As a proud cat mom, I was thrust into this gray area when one of my boys received a surprise dehydration diagnosis at his latest check-up. I was given a dose of veterinary wisdom (basically I was schooled) and was able to get Foo Foo’s issues under control relatively quick with a few subtle changes.
So how much water should a cat drink in a day? Most domestic cats require between 3.5 and 5 ounces of water daily per 5 pounds of body weight. So if your cat weighs 10 pounds, they should be getting at least 7 to 10 ounces of water daily to maintain optimal hydration.
Of course, a cat’s needs are not a one size fits all and there are some adjustments needed in certain cases.
The amount of water your cat needs on daily basis can vary based on a number of factors including:
- Diet – A cat exclusively fed dry kibble requires more freshwater than a cat who only eats wet food.
- Age – A younger cat requires additional water intake to remain hydrated due to their increased activity levels. Older cats may also require extra water due to less efficient organ systems.
- Breed – Every breed has its own biological makeup and special needs.
- Medical Conditions – A history of bladder stones is cause for upping a cat’s water intake and monitoring their diet carefully.
Luckily, the drinking habits of cats can be explained with a bit of science.
Cats used to survive as desert hunters before they were domesticated. The blood of mice and other rodents were their main source of water.
Modern-day, domesticated cats don’t have those options anymore.
How Diet Affects Water Intake
If you have a 10-pound cat, they should be consuming between 7 – 10 ounces of water, or about half an average bottle of water. I say “consume,” since cats don’t need to get their water just by drinking.
It’s mainly in the food you give them.
A rough estimate of water content by food type is:
- Kibble is the dry, crunchy food that often comes in a bag.
- This is usually a pate or shredded meat concoction that comes in cans or pouches.
- This is a diet of organs and meat. This can be provided by humans or caught in the garden by your cat.
Clearly, a cat that eats only dry cat food will need to drink mostly water.
A formula provided by veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Coates further breaks down how the amount of food consumed translates to how much water they should be drinking from a bowl or fountain daily.
Based on her formula, a 10-pound adult cat on a canned food requires, roughly, one-third cup of fresh water daily in addition to her food.
If your cat was eating dry food, she would require a full cup of fresh water daily plus her kibble.
This water content is a major factor in maintaining proper hydration.
Wet food certainly gets you the most bang for your buck. It hydrates your cat while satisfying their hunger and its better for their dental health.
Not all cats have tummies that can tolerate a diet of strictly wet food, dry or even cooked… so figure out what works best for your cat.
How To Keep Track of a Cat’s Water Intake
In addition to utilizing Dr. Coates’ formula to calculate how much water your cat’s getting from food alone, you can also carefully measure out the difference of water in their bowl.
If the bowl is empty by day’s end, you know your cat is drinking a good amount (unless they tipped it of course!).
If you simply want to monitor your cats daily intake without worrying about measuring, mark the bowl with tape or a marker for reference.
Fill the bowl the same amount daily and note how much they’ve had by day’s end. If you’re not consistently offering the same amount, this method won’t work.
This obviously isn’t an option for multi-cat households either.
If you’re concerned about your cat’s intake and do live in a multi-cat household, I recommend isolating the cat of concern and monitoring their drinking in one of the ways mentioned above.
Document your findings and if you notice a pattern of concern, contact your veterinarian and share your notes.
Having this info will help your cat and make your vet’s life easy!
What Happens When Your Cat Doesn’t Get Enough Water?
Be sure to always offer cool, clean water to your cat.
Dehydration is the body’s inability to carry out its normal functions due to a lack of water or fluid. This condition is especially dangerous in kittens and seniors.
In some cases, dehydration in cats can be caused by underlying health conditions such as:
- Kidney disease
What Are The General Symptoms Of Dehydration in Cats?
Cats are masters at disguising pain and discomfort.
This is clearly why I had no idea Foo Foo was sick.
Some may physically hide under a bed or in a closet, though not all cats practice this dramatic change in behavior.
The changes may be subtle but you can spot dehydration in cats by watching for the following telltale signs:
- Lethargy: Your cat may be extra sleepy and not as playful as usual. They may be moving slower and avoiding going up the stairs or traveling far.
- Loss of appetite: Your cat may avoid eating its food and treats even with prompting.
- Infrequent urination: If your cat is urinating less than two times a day, there is cause for concern. Always scoop their litter daily. The fastest way to spot trouble inside your cat is inside their litter box. It’s gross, but it’s true.
