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Tips To Increase Your Cat’s Water Intake

Nov 4, 2013 · Updated Oct 3, 2016 · ·
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  1. Anne
    The need for cats to consume plenty of water cannot be emphasized enough.
    Marginal chronic dehydration over a lifetime -
    • stresses the kidneys. Kidney failure is the most common cause of illness and death in cats.
    • creates an environment ripe for urinary tract and bladder issues, termed “Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease” (FLUTD).
    It is well known that our pet cats were originally desert animals. They rarely drank water and historically ate a fresh food diet of prey that had a 70% – 75% moisture content. Our cats did not evolve a “thirst drive” similar to that in humans or dogs.

    Yes, many cats drink water. But do they drink enough water?

    How Much Water Is Enough?

    According to the Nutrition Research Council's "Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats", (on which AAFCO nutrient requirements are based), a cat can maintain a hydrated state as long as the moisture level of the food meets or exceeds 63%, as fed.

    The moisture content of cat foods varies dramatically:
    Moisture Content (as fed)
    Dry Food
    6 – 10%​
    Canned Food
    65% - 75%​
    Raw Food
    70% - 75%​

    If you are feeding canned or raw food with no dry food, your cat is consuming plenty of water.

    All dry kibble-only diets create a state of chronic dehydration unless your cat consumes the required amount of water. Generally speaking, to equal the amount of water a cat eating a canned-food only diet consumes, a cat eating dry food needs to consume one cup (8oz / 240ml) of water a day. To maintain a minimum "adequate" level of hydration, kitty needs to drink more than half a cup daily.

    Tips to Increase Water Intake

    • Whatever you are feeding your cat, add water to it. Because kibble may have issues with bacterial contaminants, do not leave water-soaked kibble out for more than half an hour. In extremely hot environments, reduce the time to 10 or 15 minutes.
    • Use a timed feeder with a dish of water next to it. According to Broadway Veterinary Hospital & Laser Surgery Center, research has shown that the most successful way to get cats eating dry food only to consume more water is to feed them using an automatic timed feeder. Set it so that it gives very small amounts of food on a regular, timed interval. Cats will come to the feeder in anticipation of the next meal once they learn the schedule. Place a dish of water next to the timed feeder. As cats wait for the food to drop, they will drink some water. Many will frequently eat a few pieces of kibble, drink more water, and then eat more kibble, etc. “When blood work is checked, these cats consistently maintain much more adequate hydration than any other method of feeding a dry only diet.”
    • Clean water dishes at least daily. Cats are easily turned off by odors on the edge of the bowl and are very aware of the temperature and taste of water.
    • Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel dishes. Some cats prefer shallow dishes (like a glass pie plate). Experiment – or better yet, offer several different types at all times.
    • Rather than provide one water dish, provide numerous small water dishes in diverse locations throughout your home, reducing your cat’s need to go out of her way to find the water.
    • Make sure the dish is filled to the brim. Cats have very sensitive whiskers and do not like putting their faces into a bowl.
    • Some cats do not like the taste of tap water, depending upon how it’s treated where you live. If you do not have filtered water at home, consider trying various bottled waters.
    • Provide your cat with moving water via a water fountain. Clean it at least weekly (assuming it has a filter. If not, clean it daily).
    • Some cats avoid the water dish because they have a difficult time seeing the water level. Add a ping pong ball or fishing bobble to float on the water surface.
    • If you feed only dry food, consider providing one or two canned food meals or snacks daily. You can add warm water to the food to increase water intake.
    • Most cats enjoy “baby food soup” as a treat. Mix a teaspoon of meat-only baby food with up to one-quarter cup of water. Warm water will enhance the flavor. (Baby food is not a balanced diet for a cat and should not exceed 10% of the total daily food intake).
    • Add a drop or two of tuna water or clam juice to the water dish. If you decide to try this, always make sure a separate bowl of plain, fresh water is available. (Tuna “juice” is the water in canned tuna packed in water. Clam juice is sold in most supermarkets).
    • Some cats enjoy ice cubes made from flavored broth. Bring the contents of a six ounce can of salmon or tuna, or a cup of ground meat to boil in 2 cups of water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a cheese cloth into an ice cube tray. Freeze the liquid. Place an ice cube or two in your cat’s water dish.


