Cats were originally desert dwelling animals who relied on moisture in their prey for their water, which means that your cat inherited their ancestors’ low thirst drive and they are vulnerable to dehydration. HOwever, water is crucial to your cat’s health for hydration and preventing serious health complications. Our Central Houston Animal Hospital team knows how cats can be persnickety, so we have compiled tips you can use to encourage your cat to drink more water. 

Importance of keeping your cat hydrated

Maintaining your feline friend’s normal hydration is essential for numerous critical bodily functions, such as temperature regulation, normal electrolyte maintenance, food digestion, joint lubrication, and their oxygen and nutrient supply to the organs. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the most common consequence of decreased water intake in cats, affecting 2% to 20% of all cats and 30% of cats older than 10. CKD is a progressive disease that causes a gradual decline in kidney function, usually over months or years. Typically, clinical signs do not manifest until about 67% to 70% of the kidney is dysfunctional, which can make detection difficult and delay treatment. Diagnosing this condition in the early stages is best for your cat, and regular wellness examinations are best for early diagnosis. A veterinary professional should evaluate your adult cat at least once a year, and should see your senior cat every six months.

Water requirements for your cat

The average adult cat should consume about four ounces of water for every five pounds of lean body weight. This means that a 10-pound cat should drink about a cup of water a day. Your cat’s diet and health status contribute to their water requirements. Cats who eat dry kibble, and cats affected by health conditions, such as CKD, diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, and hyperthyroidism, require more water.

Assessing your cat’s hydration status

Inadequate water intake can lead to dehydration. Signs to look for include:

  • Lethargy — Dehydration causes a decrease in blood pressure and leads to poor circulation. Decreased blood flow to the brain and muscles causes tiredness and fatigue.
  • Dry gums — Your cat’s gums should be glossy and pink and, if you press your finger to their gums, the color should return in less than two seconds. A cat whose gums are tacky, or their color does not refill in two seconds, may be significantly dehydrated.
  • Prolonged skin tent — The skin between your cat’s shoulder blades should snap back into place within a second after being pinched. Prolonged skin tenting can indicate dehydration.
  • Constipation — If you find small, hard, dry fecal balls in your cat’s litter box, they may be dehydrated.
  • Sunken eyes — During dehydration, fluid is redistributed from areas such as the eyes to supply essential organs. Your cat may be dehydrated if their eyes appear sunken.

Keeping your cat hydrated

You can lead a cat to water, but you can’t make them drink. However, here are a few tips to encourage your cat to drink more water:

  • Provide several water sources — Place water bowls throughout your home, so drinking is convenient for your cat.
  • Change the water daily — Cats in the wild prefer fresh, running water sources, and your cat doesn’t want to drink stale water, so change their water at least daily. If you notice an insect, food, cat toy, or anything else floating in the bowl, dump the water, and rinse and refill the bowl immediately.
  • Wash your cat’s bowl frequently — Wash your cat’s water bowl in the dishwasher or by hand with soap and water at least once a week.
  • Ensure your cat’s bowl is acceptable — The bowl’s material and shape are important. Plastic bowls can hold smells and tastes of leftover food. Cats prefer wide, shallow bowls that don’t interfere with their whiskers, so look for bowls specifically designed for cats to help prevent whisker fatigue.
  • Find the right location — Ensure the bowl is in a quiet, low traffic area where your cat won’t be disturbed, and nowhere near their litter box.
  • Feed wet food — Cats who eat only dry kibble consume less water and are more prone to dehydration. Dry pet food has about 10% to 12% moisture content, compared with wet food’s about 75% to 78% content. A cat who has never eaten wet food may be reluctant to try the new diet, but mixing the wet and dry foods or trying several different flavors may encourage them to make the switch.
  • Add water to your cat’s food — If your cat refuses to eat wet food, and you want more water in their diet, try adding water to their food. Start with a small amount of water and gradually add more water over several days. If they refuse to eat the food mixed with water, don’t force the issue. 
  • Provide a drinking fountain — Many cats are enthralled by running water, and a filtered water fountain can help increase their interest. Clean the receptacle and filter frequently to prevent bacterial contamination. 
  • Elevate your cat’s bowl — Some cats find drinking from an elevated bowl more comfortable—especially older cats suffering from osteoarthritis. 

These tips should help keep your cat hydrated. If you have concerns about your cat’s water intake, contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team, so we can assess their hydration status and develop a plan to address the problem.