- Sticky gums: Your cat’s gums will not be slick to the touch. This is caused by a lack of saliva due to dehydration.
- Panting: A rarity, but a panting cat is overheating or in respiratory distress. This is cause for immediate concern and your cat should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
- Sunken eyes: Your cat’s eyes will appear dull and shallow in their sockets.
- Decreased skin elasticity: If you scruff your cat, the skin should sink back into place quickly when released. If it does not, your cat may be dehydrated. The same is true with humans. Try pinching the skin on the back of your hand.
- Dull coat: A cat with a dull, flaky coat might be experiencing frequent bouts of dehydration.
- Elevated heart rate: If your cat’s heart is racing while resting with no obvious reason, this is cause for concern.
When Should You Call the Vet?
If you feel your cat is dehydrated, see a vet as soon as possible to avoid potential complications.
Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your cat and may run additional diagnostic tests such as a blood panel and urine analysis.
These tests calculate:
- Kidney and liver enzymes
- Glucose levels
- Red and white blood cell counts
- Your vet may also test your cat’s thyroid hormone levels
If your vet orders a take-home urine sample, you will have some not-so-fun homework.
It certainly isn’t pleasant to harvest urine but it’s for your cat’s health and well-being.
How to get a urine sample from a cat?
- If you have more than one cat, isolate your cat. You want to be sure you’re collecting the right cat’s urine!
- Thoroughly clean your litter box to remove any possible contaminants and prepare for collection. A fresh sample is best (you can’t get it from just any old litter.)
- Line the litter box with a non-absorbing material like silica crystals or shredded plastic bags. You need the urine to easily pour into a glass jar. This can’t be done if it’s clumped or absorbed in any way.
- Once your cat urinates you can collect the urine in a clean glass jar or tube supplied by your vet. It’s not fun or glamorous by any means, but gloves make the experience a whole lot easier. Try to wear a face mask if you’re easily bothered by smells.
It will stink.
It’s cat pee after all!
Try to get the sample to the vet within one hour of collection if possible. Otherwise, refrigerate for up to 12 hours before delivery.
Your vet needs a fresh sample.
The fresher the better.
Cats most prone to dehydration are:
- nursing mothers
If you have a cat that falls into any of those categories, carefully monitor their intake to avoid it.
Treating Dehydration In Cats At Home
You can treat dehydration with your cat at home by simply getting a fountain water dish. This may help keep water fresh, fun and interesting enough to encourage your cat to drink.
Your veterinarian may suggest switching to wet food too. Keep a cool, sheltered area available to your cat to prevent overheating.
If your cat’s case of dehydration is mild and their organs are functioning properly, your vet may simply encourage you to give more water.
A quick fix is always better than worrying about our babes.
If your cat’s dehydration is more advanced or if they have an underlying disease or illness, your veterinarian may administer subcutaneous fluids and/or additional medications and therapies.
By administering fluids, your vet is replenishing your cat’s body with electrolytes and water.
It may seem scary to us, but it’s the fastest way to bring the body back to optimal hydration.
With subcutaneous fluids, you may see a lump where they were administered.
This is normal and it will subside in time.
The body has to absorb the fluids and disperse.
Subcutaneous fluids are frequently needed by cats suffering from kidney disease.
Some owners opt to learn to do the treatment at home for convenience while others prefer to have the vet administer them.
This decision is entirely up to you and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re not comfortable, stick with the vet.
If additional care is required, your vet will discuss a treatment plan that is best for your cat and their condition.
Always ask your vet any questions you may have.
There is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your pet’s health.
Is My Cat Drinking Too Much Water?
On the flip side, drinking too much water isn’t a good thing either for your cat.
A cat that is drinking too much may gorge itself on water, emptying small water bowls quickly.
The affected cat will also urinate frequently, completely saturating their litter box.
If you suspect that your cat is drinking an excessive amount of water, make a vet appointment as soon as possible.
This could be indicative of a serious illness such as diabetes or kidney disease.
This can be just as life-threatening as dehydration.
Here 15 Tips That Will Help Encourage Your Cat To Drink More Water
If you have a stubborn cat that turns its nose up to its water bowl…
These tips can be used if you need to get your can to drink more water, even if they are sick:
- Maintain A Clean Water Bowl. Cleaning your cat’s water bowl daily will eliminate bacteria and potential mildew issues. It will also make water more enticing to a picky kitty. Cats want fresh, clean water just like us.