    By Laurie Goldstein
    Laurie Goldstein is a CFA Charterholder. In addition to her work as an equity analyst, she applies her research skill to all things cat, focusing on nutrition and advocacy for feral cat management via trap-neuter-return (TNR) and educational research on cat predation. Learn more about feral cats on her website http://www.StrayPetAdvocacy.org.

    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. milliehcat
    My cat Beerus hasn't been eating enough wet food and it really worries me after reading this article. Strangely enough he seems to prefer the dry food which is surprising for me as my previous cats have always seemed to enjoy the wet food much more. I got him a water fountain from Miaustore which seems to have helped however I am trying to keep an eye on him as I am really worried he is dehydrated. Any tips?
  2. eliseabengi
    As a younger cat she used to drink from the dripping faucet in the bathroom. Now as an 11-year old since she doesn't drink standing water, I purchased a fountain and because she is so skiddish she took one lap, ran off and never used it again. After 2 weeks I returned the fountain. Vet says since she eats canned gravy foods she gets the moisture from that.
    She eats Purina Pro Plan. I still provide water in a dish for her anyway.
  3. jag007
    SkyNorth  at least 6 vets have told me NOT to feed TUNA because it is the main reason for crystals & the problems it creates- esp. with MALE CATS
  4. segelkatt
    A few months ago a foster cat who had been eating the Feline Caviar with no problems developed constipation to a point where he had to be cleaned out by the vet, twice. He was put on WD prescription diet plus an probiotic but that is just too expensive. Somebody told me at our cat club that she had a cat with the same problem and he now has  MiraLax with every feeding of canned cat food. It has had marvelous results. So I tried that but substituted the generic which is MUCH cheaper and it does the same trick, I also put him on Blue Mountain canned cat food.  I had to mess around with the amount of the MiraLax to get the wanted results. Mine now has 1/2 teaspoon twice a day and no more problems. The other person told me her cat has been on that regimen for over a year with no side effects. Since I NEVER saw the foster drink water I also fill his dish to the brim with water besides the canned food and he slurps it all up. Only rarely will he go to the dish with the Feline Caviar kibble and then just does a little crunching.The only difference I see from before when he had no constipation : his poops are terribly stinky and there is a greater amount which may be because cats on Feline Caviar don't have great bowel movements due to hardly anything in it  that they don't digest. He also pees copious amounts during the night. I monitor this cat as he uses only one box which the other cats don't use and I mark it on a calendar in the room where he mostly hangs out. Good luck with Opie.
  5. alabamamama
    Thank you Laurie for this article.  I have so many cats I don't know who is peeing or pooping or drinking sufficient water but Opie (pictured) is my only longhair and we are struggling with constipation.  I learned late that he is not drinking much water, prefers dry food, and when he grooms himself, he makes bricks.  I am going to use many of these ideas and will visit your site.  We have poor animal statistics here in the South and I feel that educating others is the best thing we can do.  11-04-15
  6. earlymornings
    Thanks for sharing - those are some great tips!  I'm adding ping pong balls to my shopping list, as well as clam juice.  
    The article is exactly right about glass pie plates making great cat water dishes.  There's something about clear glass that cats seem to love!  I had noticed that my cats always wanted to "share" a beverage from human drinking glasses, but only the plain glass variety.   Cobalt blue and frosted glasses are relatively safe from cat attention (these are now the "company dishes.")
     
