Getting Cats To Drink Water

Updated November 29, 2020

Sometimes cats don’t drink enough, and we worry. Sometimes they drink too much and we worry more! Cats’ drinking habits give us more worries than almost anything else.

Why Don’t Cats Drink Enough Water?

We often do annual blood testing in healthy cats, and you’d be surprised at the number that are mildly dehydrated. These cats are putting themselves at risk of urinary tract disease. Why?

My theory is that we aren’t offering water the same way cats want it. In the wild, nearly all of the water they need comes the animals they catch and eat. If and when they do drink, it’s from a natural source, and well away from competition and potential predators.

Yet we offer biscuits with no more than 10% water and expect cats to drink from bowls convenient to us. Here is our advice on how to encourage your cat to drink:

Ten Tips To Get Your Cat To Drink More Water

  • Pay attention to what your cat likes. Some cats aren’t fussy, but most have distinct preferences. The chlorine in Adelaide water isn’t harmful to cats but the fact that it can kill aquarium fish should be a lesson. Some cats just won’t drink properly unless given filtered or spring water. Some cats like standing water like that in ponds or pools. Others love to drink from running taps or the shower or bath. My cat The Puss always preferred the glass of water we left on our bedside table.
  • Change the water daily. Give the bowl a clean as well, and if using detergent, rinse it before refilling. Watch out using water dispensers as these can get quite filthy.
  • Put water in several places. Cats are more likely to drink if they don’t have to travel too far and if they don’t have to walk past a cat or dog to get there.
  • Avoid putting water right next to food. Cats drop biscuits and contaminate the water when they drink
  • Avoid water near litter trays. We all do this, but imagine if we kept our water in the toilet!
  • Experiment with bowls. Some plastics may taint water, as can some metals or ceramics. Many cats like large bowls filled nearly to the top so they don’t have to put their head in the bowl.
  • Put water bowls in a safe zone. Wild cats have predators who wait near water sources. Cats need to feel safe especially from behind before they put their head down to drink.
  • Use a cat drinking fountain? In theory cats prefer moving to still water. However, a 2019 study found that neither falling or circulating water bowls increased water consumption in cats.
  • Use moist foods, milk or stock? Actually, these aren’t much of a solution. Canned foods are often lower quality, and moistening dry biscuits can reduce their attractiveness. You can buy Hills and Royal Canin wet foods though. Flavouring the water just doesn’t seem to help.
  • Feed quality foods. I once changed a dehydrated cat from Hills dry biscuits to a cheaper canned food and the dehydration got worse. We feel that the salt content in many cheaper cat foods is almost scandalous and may in time contribute to kidney problems.

What about the opposite problem? When this happens, there’s almost certainly something wrong.

What Causes Cats To Drink A Lot Of Water?

When cats drink more than they used to, there is usually a good reason. If you suspect that your cat’s water consumption has risen, don’t hesitate to contact us. Most of the time it’s a disease which can be controlled as long as we find out what it is.

Here are the most common reasons for increased thirst. All of these can be easily detected by a combination of a physical checkup, blood and urine tests.

  • Chronic Kidney Disease. This is manageable as long as your cat doesn’t stay undiagnosed for too long. ‘Chronic’ means that the disease develops over a timeframe of months to years.
  • Hyperthyroidism. Also called an over active thyroid, this disease is caused by excessive thyroid hormone being produced. It can be treated very easily and responds well, but untreated will often lead to hypertensive diseases, heart or kidney failure.
  • Diabetes mellitus. Cats get sugar diabetes very commonly, mostly at a mature age. Again, our understanding of diabetes treatment has come a long way and most cats live out their normal lifespan after diagnosis.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease. In this common feline disease, cats lose excessive water in their faeces, often going unnoticed, which causes a compensatory increase in water intake.
  • Dietary Causes. A ‘normal’ reason for increased thirst could be if you have changed the diet from wet to dry foods. This is the least likely answer so please get your cat checked regardless.

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!


2 Replies to “Getting Cats To Drink Water”

  1. I save the water from an opened tin of tuna for my cat. I always buy the ‘dolphin-friendly’ tuna packed in ‘springwater’. This may only be a once-a-week treat, but in combination when turning on the tap for him whenever he wants it …. I trust he remains hydrated.

  2. Canned food is great! It has lots of moisture and preoitn, much like a cat’s natural diet would be. Read the ingredients and look for one with no wheat and no by-products. If you really want the best, look for a grain free variety such as Wellness CORE, EVO, Blue Wilderness, Taste of the Wild, Felidae’s grain free option, etc. If it’s in your budget and your schedule, skip the dry food altogether. If you want to continue with dry food, the brands listed above also have some great options.

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