Is My Cat Drinking Enough Water?
It’s not just your picky cat—many cats don’t drink as much water as they should! Learn the signs of dehydration and how to boost your cat’s liquid intake to keep them healthy and hydrated.
Have you ever walked past your cat’s water bowl and realized that it hardly looks like they’ve drank any water at all? You’re not alone! Many cats are prone to skipping their water bowl, leaving them lacking in proper hydration. Cats are smart animals—so why won’t they drink the water sitting right in front of them?
There are plenty of theories to explain why so many cats don’t drink enough water, but what we do know for sure is that cats are carnivores through and through! The ancestors of today’s modern domestic cats were desert animals who were fierce hunters. They ate lots of fresh meat which was full of moisture, meaning that they needed to drink little to no water to meet their needs.
Just like their wild ancestors, it seems modern cats just don’t have the natural instinct that dogs, humans, and most other animals do to reach for a sip of water to quench their thirst. However, this can become a problem when your beloved household cat is eating dry kibble instead of juicy, wild-caught raw meat.
That leaves cat owners with a conundrum—how can we make sure that our cats are getting the hydration they need to stay healthy? It all comes down to understanding your cat’s needs and knowing how to make it easy for them to keep hydrated.
How Much Water Do Cats Need?
To stay healthy, cats should consume about 4 ounces of water per 5 pounds of lean body weight per day. (“Lean body weight” means the weight of everything in their body besides fat—a calculation your veterinarian can help you make.) This means that a healthy 10 pound cat with a low amount of body fat should get about 1 cup of water per day.
You should keep an eye on your cat’s water bowl to see how much volume they’ve removed. Not all of that water has to come from their water bowl, though! Hydration also comes from their diet, and the type of food they eat makes a big difference.
Most wet food formulas contain 70-80% water, and you can use those percentages to estimate how much water your cat is getting from their dinner. Dry food, on the other hand, usually only contains 6-10% water by volume.
While it’s tricky to make an exact calculation of how much liquid your pet is getting, these statistics should give you a benchmark to estimate from. The cliff notes version is: if your cat who eats dry food leaves their water bowl seemingly untouched, that’s a red flag for their health!
Signs of Dehydration in Cats
If you suspect your cat might not be drinking enough water, you should keep an eye out for signs of dehydration. Medically speaking, dehydration is more than just feeling thirsty! Dehydration is what happens when a lack of water intake is either severe or consistent enough to begin to affect the whole body.
There are some common signs of dehydration you can check your cat for, including:
- Dry, tacky gums
- Loss of appetite
- Low energy or depression
- Weak muscles
- Sunken eyes
- Reduced urination (check their litter box for clumps!)
- Elevated heart rate
- Decreased skin elasticity
You can easily check your cat’s skin elasticity by “tenting” their skin—that means gently pinching the skin between your cat’s shoulder blades and pulling it upwards before letting go. A healthy, hydrated cat’s skin should quickly drop back into place. A dehydrated cat’s skin will move more slowly, holding that pinched shape before sinking back into position.
If you notice any signs of dehydration in your cat, you should offer them water immediately and consult with your veterinarian to see if they require medical care. They will be able to administer subcutaneous or intravenous replenishing fluids containing electrolytes for an immediate boost and can diagnose any underlying medical conditions that might be contributing to your cat’s dehydration.
If long-term dehydration isn’t addressed, it can severely impact your cat’s health and lead to a variety of medical conditions ranging from bladder stones to heart problems. Prompt medical attention is the best way to prevent further health problems and get your cat back into tip-top shape.
What Causes Dehydration?
While it’s true that some cats can be fussy about drinking from their water bowl, they’re not always to blame for their dehydration! Anything that causes your cat to experience water loss can contribute to dehydration, including:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Some medications including diuretics used to treat heart disease
- Many diseases including diabetes, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism
- Dental problems
- Decreased appetite
- Summer heat
- Conflicts with other pets keeping them away from the water bowl
Cats are complex creatures, and any combination of these contributing factors could lead to your pet experiencing dehydration. If you realize your cat isn’t getting enough hydration, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a caretaker! You want what’s best for your cat, and there are many strategies you can use to help your cat thrive again.
