by Bernard Lima-Chavez
Talking about cat hydration and making sure you cat is drinking enough water may not seem exciting, but it is an important topic for any cat pet parent. Dehydration is nothing to sniff at! In fact, it is a serious medical issue that can be caused by many things, including lack of interest in drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, heat stroke, diabetes (which causes excess urination), kidney disease and other conditions.
The good news is that there are several creative ways to encourage your cat to drink enough water so that she or he can stay healthy, as well as easy ways to identify dehydration early so your cat can get the right treatment before things get worse!
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM
The average healthy cat needs approximately 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight every day. So, if your cat weighs eight pounds, she or he needs approximately 8 ounces of water (1 cup) every day.
This is an estimate which may vary depending on each cat’s activity level, the temperature of the cat’s environment, and his or her unique physical needs. Another important factor is the type of food the cat is eating. Feline practitioner Dr. Arnold Plotnick, founder and medical director of Manhattan Cat Specialists, says, “Cats that eat canned food tend to take in less [water], because there’s already a lot of water in the food. Cats that eat dry food tend to drink more water. “
One of the easiest and most important ways to make sure your cat is drinking enough water is make sure she or he always has fresh, clean water available. “Cats often like fresh water,” says Dr. Plotnick, “so don’t just add water to a bowl in which the level has dropped. Dump out the whole bowl, wipe out the slime from the bottom of the bowl, and fill it with fresh, cool water.”
If you have any doubts, ask yourself: When you’re thirsty, do you grab a half-filled dirty glass out of the sink, or do you reach for a clean glass from your cupboard and fill it with fresh, cool water?
Cats are curious by nature. In order to ensure you cat is properly hydrated, you can take advantage of this curiosity by offering water in different types of containers and in different locations throughout your home.
“Some cats are fascinated when water is presented in an unconventional way,” Dr. Plotnick explained. “For example, if I leave a glass of water unattended on the coffee table, my cat will stick her face in it and start drinking. If I ever needed to encourage her to drink, I’d start leaving glasses of water on the coffee table.”
Another method that works for some cats, he said, is by “placing a bowl of water in a new location, like the corner of the living room or the bedroom; [it] may pique a cat’s interest and get them to drink.”
By offering water in different types of containers or in different rooms, you actually accomplish two important goals at the same time: In addition to encouraging your cat to drink enough water to stay healthy, you also are providing an enriching environment that all cats need in order to stay happy and healthy.
Pet water fountains are a great solution for cats that are drawn to running water. According to Dr. Plotnick, “Many cats are attracted to flowing water, so a fountain-type water bowl can encourage more drinking.” In addition to providing a source of circulating, running water that is much more environmentally friendly than leaving a faucet running, many pet water fountains include water filters to help ensure that your cat is drinking the cleanest, freshest water possible. But just like bowls, pet water fountains also need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
Occasionally adding a small amount of low-fat, low-sodium broth (chicken or beef) to your cat’s water bowl can tempt your cat to drink more water. If your cat enjoys cold water or is drawn to ice cubes, you can pour some of the diluted broth into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Simply toss a cube or two into your cat’s water bowl when you change the water. This is another example of helping to keep your cat hydrated while providing enrichment in one fell swoop!
One of the easiest ways to make sure your cat stays hydrated is to offer canned food every day. Canned food has a much higher concentration of water and, since most cats will move mountains to get to the moist, meaty flavor and texture of canned food, this is one of the easiest ways to increase your cat’s water intake every day. You can even add a little fresh water or diluted broth to the canned food to further increase the amount of water your cat is consuming.
There are several signs of dehydration; a few of the most common ones include:
- Dry gums
- Decreased skin elasticity – lightly pinching the cat’s skin at the shoulders results in “tenting” of the skin before it slowly goes back into place
- Loss of appetite
- Sunken eyes
- Producing less urine than normal (although some diseases cause cats to produce more urine, which may cause dehydration)
If you suspect your cat isn’t drinking enough water, try some of the tips discussed earlier. If these do not seem to work or if you cat exhibits any of the warning signs of dehydration, it is important to call your veterinarian immediately. Your cat’s doctor will examine your cat and run some diagnostic tests to determine if the cat is dehydrated or not. If your cat is dehydrated, immediate medical attention is required to both identify the underlying cause and to begin to correct your cat’s hydration level.
Left untreated, dehydration can cause serious secondary health issues. If you are concerned at all that your cat may be dehydrated, the best first step is to call your veterinarian immediately!