How Can I Make My Cat Drink More Water?

A cat drinks water from a pond.A cat drinks water from a pond.
A cat drinks water from a pond.A cat drinks water from a pond.

Table of Contents:

  1. How Much Water Do Cats Need to Drink Each Day?
  2. What Happens If My Cat Doesn’t Drink Enough Water Per Day?
  3. How Can I Increase My Cat’s Water Intake?

Leonardo da Vinci wrote that “Water is the driving force in nature.” Indeed, this is true, we cannot survive without water. The essential metabolic processes of our bodies require water to function. Why then, does it seem, our cats have elected to simply ignore this most crucial dogma and refuse to drink the amount of water we think they need? Believe it or not, improving your cat’s water intake is not as impossible as it seems.

How Much Water Do Cats Need to Drink Each Day?

The average cat weighs around 9.0 – 12.0 lbs, or roughly 4.0 – 5.5 kgs. Cats generally need to consume 50 mls/kg of water per day to maintain a normal state of hydration. This translates to 200 – 275 mls per day or 6.8 to 9.3 ounces. Cats being fed wet food, which is 80% water, will easily meet their daily water requirement just by consuming their daily ration. Cats being fed dry food, which is only 10% water, will need to drink additional water to meet daily needs.

What Happens If My Cat Doesn’t Drink Enough Water Per Day?

Not drinking enough water will lead to clinical signs of dehydration. A dehydrated cat will be dull and listless, their eyes may even appear sunken and their skin will “tent,” or very slowly sink back to normal position when pinched between two fingers and released.

Fortunately, most normal, active, and healthy cats will not purposefully or easily become dehydrated. However, cats with advanced age, or pre-existing diseases like kidney failure or diabetes are especially prone.

Drinking the proper amount of water seems to be crucial to prevent certain types of calculi (bladder stones) from forming in the urine. At least one study suggested the incidence of calcium oxalate stones is increased in cats that have a more concentrated urine, since they may not be drinking as much as cats with more dilute urine.

Urinary calculi can cause serious, life-threatening urinary obstructions. A stone lodged in the urethra may completely obstruct the flow of urine from the bladder, leading to severe pain, the inability to urinate, and ultimately death secondary to kidney failure and severe electrolyte derangements.

Constipation in cats is not uncommon and, although it is a multifactorial disease, can be caused by decreased water consumption. Untreated constipation can lead to severe consequences in cats, including megacolon. Megacolon is a condition where the colon becomes so stretched that it loses its ability to forcefully contract and push fecal material forward. A stretched colon is also prone to leaking bacteria from fecal material into the bloodstream (translocation of bacteria), leading to severe illness.

How Can I Increase My Cat’s Water Intake?

As discussed above, cats fed canned or wet food will often meet most or all of their daily water intake by consuming wet food alone. Cats eating dry food, however, often consume less water overall than cats on wet food diets. Cats consuming dry food cannot meet all of their metabolic requirements for water from food alone.

Recommendations for improving water intake in cats is anecdotal and based upon observation of cats in the home. Most sources will suggest you vary the location of the water (keeping it away from food and the litter box), vary the taste of the water (add tuna juice), and offer flowing water options, such as provided by a fountain or faucet.

A Study of Feline Hydration Habits

Royal Canin, an international producer of pet foods, has published results of an interesting survey in which they asked pet owners questions pertaining to water intake in cats. It was a scientific attempt to finally answer the question, “How can I lead my cat to water and get them to drink?” The results of the survey, with over 500 cat owner participants, were very interesting. A synopsis of their findings is as follows and offers practical suggestions to increase water consumption:

  • Cats like high-quality tap water and rainwater. They do not like water with strange smells and if you have heavily chlorinated water, you may wish to use filtered or non-carbonated mineral water instead.
  • Cats like variety in the position of bowls and prefer water bowls kept some distance (even in a separate room) from food bowls.
  • Smaller bowls (less than 15 cm diameter) seem to be preferred over larger bowls. You may want to experiment with different types of material to see what your cat likes best (glass, metal, or plastic).
  • Both indoor and outdoor cats are curious and will drink from pots, puddles, plants, etc. This may be dangerous if they contact antifreeze, pesticides, or fertilizers. Cats may even consume coffee or energy drinks if left out where they can reach them.
  • There was not a strong conclusion that all cats prefer water fountains. Some might, but not all.
  • Wet food should be offered as the entire diet or a part of the diet to encourage fluid intake.
  • If a cat has a special flavor they like, such as tuna juice, use it to your advantage to encourage them to drink.
  • Playing with water sources may help encourage water intake. Using ice cubes or other materials to encourage this play behavior might also be helpful.
  • Dairy products should be offered to cats in moderation. In general, cats have a lactose intolerance and large quantities can cause gastrointestinal issues. Dairy products like cheese and yogurt may be easier to digest than milk itself, since these products typically contain less lactose and are diluted by other ingredients.

Winning the War Against Dehydration

Following the above guidelines, you should find the journey to improving your pet’s fluid consumption challenging, but not impossible. The most recent research we have available to us suggests that varying the location and flavor of water offered results in the best chance of increasing water intake. Realizing that each cat is different and will have their own strong preferences is also key.

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