Should Cats Eat and Drink from the Same Bowls?

  • Time to read: 9 min.

Cats are notoriously quirky; no two cat owners will share the same anecdotes on their felines’ feeding time rituals. For example, my childhood cat preferred to share his mealtimes with the other pets, while my current senior citizen will not allow the dog so much as a sniff. All these oddities might bring up the question: Can cats share food and water bowls? 

There is no real risk when your cats share food and water bowls. However, cats should be fed from two separate bowls when one of the cats is on a special feeding plan or diet. Also, if mealtime results in fighting, cats should be allowed their own food dishes and be fed in separate rooms to avoid conflict. 

While cats sharing bowls is not a big issue, there are some instances where it would be more beneficial to feed your cats from different bowls, sometimes even in separate rooms. For example, if one cat needs to cut back on the calories, having a communal bowl for free feeding might worsen the problem. 

Should Cats Share Food and Water Bowls?

Sharing water 

Some people might want to avoid sharing water dishes, to prevent the transmission of bacteria if one pet might be ill. However, pets sharing water is as safe as it can get in that regard. Unfortunately, if your pets are around each other all day, you can do little to avoid the spread of disease or illness. Preventing them from drinking out of the same bowl will only cause unnecessary worry for yourself without any results. 

Keep in mind that if your pets are fully vaccinated, there should be minimal risk of the common diseases spreading. Nevertheless, if you suspect that one of your pets is, in fact, ill, separate them and take both to the vet as transmission might have occurred already at this point. 

If you notice that your cats are not drinking water from the water dish, sharing water might not be the only problem, and there are a few other reasons for this (remember, cats are peculiar):

  • Some cats just don’t like standing water; you can invest in a cat fountain. 
  • The water dish is too close to the food; move the water to a room not used for feeding time.
  • Some cats don’t like drinking water inside the house; try moving a water bowl outside and see if that solves the problem. 
  • Or your cats don’t like sharing water, provide more than one dish of water around the house and outside. Ideally, there should be two water bowls for one cat and add one more for each cat. So, if you have two cats, have at least three water dishes. 
  • Give your cats fresh water daily but rinse their water bowls before adding fresh water. When they drink, their saliva mixes with the water and makes a slimy layer at the bottom of the dish. Cats don’t like that. 

Feeding time or fighting time?

If your cats are besties but turn into beasties when it is dinner time, you’ll have no other choice than to feed them in separate bowls, far away from each other: in another room if you have to. If you are the owner of multiple cats, you might be well aware that breaking up a – literal – catfight is no easy task. It involves a lot less hairpulling and a lot more swift slapping of sharp claws. 

Look at the video below; although there are two bowls they can eat from, they prefer not to stand close to each other while feeding.  

Cats are predators, which means that their survival instinct is rooted in physical and merciless hunting. If you ever watched a program on National Geographic on a pride of lions feeding, you’ll no doubt have seen some very hair-raising moments when one cat decides to eat out of turn. Your cat, while domesticated, might act upon their instincts, so feeding them from one communal bowl might result in injuries

Medical conditions that require specialty food

If one or more of your kitties have a medical condition that requires specialized foods to manage their health conditions, you need to feed them from separate bowls. Some foods can be dangerous to cats with certain health conditions, such as food allergies. For example, if one cat is allergic to chicken, you’ll not want them to share food bowls if the other food contains chicken.  

This rule will also apply when your cats need to eat different amounts of food. For example, if you have two distinctive cat breeds, let’s say a Maine Coon and Sphynx, you’ll notice that the feeding schedule at the back of the pack will suggest feeding by weight, and your Maine Coon, weighing more, will eat a bit more than your Sphynx. Unfortunately, if you feed them from one bowl, there is no way of telling if both ate the correct amount. 

Free-feeding and its downsides with more than one cat

If we reuse the example of the two breeds above, feeding your cats from a communal bowl and then adding free-feeding to the equation, you now know even less. When you measure out what they should eat, you at least of some idea of what they consumed – more or less. If your cats are allowed to feed independently, you don’t know if one might be overeating while others are starving

Sure, a cat not eating for a day is fine, but cats that don’t eat for a few days might be a sign of something more severe than not being hungry. It could be indicative of conditions such as kidney failure, intestinal viral infections, gallbladder inflammation, amongst other things. When your cat feels too unwell to eat, you need to know, and communal free-feeding just does not allow for this insight into your cat’s health. If you had only one cat, free-feeding is better suited. 

