Lapping up water

So how would you get water in your mouth if you didn’t have hands and a glass? Carefully watching how dogs and cat lap up liquid may seem trivial, but it’s actually a great exercise in being a good observer. As you can see in the video below, cats get water in their mouths not by curling their tongue forward, but by doing the opposite. They curl their tongues backward, and bring water up in that way, rather than making a “cup” with the top of their tongue.

When I was taping Petline for Animal Planet, the producer went crazy when I mentioned that fact. I had him slow-mo one of the videos sent in of a cat lapping up water, and showed how the tongue went the opposite direction of what we’d predict. He thought that was the most fascinating observation imaginable, and kept asking me for more great stuff like that we could use for the show. But nothing ever captured his interest as much–not micro-expressions of nervous dogs, or horses subtly communicating social status, or humming alpacas. No matter what I pointed out in a video, it was never as exciting to him as the fact that cats lap up water “backward.” Go figure.

So here’s my question of the day. Go watch your dog, and decide how he or she laps up liquid. The article attached tells us how dogs lap up water, but I’m not taking their word for it. Watch your dog, and tell me what you think. (Slo mo movie would be ideal, hey?) It seems to me that although dogs may have a species specific way of moving their tongues, the actual process is highly variable, from the dainty drinkers to the slurping water hoses.  Maybe we should have a contest for the funniest dog-drinking-video?

Cat Lapping Video

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: All but two of the sheep are bred now, and it’s been 17 days. That’s the length of the ovulation cycle in sheep, so either they didn’t get marked with red paint somehow or they aren’t cycling. (Or were they bred before we got it on? (Uh, I meant the paint!) Nope… we put ‘painted’ Redford before we let him in with the ewes.) Truffles and Snickers, the two that are unmarked, aren’t all that old, but both of them had problems nursing their lambs and would be culled by most farmers. However, I made a covenant with the ewes that once they are established members of the flock they can stay until their dotage as long as they are not suffering, so I may have 2 ewes without lambs every spring. That’s a big percentage of an eight head herd. Maybe they’ll be bred tomorrow cuz they didn’t read the chapter about their ovulation cycle? Cross your paws. Hooves? Whatever you’ve got…

Winter is definitely on its way now. We’re getting hard frosts at night, and 40 degree days. It’s hard to pack for New Zealand spring and early summer, especially when we’ll be backpacking for 5 days. I keep thinking about warm clothes for cold weather, and forgetting it’ll be 70 degrees part of the time. As a friend who is also going, and who also lives in a cold clime wrote: Must. Pack. T-shirts. But then, it could be 35 and sleeting . . .

Speaking of sleet, we had some of that lately. Here’s some artwork, a collaboration of leaves and Jack Frost.


  1. says

    Luna our border collie, laps slow enough that you can see that her tongue curls backwards, like a cat, to bring water to her mouth. I had always assumed that a dog’s tongue curled forward, and was surprised to realize it curled backwards. I could try filming her to see if she creates the column of water like a cat.

  2. says

    hi there, i don’t think i’ve ever made a comment on your blog though i’ve enjoyed reading it for quite a while and have learnt many interesting things from it.

    i couldn’t resist today though, because by some very odd coincidence, this article was in my weekend papers. i found it online and here is the link:

    a world away, and on the same topic! have a good day.

    btw, georgia little pea is my dog :)

  3. Bonnie H. says

    What a beautiful photo!

    I *think* my dogs lap with their tongues curled under, but haven’t paid all that much attention. At least that’s what it looked like the last time I watched them closely. The male will drink out of a hose by chomping on the water stream.

  4. Alison says

    I really enjoy reading your blog. You always leave me with something interesting to think about.

    When I was a teenager, we had a lab mix puppy that managed to get a hold of some live electrical wires that we thought were safely tucked out of reach. I went into the kitchen to find 9-week old Tips with the wires in her mouth being electrocuted. I was able to pull the wires away with just a minor shock to myself. A trip to the vet revealed the only damage Tips received was a burnt tongue. After all was healed, Tips had lost the right half of her tongue halfway back into her mouth and the remaining left-side had a fair amount of scar tissue. She was not able to drink like a normal dog, but she adapted just fine. For the rest of her life she had her own unique style of drinking. She held her head nearly parallel to the water and used her little tongue curled upward to dip down into the water and pull it into her mouth. We had to always be sure that the water level was high enough in her bowl so she could get enough of it into her mouth. She always had a dripping wet chin after drinking.

