For a lot of us, our water bottle is never far away—it's as much a part of us as our phone or our favorite sunglasses. But cats can't carry around a little fanny pack of water to drink from whenever they want it (although can you imagine the marketing potential if they could?) Cats seem fine when it comes to lapping up water when they want it, but many people may never see their cats drinking water! Why is this?
If you never seem to see your cat drink water, or at lease not very often, it can be hard to know if they are getting enough of it. Cats get water from a variety of sources depending on their lifestyle, such as whether they eat dry food or have a wet food diet, or if they are catching live prey outdoors or not. But no matter what, cats need fresh water to be healthy.
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Cats' diets and water
Looking back into history, before cats joined humans as companions, cats always found their food and water in the environment. According to the Library of Congress, domesticated cats have an ancestor in a North African/Southwest Asian wildcat. Cat domestication began in the Fertile Crescent, which is the Middle East, and moved to Egypt. All of these areas are arid, desert regions.
Chances are good that there wasn't a lot of fresh water in their environment. They had to drink water, of course, but they probably got their moisture requirements from the prey they caught. Nowadays, our house cats typically get either dry food, a wet food diet, or some combination of the two. It's worth experimenting a little to see if there's a drinking water set-up your cat prefers. Just like all cats have their own scratching style and some of them like a different type of scratching post, some cats may like a different water station.
The Royal Canin site says that commercial dry food contains a maximum of 10% moisture, while a wet food diet supplies about 80% of a cat's water needs. If a cat gets both, they may be getting about half or so of the amount of water they need.
How much water do cats need?
Typical recommendations are that a cat requires about a quarter cup of water per 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of bodyweight daily. For a 10-pound cat, this is two and a quarter cups of water per day. They can get this water requirement from fresh water in their bowls, eating wet food or dry. food or some combination, or also from any prey they might catch. If a 9-pound cat eats nothing but wet food, their water needs can be fully met from food alone.
Royal Canin says a 9-pound cat eating nothing but a wet food diet food may only need to drink about a quarter cup of water per day. A 9-pound cat eating only dry food would need to drink more than three quarters of a cup of water per day. An active outdoor cat will have higher food and water requirements than a more sedentary indoor cat.
Dehydration does play a role in kidney and urinary tract health. The Animal Endocrine Clinic says that cats have a low thirst drive will often not drink enough water, even when they are thirsty. Instead, they rely on their food as a water source. A cat on a wet food diet consumes approximately twice the amount of water that a cat eating dry food.
Water sources for cats
There are a few ways to encourage your cat to drink more water, and some don't even involve water at all! For instance, if you are draining a can of tuna or canned chicken for a sandwich for yourself, don't let that delicious liquid just go down the drain. Pour it into a bowl for your cat or pour it over her food. She'll surely love the treat and will get a few spoonfuls of water that way.
Experiment with the types of bowl that you offer your cat your cat might like glass or metal over plastic. Most cats like a smaller bowl so they don't have to put their whole head inside to drink. If you've ever noticed that your cat likes to drink from your water glass, why not set one aside just for him, if you can do so safely?
Even more to think about is that the placement of their water bowl, which may seem to not matter to us, may be very important to them. If they have to drink with their back turned to another cat, a child, or a dog who may pounce on it, your cat may feel cornered and not want to drink from its bowl. Cats also like to have their water bowls cleaned and refreshed each day, or even more than once a day if your cat is particularly picky.
You can also increase the number of water bowls in your home. For instance, put one, or more, upstairs and downstairs. Or put several bowls out all over, wherever in the house your cat likes to hang out. If you have more than one cat, increase the number of bowls. Some experts say that cats will drink more water if their water bowl is not right next to their food bowl. Likewise, they may not like the "double bowl" type dishes where the water and food bowl is connected.
Moving water for cats
Some cats do seem to like drinking from moving water rather than from water bowls. One interesting reason why might be that cats can't see still water very well. Cats may might be suspicious of water in a bowl simply because of what their evolutionary instincts might be telling them: running water is generally safer and more bacteria-free than water that's been stagnant in a puddle or pond. Which would you prefer to drink?
Cats may prefer running water because they can hear it. It's probably not practical to leave your faucet running all day, but you can purchase a battery-operated or electric water fountain for cats that circulates water. In the warmer months, add some ice cubes help to both cool the water and provide a source of entertainment.
Another creative idea is placing a ping pong ball inside a larger bowl full of fresh water, perhaps a pie plate or other shallow bowl. Some cats might be intrigued enough by the movement of the ball that they will investigate and drink. It may also help move the water around and allow them to see it better.
What to do if your cat is dehydrated
As you have figured out, you can't tell how much water your cat is getting just from watching what they drink. They could be drinking when you're not home, or when you're sleeping, and you just would never know. On the other hand, they might not be drinking at all, and you'd never know that either.
When you clean and fill their water bowls each day, measure how much you add and then measure how much is left at the end of the day. Unless you have more than one pet, this could be a simple way of determining how much water your cat is actually drinking. Add some wet food to their diet.
Cats are masters at hiding their true condition from other animals and from their humans. If your cat is not drinking enough water, you may not know until you start to see signs of a more serious problem such as kidney. disease. Look for these signs of dehydration in a cat:
- Loose skin that doesn't "snap back" when you pull on it
- Dry, tacky or sticky gums
- Depression or lethargy
- Loss of Appetite:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Sunken eyes
- Rapid heart rate
- Less urination
Cats evolved in a desert landscape and got most of their water requirements from their prey. In today's world, however, they need to drink fresh water that we provide for them. Commercial dry food contains a maximum of 10% moisture, while a wet food diet supplies about 80% of a cat's water needs. If a cat gets both, they could be in good shape, and may be drinking water only when they need to or want to.
Not all cats like to drink water though, so if your cat is dehydrated or you want to make sure he doesn't get dehydrated, here are some tips:
- Provide your cat with the water drained from you can of tuna or canned chicken.
- Experiment with a different material for your cat's water bowl.
- Change the placement of your cat's water bowl.
- Increase the number of water bowls in your home.
- Provide a circulated water bowl for fresh, moving water.
- Add an ice cube occasionally or a ping pong ball for visual interest and entertainment.
- Library of Congress: How Did Cats Become Domesticated?
- Royal Canin: The Water Requirements and Drinking Habits of Cats
- Animal Endocrine Clinic : Dietary Management of Cats with Kidney Disease
- International Cat Care: How to Encourage Your Cat to Drink
- Vet Street: Why Does My Cat... Drink From Weird Places Like the Faucet or the Bathtub?
- Preventive Vet: My Cat Won’t Drink: How Much Water Cats Need & Dehydration Prevention