Dogs may splatter water everywhere when they slurp water from their bowls, but there is a method behind their sloppy mess, according to a new study.  

Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) recently examined how dogs "lap" water into their mouths to drink. 19 dogs varying in size and breed were volunteered by their owners for this study, according to a news release.

Using photography and laboratory simulations, researchers discovered a dog's sloppy-looking actions are actually high-speed, precisely timed movements that maximize their ability to drink. Knowing this, researchers then compared their findings to previous studies of cats.

"We know cats and dogs are quite different in terms of behavior and character," Sunghwan Jung, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, said in the release. "But before we did fundamental studies of how these animals drink fluids, our guess was dogs and cats drink about the same way. Instead we found out that dogs drink quite differently than cats."

Feline and canine mouths are structurally similar, meaning they are both biting animals that move their tongues quickly to raise water into their mouths through a process involving inertia. Both cats and dogs use this method because they lack full cheeks, which means they can't create suction to drink like many other animals do, including humans, horses and elephants.

However, compared to cats, dogs move their tongues at a much faster rate, plunging them into their water bowl and curling them downward toward their lower jaws, as opposed to their noses. To capture the water, dogs bite down, but they are able to instantly reopen their mouths to continue this process. Additionally, when dogs quickly retract their tongues, a column of water forms and rises into their mouths; but since they also curl their tongues, they bring in a ladle of water that is tossed to either side of their mouth.

On the other hand, cats are daintier drinkers - they lightly touch the surface of the water, rather than submerging them, and when their tongues rise to their mouths, liquid adheres to the upper side and forms a water column.

"Dog drinking is more acceleration driven using unsteady inertia to draw water upward in a column, where cats employ steady inertia," Jung added in the university's release.  

It follows then dogs tend to be messier drinkers because they have to accelerate their tongues to exploit the fluid dynamics of the water column, researchers noted. Their findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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