    Tips loved Frisbees, kids, and jumping 6-foot fences.

  5. Melissa Peskin says

    I’ve seen the video that Eileen posted before, and it looks like the dog’s lapping is similar to the cat’s. Two things originally bugged me about the tv clip with the dog drinking: (1) the tongue appears to be complexly folded with a “bowl” area on both top and bottom and (2) the host slow-mo’s one dog and says “Great! We know how dogs drink!” The cat research alleviates the first point somewhat, but definitely not the second.

    Love love love that leafy photo. We’re in central Virginia and just the weekend the trees peaked so we could get some good photos of our dogs under them. West Virginia was past its prime when we visited 3 weeks ago!

  6. AnneJ says

    That was very cool, both the dog and cat videos. The dog has a much larger bowl in the underside of the tongue and seems to be getting a lot more liquid with each lap. The person lapping water was interesting too. Our tongues are fatter and less able to form cups- I’m not sure they even can bend backwards underneath. I want to watch some of my messier drinkers in action and see why they always get such wet muzzles that they then come and wipe on me.

  7. rheather says

    “The team thinks cats may have adopted this more complex but neater approach because it means they are less likely to be splashed with water as they drink.”

    So what about a cat who drinks neatly, but stands with one or both feet in the water bowl? My ex-feral drinks that way and so did his brothers. And I still wonder about the cat I caught in the wading pool going after his dead shrew.

  8. Amy from Maine says

    My little puppymill dog has the strangest drinking style. I have never seen another dog do it quite like this. He spent his first 5 1/2 months in a cage with two siblings, but they didn’t do this, so this isn’t a learned behavior. As a pup he nearly came off his feet drinking this way. This video is of him at age 2 and he still drinks this way. In fact, he eats wet food this way, too. Especially something really soft like yogurt. It seems like SO much effort! 😛

  9. em says

    Fascinating! Otis is a neat and careful drinker (which I DO attribute to his not really liking to get water on himself…I’m not convinced that it’s a good explanation for why cats tend to be dainty…) and his lapping looks very much like a cat’s, but slower. Sometimes, when swimming, (and thus already wet) he’ll stick his face in the water and suck it directly in, like a horse.

    My dog growing up had two very different drinking styles. When drinking water, she slopped it all over, using big careless scoops, wetting her whole face as well as a big portion of the floor. When drinking from a soup or cereal bowl, however, she was the soul of care. Using dainty, carefully controlled cat-type laps, she’d lick up every bit of milk or broth and not a drop would go astray.

    While it’s fairly probable that most cats dislike wet faces, my cats LOVE to drink from a slow running or dripping tap, and because they’re standing IN the sink or bathtub, they don’t exactly stay entirely dry during the process. They also go wild for water droplets clinging to the tub or shower walls, which leaves their faces pretty dry, but their paws, sides, and the tops of their heads pretty wet. If I had to hazard a guess as to why my cats drink more carefully than most dogs, I’d guess that it has less to do with dislike of wetness and more to do with a desire not to WASTE water. I may be imagining it, but I think I remember reading that the domestic cat is descended from a desert animal. It could also just be that they have very small tongues, which may limit their drinking-style options somewhat.

  10. Mary Beth says

    A friend has noticed that her horses inherit drinking styles. For instance, some barely touch the top of the water when sipping. Others will dunk the tip of their muzzles. And the third style is to dive in and dunk half their face! Since she’s been developing her bloodlines for many years, she’s had a lot of time to observe and note the little differences.
    I love how animals inherit behaviors! Half my dog’s puppies smile like he does and a billion other idiosyncrasies.

  11. Amy says

    Maybe it’s not the ewes at all but Redford? I could imagine that spending quality time with all those ewes might be exhausting! Could he have missed a couple? Maybe he liked the other girls better? It seems suspicious that two of the ewes would be unpainted during the same season.

    “got it on” – haha!

  12. Kat says

    Ranger very seldom drinks water from a bowl. He prefers to drink from a hose, water bottle or water poured from a jug. We’ll have to pay more attention to all his styles of drinking. I do know that people are always entertained when he drinks from a water bottle.

    Gorgeous photo, by the way.

