clean because it does not recirculate the same water over and over. It attaches to a faucet in the bathroom or kitchen and runs fresh tap water through a spout whenever your cat sets off the motion activator. If I had a spare bathroom or a bathroom with any counter space at all I would totally have one of these! Really a neat ingenious product!


So, my final word is go ahead and get a nice ceramic fountain with an open bowl but only if you’re willing to put in the work to keep them clean. Over the years I’ve cleaned countless slimy gross water fountains because we get busy and forget about them and they have water and at a glance it looks fine. I will admit to this as well. No one is perfect! But if you’ve ever felt that the bowl is slimy that is a bacterial biofilm growing in your cats drinking water.


And if you don’t want or can’t afford a nice fountain don’t feel bad at all. Having multiple clean fresh water bowls around your home is just as good in my opinion. Don’t think that a water fountain will be easier or less work, because it is not that. But they are pretty and make nice relaxing noises and some cats do seem to like them a lot.


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