Ever Think About the Difference in How Dogs and Cats Drink Water?

Dec 14, 2015

Virginia Tech researchers Sunghwan "Sunny" Jung, Jake Socha, and Sean Gart captured this photo of dog-lapping in action. A column of water follows the dog's accelerating tongue into its mouth.

Did you ever wonder why dogs seem to splash water when they drink from their water bowls, but cats leave hardly a trace?  Well, now we know why. Some scientists at Virginia Tech took a closer look at how cats and dogs drink. 

Dogs and cats are like the book ends of the pet world, but even though they have a lot in common, pet owners know they’re very different creatures.  It’s subtleties that set them apart.

Scientists say because both species have no real cheeks to create suction when drinking, the way some other animals and humans do, they use their tongues to lap up the liquids. But Sean Gart, a graduate student in biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech, says they do that in very different ways.

Graduate student Sean Gart (left) and Sunghwan “Sunny” Jung, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, make adjustments in front of a machine they used to simulate the mechanics of how dogs drink water.

“They both extend the tongue and touch it to the surface of the water and then quickly retract the tongue back and then they quickly make a water column that they bite down and drink, but what the dogs do, is they extend their tongue and they curl it backwards a lot so they make sort of a scoop shape and they retract the tongue in the mouth, you get a large column that’s formed. So the dogs will move their tongue at a much higher acceleration than the cats do.”

And that’s why a cat drinks like an elegant houseguest daintily lapping at her water bowl while a dog drinks with a lot more obvious gusto. And why did we need to know this?  Well, for one thing because we didn’t know it before and that’s why the study published this week in the National Academy of Sciences Journal.

Want to see a slowed-down, multi-angle video of a dog drinking water for yourself?