  13. mungobrick says

    My golden retriever had an awful time drinking from a water bowl – I always wondered if she’d gotten some up her nose and scared herself as a small puppy because she seemed to just throw water around and get very little into her mouth. Eventually she would “drink” water only in the form of ice cubes – that was one of the “missing” times after she died – I could open the freezer without her instantly appearing and begging.

  14. says

    Have an absolutely fabulous trip!

    I love that photo and set it as my background on my desktop. I can’t wait to see the wonderful photos of New Zealand!


  15. CharlieDog says

    My two dogs both drink normally with very little spill. My friends GSP puppy though, constantly dribbles water after she drinks. It’s HIGHLY annoying.

  16. says

    My border collie Fenway is a very neat lapper and curls his tongue under like a cat. But he also plays “bitey face” with a garden hose. When he wants to drink from the hose spray, he uses a series of rapid snaps and curls his lips back. His teeth clacking is loud and he looks quite fierce but it’s all fun.

  17. Suzanne says

    I was so taken by the photo, forgot to share my dogs drinking habits.
    My girl bc, Maisie drinks very daintily, lap lap lap. I’ll have to get closer to see the direction of her tongue. My boy bc, Dart, on the other hand, submerges his whole snout into the drinking bowl and shovels the water into his mouth, and of course all over his face and the floor. I won’t be getting close enough to see what his tongue is doing without getting a shower. sigh.

  18. AnneJ says

    Then there are the alternate drinking styles. Sprite and Hank love to get in the water tanks, then they will chomp at the water as they swim around looking like alligators. I think it’s more playing than drinking. One of our dogs years ago got a taste of some hot curry paste (husband dropped a spoonful and Gwen gobbled it down without even checking to see what it was) That time she plunged her whole muzzle into the water up to her eyes trying to get rid of the pepper burn.

  19. Bonnie H. says

    Electric Landlady… thanks to you, I have to change my pants! That was sooooo funny. She’s got some other good ones there, but not as good as this one.

  20. Startulip says

    Chiva, my Brittany, dips her muzzle, including her nose, about an inch into the water. She must know to close off her nostrils because her head is perpendicular to the water, and her nose is underwater. She then opens her mouth and “inhales” the water. I don’t see her tongue doing much in the process, just a massive gulping of water as she takes big “bites” of the water, closes her mouth and swallows lifting a bit, the again submerges and opens, gulps, closes and swallows. She leaves a massive mess of water around the bowl as well as a trail up to 20 feet away from her bowl that drips from her soaked muzzle. We just follow the trail with a towel cleaning up the water. Or later slipping in the water we don’t see. Or soaking our socks in invisible puddles. That’s another way to clean up the water. Sigh…

    Suriya, our GSD, holds her muzzle just above the water and extends her very long tongue into the water, curling her tongue and bringing bits of water up into her mouth. She laps very quickly, short intervals between the laps. She’s very refined, and there are no splatters or trails on the floor, nor water left on her muzzle at all.

  21. Stephanie says

    My 2 year old APBT has a very unique style. He often has a rhythm to his drinking.
    He laps the far side of the bowl in the air or the exposed side of the bowl and then works his way into the water. He laps for a little while and then comes back for a very light lick of the back of the water bowl again.

    He even does this when he is at a strange bowl like at the groomers so I know it’s not our bowl. Interesting though I asked the vet and he had no info but he has a hole, about an eraser head size between his jaw and soft pallate. Thoughts?

    When we got our foster puppy last year she was so little she went right between his legs and shoved her face in the middle of the bowl.

  22. Ed says

    One of my cats doesn’t lap water – or yogurt or milk or chicken soup or gravy or anything else she gets into. She scoops liquids up with her paw. Then she walks away from the crime scene leaving gravy paw prints.

    Dogs either can close their nostrils or blow out enough air (slowly) to keep water from coming in. I’ve had several dogs who were happy to pick things up from underwater and go after crabs and fish in shallow water. I have a dog now and had a dog in the past who weren’t concerned about being entirely underwater.

    My husband’s largest dog does not drink water – he fills his jaws with a couple of gallons, and then walks around the kitchen leaving puddles. The puddles are large so I’m sure not a drop goes down his throat.

  23. Verity Roseware says

    I have known for a long time that dogs drink with their tongue curled backwards. However, I have always been led to believe that cats did the opposite with tongue forward. I’m damn sure that my cat drinks with her tongue forward. I will be watching her more closely to see. Here’s a video you all may like :) Apologies if it has been posted already –

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