- Keep the bowl filled: Fill’r Up! Cats are finicky creatures with incredibly sensitive whiskers. They aren’t fans of forcing them into a bowl to reach water that may be low. Keep the bowl topped off if you can so they can easily lap up what they need without shoving their face in a dish.
- Location Location Location. Your cat may not like the current location of their water bowl. Maybe it’s by a scary refrigerator or a vent that kicks on throughout the day. Try moving the bowl to see if that helps. Avoid high traffic areas such as by the front or back door. Steer clear of the litter area as well. No one wants to drink near a toilet.
- Introduce Additional Water Bowls Around The House. This can be a game changer in a multi-cat house. Maybe one of your kitties doesn’t like sharing a bowl with their bro or sis. Maybe they spend most of her day lounging in the upstairs office. Whatever it may be, try coaxing your cat with additional options.
- Plop Some Ice Cubes In Their Bowl. Time to cool off… Cats are curious creatures and a bobbing chunk of ice may intrigue them. Most cats enjoy the rattle of the ice in their bowl and will happily lap up their fancy new ice water.
- Try A Variety Of Bowls, Cups Or Mugs. Your cat may hate the new refillable bowl you purchased. It’s convenient for you, but maybe each water bubble glub gives your cat a heart attack. Perhaps the sides are too high. Think of anything that might dissuade your cat from using your current bowl and try a new style. Remember that plastic can have an off-putting flavor.
- Purchase A Water Fountain. These offer a continuous stream of fresh water. Your cat may be more tempted to lap up with a water fountain, like the PetSafe DrinkWell.
- Change Your Water Supply. Cats can be just as picky about their water as people. Maybe your tap water tastes too metallic or chlorinated to them. Maybe they dislike the well water you’ve been offering. You could try offering filtered or bottled water if available.
Special Note: “Public water supplies in 42 U.S. states are contaminated with 141 unregulated chemicals for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has never established safety standards, according to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Also, many areas of the U.S. have hard water that increases the likelihood of stones and crystals (FLUTD) developing in your kitty, leading to pain, discomfort, surgery, or even death if kitty blocks.”
For more information, please see: “Clean Water”: by Lisa Provost at IBDkitties.
- Offer Wet Food. As mentioned above, cats acquire a portion of their water from their diet. If you don’t already offer it, try giving your cat some wet food. You can even add a small amount of water to it for added intake.
- Feed Smaller Amounts Throughout The Day. Rather than feeding your cat all at once, try spreading their meals out through the day. This may trigger them to drink more often with each meal.
- Enhance Their Water With Some Flavoring. Add a small amount of broth or fish juice to their water. The smell will certainly get their attention and should tickle their taste buds. Always keep a separate bowl of fresh water available as well. Be sure to dispose of any leftover flavored water before bed. Fishy water can stink up the house and potentially spread bacteria. As always, examine ingredients and make sure no toxic ingredients like garlic or onion are present.
- Create Tasty Ice Cubes For A Yummy (and Hydrating!) Treat. Freeze broth, tuna or clam juice with some water to create delicious frozen snacks. Place in your cat’s water bowl or a separate container for them to enjoy. Rinse thoroughly once consumed to avoid harmful bacteria or foul odors.
Here’s a simple recipe I found from FoodFurLife:
– Bring the contents of a six ounce can of salmon, tuna, or two smaller tins of sardines (packed in water) or a cup of ground meat to boil in 2 cups of water.
– Simmer for 10 minutes.
– Strain through a cheesecloth into an ice cube tray.
– Freeze the liquid.
Running Water. I feel this is one of the best ways to get your cat to drink. Run water from a faucet and I bet they’ll come running. Many cats prefer running water. An interesting theory in a survey by Purina speculates that “cats avoid standing water because they have learned to associate still water with possible contamination with bacteria and parasites.”
- Adding Ice Cubes To Food: Maybe you could try adding an ice cube with your cat’s food. Being next to the food, the cube will take on the smell and your cat could lick it.
- If your cat has kidney disease/renal failure you would need to make sure they are Drinking 5 oz for every 5 pounds of water and then some. They’ll need help with removing toxins/waste from their blood. You’ll need to, either, have your vet administer Subcutaneous (SQ or Sub Q) fluids (possibly with a potassium supplement) or you could do it at home.
Ensuring your cat receives adequate water is part of ownership. Keeping them healthy and hydrated can protect them against dangerous health issues and complications.
A healthy kitty means a happy fur family.
Does your cat drink enough water?
How do you make sure they’re getting the right amount?
What tricks to you have up your sleeve when it comes to getting their drink on?
Let me know in the comments below!