How to Boost Your Cat’s Hydration
Whether you’re working with your vet to increase your cat’s hydration due to medical issues or you’re just looking to get your picky cat to drink a little more water, there are some easy things you can do at home to get your cat some extra hydration!
Keep Their Water Fresh
Have you ever left a water glass sitting out for too long and taken a sip only to realize that your water tastes a little funky? Yeah, your cat notices that too.
When their water bowl is left out all day, it’s easy for dust and fur to collect in the water. If it’s left longer, bacteria can start to grow—gross. Try to change their water one or two times a day to keep it fresh and delicious.
In addition, you should consider your local water quality. Do you drink your tap water? If you opt for filtered water, your cat might like that better too. Pollutants in the water can make it understandably unappealing to your cat and they might drink more happily if their water is refilled from the water filter or bottled water.
Change Their Water Bowl
Just like you might have a favorite coffee mug, your cat has preferences about their water bowl! The shape of the bowl can play a role—if it’s deep and narrow, it might uncomfortably press on your cat’s whiskers while they drink. Try switching to a wide, shallow bowl to see if your cat likes that better.
Plastic bowls can easily get small scratches on the surface which can harbor bacteria that your cat can taste! Many cats show a preference for glass, metal, or ceramic bowls that are easier to sanitize.
Switch to a Water Fountain
In nature, stagnant water can grow harmful bacteria—so it makes sense that some cats might not be inclined to drink from a bowl of water that’s been sitting on the floor all day.
If your cat shows more interest in water dripping from the faucet, that’s a good sign that they might enjoy a water fountain! Water fountains made for cats constantly circulate water, keeping it fresh, and provide an enticing trickle of water that adds a little mental stimulation and might tempt your cat to drink more.
Move Their Water Bowl
It’s possible that your cat might not like the place where their water bowl is in the house! While you might be tempted to keep their water bowl tucked in a corner away from foot traffic, that might be making your cat feel unsafe. Nervous cats like to be able to survey their surroundings, so try putting their water bowl in a central location that allows them a wide view, or better yet a raised surface where they can see everything around them.
Territorial issues might also be at play with other animals in the house. Some pets don’t like to share their space or their resources! Having multiple water bowls around the home can help in many circumstances as they’ll have options to find the bowl that gives them the position or the privacy they’re looking for.
Add Broth to Their Water
There’s a reason that so many of the tricks to increase water intake in people involve adding tasty mix-ins to our water—it works. Everyone loves a delicious beverage, and your cat is no exception.
Cats are carnivores and they’ll love the meaty flavor of a splash of unseasoned, unsalted chicken broth or chicken bone broth in their water bowl! Just be sure not to let your cat’s broth cocktail sit out for too long and to wash the bowl thoroughly because there’s meat in there, people.
Add Moisture With Their Diet
Don’t forget your cat’s food when you’re thinking about adding moisture! If you currently feed your cat dry food, consider adding a scoop of saucy wet food on top as a food topper or make the complete switch over to wet cat food. For maximum hydration, look for a high-moisture food formula for your cat!
As an added bonus, wet food is gentle on the teeth and great for sensitive senior cats or weaning your kitten off milk. If your cat is a picky eater, grab a wet cat food variety pack to find a dinner that’ll have them licking the bowl to get every last drop of delicious moisture.
You can also sneak hydration in at treat time with wet cat treats! Wet treats like these squeezable tube treats have a bold flavor that tempts even the most particular cats and include way more moisture than typical dry treats.
Dehydration can be scary, but a little prevention (and creativity) goes a long way! Giving your cat every opportunity for hydration helps to keep their body strong and knowing the signs of dehydration means that you’ll always be ready to give them the care they need. Here’s to more happy, hydrated cats!