    After my cats completely ignored the expensive ceramic cat fountain I bought them, even after a special trip to a tropical fish store for an ultra-silent pump, I became frustrated.  Down to the basement, to unbox as many packed-away vintage dishes as needed to put "cat watering holes" all over the house.   My DH's mother had amassed quite a collection, and I went upstairs with two boxes full of glass casserole dishes and pie plates.  These cleaned up easily, and I filled all twelve full of fresh water and placed them on the floor in every room.  Both cats loved the new "water buffet" and are drinking tons of water. 
  7. martha anne
    Anyone can feed a raw diet for as little $$ as any canned diet.  And it's much healthier.
  8. martha anne
    I will be arrogant LOL and say that I have the "best" solution and method which is as follows:  We feed a 100% raw ground diet based on Lisa Pierson DVM catinfo.org and we just mix in a great deal of water to each cat's serving when it is time for them to eat this hamburger- like, nutritionally balanced diet which has about 9 ingredients, plus some supplements.   But the deal is that our cats eat what looks like a fairly watery oatmeal type meal and they have to lick up tons of water with the meat and poultry and raw eggs they eat.  They certainly are beating any dehydration issues and they love the meals, lick the plates (and water) clean!
  9. jadeleaf
    Cats like different water intakes.  I've been told a cat doesn't need to be taking in a huge amount if they're fed mostly a good wet food (as that takes care of a lot of hydration issues).  My black cat Sabbath is a huge fan of wet food and only gets a little dry food at night, his water in take is usually at night after biscuits, otherwise he barely goes near his water bowl.
     
    Felix, however, the new cat, is a huge drinker, his diet at this point is about 70% dry (the rescue centre had him on dry food and obviously because of financial reasons couldn't afford to try him on various types of wet food).  I'm weaning him away from dry foods and onto wet foods (I've found he particularly likes the gourmet brand one with fish, and he's started eating a bit of Sabbath's wet food, which initially he refused to eat due to it being something he wasn't used to) and I'm sure I'll see a big difference in his water in take once the wet food is implemented more into the diet.
     
    That being said, I notice Sabbath drinks a heck of a lot more in warmer weather, no surprise.  Last summer I suspected it was feline diabetes but the vet told me it's just dehydration from the weather and to make sure I keep the bowl full for him. :)
  10. segelkatt
    There are all kinds of cats and there are all kinds of people with different kinds of digestive systems. SkyNorth: many years ago, over 30, I had a Persian who got plugged up and the vet had to get the crystals out but the poor cat had a re-occurence within a few weeks. After the 3rd time the vet said he had a suspicion regarding what caused it and would like to run some experiments on that cat and would not charge me. He kept my cat for 3 months and had the result: the culprit was Purina Cat Chow which at that time was considered really good food but had a lot of "ash" in it. No more Purina Cat Chow for my cats from then on although the cats full brother and another unrelated cat had no problems. A few years ago I lived in Seattle for a while and I could not get Feline Caviar there so I bought some other food, I don't remember what, and one of my cats developed crystals so I had to put him on a prescription food. After we returned to California I bought the Feline Caviar again and this cat never had crystals again until he passed away at the ripe old age of 20 some five years later.
     
