Is My Cat Drinking Enough Water?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

17 September 2016

A saucer of milk is often thought of as the classic cat treat, but this couldn’t be further from the truth - most cats are lactose intolerant and if they had an ounce of self-control they’d probably ask you to keep the milk to yourself. What cats really need is regular water. It might not be exciting, but you better believe it’s true.

How much water is enough?

In the days before human servants, when they were forced to hunt for themselves (how degrading), cats would get most of their hydration from eating their prey. For this reason, domestic cats actually have quite a low thirst drive, and will not actively look for water. Even if there is plenty of water available, your finicky kitty may not be drinking enough.

Water is especially important in our warm Australian climate - your cat will need between 60 and 120ml per day, depending on diet and activity levels. When you change your cat’s water in the morning, check how much they drank the previous day. If your cat isn’t having enough water it may be dehydrated.

How can I tell if my cat is dehydrated?

Cats are generally pretty secretive, and very good at hiding what ails them. However, there are a couple of simple tests to check if your kitty is dehydrated:

  1. Pinch your cat’s skin and stretch it out a little bit (don’t worry, it won’t hurt). When you let go, the skin should immediately return to normal. If it stays tented, your kitty may be dehydrated.
  2. Press your cat’s gums with your thumb. The gum will turn white, but should go back to pink within a second or two. If it takes longer, your kitty may be dehydrated.

Other possible signs of dehydration include:

  • Change in frequency of urinating (2-3 times a day is normal for a cat)
  • Recent bout of vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Dry coat and skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Panting
  • Increased heart rate

Dehydration in the long term can lead to a number of very serious, sometimes fatal health problems, including urinary tract disease and kidney disease.

How do I get my cat to drink more?

The cure for dehydration is piped directly into your home every single day. The hard part, as every human knows, is getting your cat to do what you want it to. Fortunately, we are amateur feline psychologists, and have collected these handy tips for watering your cat:

  • Feed your cat water

It’s not as crazy as it sounds! Most wet foods are around 78% water, mimicking the liquid content of prey in the wild. Slowly introduce wet food into your cat’s dry food to reduce the amount it needs to drink. You could also try mixing a small amount of water into dry food, although be careful as it will tend to develop bacteria if left out all day. Finally, some treats, like sardines and melon (yes, melon) can be a great water supplement.

  • Appeasing a fussy cat

For most cats, it will be enough to change their water every day. Some felines are more picky than others however. You might find your cat prefers distilled water, or doesn’t like its plastic bowl. Give fussy felines a clean steel, ceramic or glass bowl. Or better yet, give them a selection of bowls scattered around the house. The more water there is around, the more likely your cat is to take the plunge.

  • Make drinking time fun, tasty or both

A lot of kitties seem to have a real fascination with running water - you may have noticed your cat staring intently at a running faucet. Instead of leaving the tap running all day, however, consider saving on your water bill with one of our pawesome drinking fountains: your cat won’t be able to resist! You could also try adding a couple of ice cubes to the bowl: they’re fun to bat around, and make the water refreshingly cool to boot. If you’re feeling really frisky, freeze some (onion-free) broth and use it for extra flavouring. You could also try adding a small amount of tuna brine, although we can’t promise you’ll love the fishy smell as much as your cat.

My cat is drinking too much!

It’s quite rare and unusual for a cat to over-hydrate. It could be because of too much salt in your cat’s diet, or because it’s exceptionally hot. Whatever, the case, if your cat is drinking more than a cup (250ml) of water a day, you should take it to your vet.

Drinking water is one thing, but if you want a cat that loves to swim in it, check out the Maine Coon or Norwegian Forest cat. Or, if you want more information on feline health, check out our Healthy Cat Checklist.


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