Why do Cats Switch Their Bowls?

If you notice that cats suddenly switch bowls during feeding, this might be a perplexing thing to behold. If they are eating two different types of food, there lies your answer; they may find the smell or taste more appealing than their food. However, things tend to get more confusing when they are eating the same food. 

Fear of missing out might be the only contributing factor to switching bowls; even though it is the same food, they might be under the impression that the other bowl may contain the best food ever while their own must surely be mediocre at best. 

Or it can also be that one cat eats faster, and when the bowl is nearly finished, switching bowls means the cat gets a little more extra from the slower-eating cat. If you realize that the amount of food the gobbler eats is way out of proportion, you can separate them at feeding time. But, again, if there is no valid reason to prevent it, just let it happen. 

Why do cats move their bowls? 

Cats are very adept at giving subtle, or at times undeniable, signs of their discontentedness at the world. The thing about cats is that sometimes their behavior is indicative of a problem while other times they are just being cats. 

But if your furry friend is moving his bowl or trying to turn it over, there might be a good reason for it. For example, if there is a lot of pushing around and not enough eating, your cat might be trying to tell you that something is wrong. This behavior can be linked to your cat being nauseated because of illness and trying to get rid of the food smell, for example.

But if you suspect that kitty might just be playing with the food, you can thwart the playtime by giving your cat smaller portions to finish in one go or have a look at automatic feeders. These nifty feeders can be set up on a schedule with the exact amount you want to feed your cat. 

Should Cats Share Food and Water Bowls with Other Animals Such as Dogs or Feral Cats?

Feral cats or neighborhood cats

It will be best not to have other cats feed or drink with your cats. In this scenario, you cannot be sure if the visiting neighborhood cats were vaccinated or if the feral might be carrying any diseases that your cats can catch. If you notice stray cats visiting your home, make sure your cats and other pets are fully vaccinated. 

Dogs

As with sharing water between cats, sharing water between cats and dogs doesn’t hold many risks of anything disastrous. However, if your dog doesn’t appreciate the cat drinking from its bowl, then it might be time to intervene. 

As for sharing food bowls, this is a big no-no, mainly because cats and dogs should not be sharing food. Cats are predators and obligate carnivores, while dogs are scavengers and omnivores; this difference means that each species have nutritional needs that vary. Cat and dog food is formulated with this in mind for optimal health and well-being. 

Can Cats be Trained to Only Eat and Drink from Their Bowls? 

Perhaps some cats will allow you to manipulate them, but don’t count on it. However, my sister-in-law’s cats have mastered this all by themselves without training. Both are rescues, but one is a little more feral than the other. They have two bowls, and when Piep’s bowl is empty, you’ll know about it as she puts up quite the racket; all the while Chloe’s bowl still has some food left, she won’t eat it and insist that you fill her bowl. Have I mentioned that cats are weird? 

You can, of course, try your hand at training and see if your cats are more susceptible to it, but be prepared for your cats to stare at you with complete disdain as training is well below their rank in the domesticated kingdom.  Luckily, there is a couple of things you can try to make mealtime less stressful.

Set up a feeding routine

The separate room feeding routine comes into play at this stage. The first thing you have to do is decide which two times of the day are the best for feeding. Take into consideration your own schedule here. Once you have the times sorted, pick two rooms (or more if you have more than two cats). Next, feed each cat what they should eat in their respective feeding spaces or rooms. 

Setting up this routine will take some time as your cats might not finish their food at each sitting; you can counter this by giving them a certain amount of time, like thirty minutes, and then removing the food. This way, they will soon learn that you mean business, and if they do not want to starve until the later feeding, they’ll finish their meals in each sitting. If you want to learn more about feeding multiple cats, look at this guide.  

Electronic feeders

If you are close to your breaking point on keeping your kitties from eating food not meant for them, you can invest in electronic feeders. It just might be the last resort because of how expensive these bowls are. However, a little extra expense might save you from running around the house making sure your pets are only eating what they should.  

The fantastic thing about the bowls is that they are activated through your cat’s microchip, which means that Sylvester won’t be able to eat Garfield’s low-cal food, and Goofy won’t scarf down the lot when you are not looking. The bowl also comes with a collar if your cats aren’t microchipped. 

Conclusion

You might be one of the lucky ones when it comes to communal free-feeding; if it works for you and your feline friends, there is no reason to worry if they share the same food bowls. It will only be necessary to have separate bowls if your cats are prone to fighting over food or if one cat needs to eat a specific food or a certain amount.