Why and how to keep your cat hydrated

Written by Joii Vet Dr Nadine Cerny, Dr.Med.Vet. MRCVS

It is still a common misbelief that cats should be drinking milk, even though it is a long-known fact that most adult cats lose the ability to process milk in their digestive tract. Feeding them milk, can lead to serious gastrointestinal problems. So, what should cats be drinking instead?

The answer is simple: WATER! All animals need water, cats are no exception. About 70% of your cat's body consists of water! They need their daily intake of water to ensure they stay hydrated and keep themselves healthy and their coats shiny. If your cat doesn't drink enough, she may get dehydrated.

Signs of dehydration in cats

Signs of dehydration are dry gums, sunken eyes, loss of appetite, lethargy and decrease in skin elasticity. If you notice any of these signs, you should take your cat to the vets. Chronically dehydrated cats can face medical issues like constipation, stones in the urinary tract, kidney disease and many more.

How can I get my cat to drink water?

You may have noticed that cats are not big drinkers like their canine counterparts. Part of that lies in the roots of their ancestors in the wild. Wildcats feed themselves on prey like rats and mice or other small animals, which have a higher water content. But the water content in the commercial dry food that many domestic cats eat, is much lower and therefore they should be compensating for this with drinking more water. 

Getting your cat to drink enough water can be tricky because they can be very picky about what and where they drink. You will have to test what works best for your cat. And be warned: what works for one cat really well, might not work for another but the good news is there are several ways to encourage your cat to drink enough water.

Here are just some of the ways to make sure your feline friend stays hydrated.

Provide them with fresh, cool water

Cats like clean, cool water. It is in their instincts to avoid water that isn't fresh. This instinct is what keeps a wild cat healthy because contaminated water will make them sick.

Your cat at home may avoid stagnant or older water for the same reasons so make sure you give your cat fresh water in their bowl(s) at least once a day. When doing so, don't just top up the bowl! Emptying the whole bowl, wiping out the slimy debris on the bottom and filling it with fresh clean water might encourage your cat to drink what they need.

Find their favourite bowl

There’s no denying that our feline friends are picky creatures. You might need to try several different bowls before you find the one that your cat likes drinking (or eating) out of. As veterinarians, we usually recommend stainless steel bowls or premium, glazed ceramic bowls instead of plastic ones. This is because plastic bowls quickly get a porous surface and scratch easily, meaning bacteria can hide and grow. Some cats are more sensitive to that and can develop skin conditions such as feline acne.

a cat drinking from a bowl

Choosing the right bowl for your cat doesn't stop at picking the right material. The size and width of the bowl are important, too. We recommend serving water in a wide bowl, because many cats don't like their whiskers scrunched against the sides of their food or water bowl!

Think about their bowl’s location

Many cat owners tend to place their cat's water and food bowl in a corner, tucked away. While that is perfectly fine for some cats, many cats rather have their food and water bowl in a more open area, so they can see their surroundings to avoid any surprises.

Ideally, you’ll want to give your cat several drinking options throughout the house, letting them stay hydrated wherever they are. Strategically position them in spots where your cat likes to hang out or walk by, so it’s convenient for your cat and they’re reminded to drink water throughout the day.

Don't place the water bowl by the litter box as some cats won't drink if it’s too close to where they toilet!

Some cats prefer flowing water

Have you ever had your cat competing for your spot by the sink while you were brushing your teeth? Cats tend to be is fascinated with the water running from the tap.

Yet again, this is thanks to their natural instincts. It is believed that cats in nature have learned that standing water (e.g. puddles, small ponds) are more likely to be contaminated, which is why they are more drawn to water that flows. As they can hear, see and feel flowing water, it is also more appealing to their senses.

a cat drinking water from a flowing tap

And last but not least, they may like the taste of running water better as it is better oxygenated, because of its constant movement. By providing them with a pet water fountain, you can help utilise your cat’s instinctive fascination with flowing water to ensure they drink enough throughout the day.

Apart from being a very appealing water source for your cat, pet water fountains have even more benefits. Most of them come with a filtration system, that prevent the water from being contaminated with dust, dirt and hairs while the constant circulation of the water makes the growth of bacteria much more difficult, too!

Add some flavour to their water

To trick a cat into drinking more, you can try to flavour the water with a bit of low-sodium chicken or beef stock. Most cats like the tasty water and it is a good way to get them rehydrated. Just make sure that there is still another bowl with regular fresh water available for your cat as well.

Remember: Avoid any stock that contains any toxic ingredients like garlic or onions.

Feed your cat wet food

One of the easiest ways to ensure your cat is well hydrated, is to offer wet cat food as part of the diet. Canned cat food simply has more moisture but you could make it even wetter by adding water and stock if needed.

This will help give it a liquid consistency that some cats prefer. If your cat won't eat wet cat food, you can try it with some kibble soaked in water. 

A well hydrated body is much stronger, and the risk of many health issues is reduced. Tell us about your experiences with your cat's drinking habits on our Facebook or Twitter page.

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