Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Subscribe to
Nutrition Nuggets
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Cats and Water

August 24, 2012 / (3) comments

You might have heard that domestic cats evolved from desert dwelling ancestors. It’s mentioned several times throughout the petMD nutrition center and MyBowl tool, particularly when a cat’s need for water is discussed. I thought it might be interesting to look into where this information came from.

In 2009, Scientific American published an article entitled "The Evolution of House Cats." In it, the authors noted that we have traditionally thought that the cat was first domesticated in Egypt about 3,600 years ago. However, more recent research has shown that the domestication of cats actually began in the Middle East, as early as 10,000 years ago when people were starting to live a more agrarian lifestyle.


The results revealed five genetic clusters, or lineages, of wildcats. Four of these lineages corresponded neatly with four of the known subspecies of wildcat and dwelled in specific places: F. silvestris in Europe, F. s. bieti in China, F. s. ornata in Central Asia and F. s. cafra in southern Africa. The fifth lineage, however, included not only the fifth known subspecies of wildcat — F. s. lybica in the Middle East — but also the hundreds of domestic cats that were sampled, including purebred and mixed-breed felines from the U.S., the U.K., and Japan. In fact, genetically, F. s. lybica wildcats collected in remote deserts of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were virtually indistinguishable from domestic cats. That the domestic cats grouped with F. s. lybica alone among wildcats meant that domestic cats arose in a single locale, the Middle East, and not in other places where wildcats are common.

The scientists believe cats moved into close proximity with people to hunt the mice that were drawn to an agricultural setting.What does this mean for cat owners? Primarily that cats are very efficient water users and need to drink less than do dogs, about one-quarter less to be exact. I’ve fielded numerous phone calls from owners who are concerned that they rarely see their cats drinking from a bowl, particularly if the cats eat canned food. Canned diets typically contain 75-80 percent moisture, so these individuals meet most of their water requirements through their food and have little need to go to the bowl for more.

Dry foods contain much less water than canned — a maximum of 10 percent usually. Most healthy cats will make up the difference by drinking from a bowl, as long as it is cleaned regularly, but some seem to prefer a running source of water. Feline drinking fountains are a more environmentally friendly way to satisfy these individuals, in comparison to leaving a faucet slowly running throughout the day.

Cats that have higher than average water requirements (e.g., those suffering from kidney or lower urinary tract disease) generally do best on a canned diet. You can even mix a little extra water in to boost their intake. Keep fresh water available at all times and if your cat is not doing well, ask your veterinarian whether subcutaneous fluid therapy could be beneficial.

Of course, coming from the desert might also explain why most domestic cats view bathing as an exquisite form of torture, but that’s a post for another day.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: cat on La Gömera by Georg Böhm / via Flickr

Subscribe to Nutrition Nuggets

Comments  3

Leave Comment
  • Cats and Water
    08/24/2012 07:32am

    One can never tell where a cat is going to enjoy a drink of water.

    Although there are five places around the house with dishes of clean water (all are washed daily), several of my critters prefer the dripping tub faucet.

    All toilet lids are kept closed to keep cats out.

    Oddly, none are at all interested in drinking from a cat fountain.

  • 08/24/2012 02:45pm

    @TheOldBroad, we have found the same experience in that fountains just don't cut it, and we have gone through a lot of cats in our time.

    What we find works best is water put in 'grazing' spots throughout the house, as cats don't necessarily like to drink where they eat.

    We use containers the size of 4 pound margerine containers as the cats seem to prefer those, and water is kept cold longer. I have found some cats love ice in the water and others prefer to find a warm source. The cats that like cold sometimes like to play with the ice, (@ 3.28.08): http://pat-fearlessfosdick.blogspot.ca/2007/10/new-boy-in-town.html

    We did used to offer both the raised buckets and the fountain, (seen here: http://andtheboys.blogspot.ca/), but trying to maintain the fountain was a waste of time and space so we dropped the idea of fountains. It is a good thing the cats are like that as it gets quite expensive when you have multiple cats, just to maintain the fountains satisfactorily.

  • 08/24/2012 06:36pm

    Thanks for the tip! I'll try adding some watering stations in a couple of non-food spots and see if anyone likes the idea.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.