Lions and Little Cats Share Instinct Around Water Hole


Lions drinking water photo by Greg du Toit

photo courtesy of Greg du Toit, Wildlife Photographer

In our post 3 Big Cat Instincts Your Cat Shares, we talked about how in the wild, big cats know lowering their heads to drink water puts them in a vulnerable position. The big cats prefer an unobstructed view to keep an eye on their surroundings. In the photo above, you  see a pride of lions at a water hole. Notice that while some of the lions drink the others are keeping watch. But even the lions that have lowered their heads to drink are keeping their eyes on their surroundings.

Cats are both predators and prey for other animals.  You might think the lion as a top predator doesn’t need to worry but this is not true. Lions need to worry about other lions. Your cat has the same instinct. Our domestic cats are both predator and prey  and they are hard-wired with the same survival instincts as their big cousins.

Annie smelling snowAnnie is super curious, Eddie is cautious.

Yesterday, I brought in a container of snow for the cats to experience the feel, smell and taste for the first time.  As predicted, Annie who is super curious, approached the snow quickly and began a thorough investigation.  Eddie on the other hand, remained cautious and evaluated the snow from a distance.  I, of course, have no way of knowing this for sure, but it seems to me that Eddie waits to see what happens to Annie first and then if she is unharmed, he will proceed to explore.

Annie dipping paw in water

Dipping paw to asses the water depth

Today, yesterday’s snow has melted into a container of water complete with little pieces of leaves that were in the snow.  As soon as the sun room was unlocked, Annie and Eddie ran out to explore. And sure enough, Annie is the first to check out the melted snow while Eddie stays back to observe.

The  water from the melted snow is in a nearly transparent container so the depth of the water might be difficult for the cats to judge.  After sniffing and pacing around the container, Annie dips her left paw in to assess the water depth.

Annie water hole behavior

Lions and little cats share instinct.

And then, Annie’s behavior was quite like the lions at the water hole.

annie crouched lions water hole

She evaluated her surroundings, knowing Eddie had her back, she slowly lowered her head, keeping her eyes fixed on the entrance to the sun room before taking a drink of the water.  She dipped her paw first to taste the water and then lowered her head to lap up some water with her tongue.

Annie stirring water wtih left paw

Now let’s have some fun!

By this time, Eddie determined that the water from the melted snow must be safe and in fact, might even be interesting. You can see the tip of his ear in the photo above. Mercy entered the sun room, glanced at the water but chose to sit in the sun and observe the back yard birds.

Annie, now knowing Mercy’s location,  takes her left paw, dips it deeper into the water and begins to vigorously stir the water.   She really enjoyed the water and even splashed some out of the container onto the rug.

Annie encourages Eddie to try waterAnnie seemed to be encouraging Eddie to try the water but he was still unsure.   Mercy remained uninterested in the melted snow but preferred to bird watch from the sofa.






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  1. That is so cute. So interesting how they are simular in many ways.
    Sue B

  2. MissDiane47 says:

    It’s amazing how much we learn about the primal instincts of domestic cats. They are very similar to a lion pride.