    I have had cat fountains ever since they first appeared on the market, the latest one is made of ceramic with a bubbler on top where there is a bowl from which two of my cats drink; the there are two falls on opposite sides where the other two drink the falling water. The fountain sits on a ceramic tile floor which is always cold even in the dead heat of summer so the water is always cool too. I have to put at least 4 cups of water in there every day, sometimes more, so I think my cats are getting plenty of water. And yes, it does have a carbon filter and the water gets tossed every two weeks.
    Queenof3: One of my cats is almost 16 and she has always eaten Feline Caviar but for the time we spent in Seattle, she has never ever been sick with anything, another is also 15 but I have had her only 4 years and in that time she has never gotten sick either. Whatever works for your cat.
    Martha Anne: Just because cats used to eat something in the wild 10,000 years ago does not mean that is all they can eat now. No, not grain and veggies, cats can't digest that, but you are not doing anybody any favor by saying our house cats should still be eating what they ate then or disaster looms in the future. Our cats now live longer than they ever have and in good health which you cannot say for those that lived long ago.  
  11. martha anne
    I feel sad reading at how people feed dry food instead of canned, or better yet, raw.  They say my cat is fine - and then, oops!  At age 13, 14, 15, the cat develops kidney disease (irreversible), diabetes or urinary tract disease, IBD and they wonder why.  There is so much rationalizing and denial going on that I can't believe it.  For tens of thousands of years the digestive system and body of a cat evolved to eat whole raw prey and now, 70 years ago, the pet food industry introduced dry and canned food as "superior" or just fine when it is not just fine.  Common sense, folks.  The pet food industry has us over a barrel and are laughing all the way to the bank and you cannot expect the veterinary profession to  step up to the plate and finally teach the truth about cat nutrition.  No, a cat does not get enough water from drinking if it eats dry.  Go to catinfo.org or feline-nutrition.org.
  12. martha anne
  13. flamingogal
    Thank you for writing this!  Great tips.  Seems like no-brainer ideas, but I never would have thought of a few drops of tuna water or chicken broth ice cubes. 
  14. caltritwiamb4
    my cat is all3ways trying to drink out of my sink when i brush my teeth
  15. martha anne
    I would strongly advise not buying dry food for your cats.  Wet food or, better yet, an all raw food diet.
  16. angelsmom1988
    My eight year old cat has been using a fountain since she came to live with me five years ago.  She loves to watch the bubbler in addition to drinking water.
  17. queenof3
    Great tips. I will try the flavored ice cubes. Of the four cats I have, two eat only wet food (nature's variety natural instinct), one eats dry and wet food, and the neediest member of the family eats only dry food. He has a history of struvite crystals and had complete blockage two years ago. He was in the hospital for four days. The vet put him on this SO urinary food and I'm having trouble putting him on wet food. He's so stubborn and picky! He will fast for 24 hours but won't eat wet food.
  18. helsic
    Thanks for the tips!
    my kittens love drinking water and they do it all by theirselves ^^
  19. phil futhark
    water fountain works good keeps water cold and oxegenated, moko likes it,
  20. lunariris
    Very good tips, I never thought of adding floating objects to the water or flavored ice cubes before. I'll have to try that. Our one cat has vision and urinary problems (she's on a special canned diet) and I think it would help her. We do add water to any dry food sometimes, and do have a couple fountains in addition to their water dishes.
  21. skynorth
    One of our cats, a neutered male, almost died a few years ago after his urethra became blocked at the bladder exit, with struvite crystals. He became I'll very very quickly, within a few hours, and it was a Sunday so I had debated whether to wait until next morning to take him to the vet. Thank goodness I decided not to. I took notice of the other two cats, who were acting extremely distressed and kept licking him and miaouwing at us. I rang the emergency vet and when I got him there I was told this would NOT have waited until morning.
    He was in the vet hospital a week and then put on a no-dry-food diet.
    He has had minor recurrences twice, both times we have recognised the signs( trouble peeing, constant licking of the area, obvious discomfort) and both times have been due to stress, the first when I went back to working outside the home, with long hours and night shifts (though I no longer have a job involving night shifts) and when I had been away to Holland for a week, and while my son was here, the cat pined for me and became stressed. The result being like cystitis.
    This isn't covered by the insurance because it was an existing or recurring condition already when we changed to Pet Plan.
    Our vet encouraged me to buy a pet fountain, which we did, and all four of our cats love it. It is a Pet-It fountain from Amazon, cost under £20, and has a little waterfall and two 'pools'.
    In addition to this, I never give that particular cat dry food, and if I give them tuna it is the kind in spring water - never brine, as this is too salty. You can often get special offers on multi packs of tinned tuna.
    I give them the tuna with the water still in, putting the 'wettest, portion into the 'afflicted' cat's bowl. They also have a lot of cooked fresh ( but cheap) chicken, such as boneless thighs from the Halal butcher, less than £2.90 per kilo, and they get the frozen white fish fillets from the supermarket, which I mash up with some water, not too much but enough.
  22. segelkatt
    I have been feeding my cats "Feline Caviar" (which isn't cheap and is made from mostly chicken, salmon or venison and has no grain) exclusively for years and years without any problems whatsoever (one has been eating this for 12 years). I do have a fountain with running water and between my 3 cats they are drinking 3 cups every day although I have to consider just natural evaporation. There have been a few times tat I have run out of their kibble before the next delivery and I had to feed them canned food which they love but it also caused 2 of them to get diarrhoea. Every once in a while I put some canned chicken broth on their food but that does not make them like the kibble any better than usual. I think a lot of the canned food is nowhere as nutritious as the kibble I feed my cats. 
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