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Why Your Cat Needs to Drink More Water

By Lorie Huston , DVM

As remarkable as it may seem, the domestic cats that currently share our homes and fill our hearts evolved from a desert-dwelling species. Though there are many differences between those original ancestors and the cats we currently keep as our pets, one thing that has not changed is the ability of our domestic cats to produce strongly concentrated urine as well as a low thirst drive in many cats.

Why Does Water Consumption Matter?

A cat's ability to concentrate urine enables her to be able to survive on small quantities of water. However, this is not an ideal situation. Water is an essential nutrient. All cats need sufficient quantities of water to survive.

Cats that consume little water can easily become dehydrated, leading to a variety of issues. Cats that do not stay hydrated may suffer from urinary tract disease, including kidney disease and lower urinary tract disease, which can be present in many forms. Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis) is common. Bladder stones are possible and can lead to life-threatening urethral blockages, particularly in male cats. Contrary to popular belief, urinary tract infection is actually not very typical in cats less than 10 years of age. However, younger cats can suffer from various other urinary tract diseases. 

How Can I Encourage My Cat to Drink More Water?

There are several ways to encourage your cat to drink more water. Here are some suggestions:

  • Feed your cat a canned diet. Canned cat food has a much higher moisture content than kibble. By feeding a wet diet, your cat is actually consuming water in his food.
  • Add water to your cat’s kibble. You should add the water approximately half an hour before feeding to allow the kibble to soak up the water. If your cat balks at eating the water-soaked kibble, start by adding a very small quantity of water and gradually increase the quantity added as your cat becomes accustomed to the wet texture of the diet.
  • Mix canned food with dry or feeding a combination of the two. If your cat is accustomed to eating kibble and avoids canned food, feeding a combination will allow your cat time to adjust to eating canned.  With time, you can gradually change the ratio so that canned food makes up a greater portion of the diet. You can also try feeding the canned and dry foods in separate side-by-side dishes. Either way, go slow when changing your cat’s diet. Do not try to “starve” your cat into eating the new diet or allow your cat to refuse to eat for long periods of time. Cats that do not eat regularly can develop a serious liver disease called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. 
  • Make sure your cat has fresh, clean water available at all times. Keep the water bowl clean and free of debris.
  • Drop some ice cubes in the water dish. This is especially successful if your cat prefers cold water.
  • Provide sources of running water. A water fountain can provide an attractive option for cats that prefer to "hunt" for water. Some cat water fountains even provide a "waterfall" which can prove to be quite tempting for adventurous cats.
  • Allow a water faucet to drip slowly. It may not be the most efficient way, but some cats enjoy drinking from a faucet and even prefer to get their water from a water faucet.

If you suspect that your cat is not drinking enough water, has become dehydrated, or if your cat is experiencing changes in behavior, consult your veterinarian.

Image: Pukhov Konstantin / via Shutterstock

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