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A close-up shot of a black cat's face, focusing on the cat's mouth and whiskers. The cat is drinking water, and its pink tongue is extended, catching droplets of water mid-air.A close-up shot of a black cat's face, focusing on the cat's mouth and whiskers. The cat is drinking water, and its pink tongue is extended, catching droplets of water mid-air.
by: Dr. Shagufta Mulla

Vetted: A Guide To Feline Hydration

health, tips

Even though water is essential for bodily functions, our feline friends generally aren’t big drinkers of water. Because of their desert ancestors, cats adapted to getting a large amount of their water from the animals they ate–usually animals made of 60% or more water. Which is why some cats dislike drinking water from a bowl or fountain. Thankfully, there are things we can do to help them stay hydrated.

How much water should my cat drink?

The amount of water your cat drinks per day can vary widely depending on their diet (dry vs. wet vs. both), environment, and whether or not they have medical conditions that cause them to feel unwell and drink less. A cat exclusively on a fresh food diet like Smalls may not be seen drinking much water because Smalls’ fresh food is about 75% moisture. Dry food, on the other hand, only contains about 6 to 10% moisture.

The daily fluid requirement for a healthy ten-pound cat is about a cup of water. This includes water from all sources — food, water, and broths. However, if a cat is dehydrated, their fluid requirement will be higher (the more dehydrated they are, the more water they will need). It can be challenging, and sometimes impossible, for a dehydrated cat to “catch up” on hydration by drinking water or eating more wet food, and medical intervention will be needed if this happens.

How do I know if my cat is dehydrated?

In the early stages of dehydration, the signs might not be obvious. Here are some things to look for. Sometimes only one of these signs may be present.

What is hepatic lipidosis?Also known as fatty liver syndrome, this disease is unique to cats and is one of the most common liver diseases seen in cats.
  • Your cat is acting more tired than usual.

  • Your cat seems weak.

  • Their gums feel sticky.

  • If you pull up on the skin over their shoulders and it doesn’t quickly return to its normal position. However, this isn’t always reliable because older cats can have decreased skin elasticity.

  • Your cat has vomiting and/or diarrhea.

  • The urine clumps in the litter box are smaller than usual.

  • Your cat’s eyes look sunken.

  • Your cat’s appetite has gone down, even just a little. This is an immediate cause for concern because, unlike dogs or people, even a couple of days of decreased appetite can put them at risk for a dangerous liver condition called hepatic lipidosis.

Tips for keeping your cat hydrated

  • 1.

    Keep your cat’s water bowl clean by washing them with soap and warm water daily. Water bowls that aren’t regularly washed develop a slimy layer that no cat wants to drink from.

  • 2.

    Avoid or switch out your plastic bowl. Plastic is porous and can retain smells that cats might not like. Your best bets are glass and ceramic. Leave out both to see if your cat has a preference. Steel is an option, but some cats may not like steel’s reflective qualities, and some lower-quality steel bowls can add an undesirable taste to the water.

  • 3.

    Use bowls that are wide and not narrow. Cats can experience whisker fatigue when their whiskers are pressed against the edge of smaller bowls.

  • 4.

    Consider getting a water fountain. Some cats prefer running water because they perceive it as fresher and cleaner than still water.

  • 5.

    Keep multiple water bowls throughout your home and keep them full. Some cats can have a hard time seeing the water bowl because they have a harder time seeing up close.

  • 6.

    Try feeding fresh food like Smalls, which is high in moisture and can help keep your cat hydrated throughout the day.

  • 7.

    Add liquid to your cat’s dry food. You can try adding Smalls Fish Broth and Bird Broth to their meals for extra flavor and moisture. But be careful with broths made for people because they might contain garlic and/or onions, which aren’t safe for cats. You can also try adding broth to your cat’s water, but make sure you also set aside an extra bowl of clean water that doesn’t have broth.

  • 8.

    Try adding ice cubes to your cat’s water bowls.

Orange cat sits by a closed window next to a glass of water

FAQs

Why won’t my cat drink more water?

Cats aren’t very thirst-driven. Instead of drinking more water, cats on a low-moisture diet  just respond by concentrating their urine more. (I can just see them swiping their paws together and saying, “Problem solved!”) 

However, your cat may not drink more water for a variety of other reasons as well. These include, but aren’t limited to:

What is tooth resorption (or FORLs)?It is a process by which the dentin (a hard tissue that lies beneath the enamel of the tooth) erodes and eventually becomes irreversibly destroyed. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, this condition affects almost 75% of cats 5 years and older.
  • They eat an exclusively wet diet, like Smalls human-grade fresh food.

  • They may not like where their bowl or bowls are located, e.g., in high-traffic areas, near their litter box, or even near their food bowl. (Some cats prefer to keep their food and water sources separate.)

  • They may not like the size of their bowl (e.g., too small), the shape of their bowl, and/or the material the bowl is made out of.

  • They prefer running water because that’s perceived as being cleaner than standing water.

  • They have dental pain. Cats are prone to a dental condition called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs), which can cause a tooth to become extremely painful.

  • They have a medical condition that is causing them to feel unwell.

What should I do if my cat isn’t drinking enough water?

The first thing to do is talk with your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical problem. Schedule an appointment and if needed, you can ask the front desk staff to leave any questions you might have for the doctor that can’t wait until the appointment. Though you can try home remedies like offering your cat wet food or broth while waiting for your pet’s appointment, it’s important not to delay having your pet being seen by a professional while you try home remedies first.

My cat drinks a lot of water. Is that okay?

It depends. Drinking more water can be a sign of a medical issue such as diabetes or kidney disease. If your cat has grown up in your home and has always drunk a lot of water, that might be normal. (If you haven’t discussed the topic at any appointments, I would still discuss it with your veterinarian.) But if drinking more water is a new development, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.

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