Cats often need to be encouraged to drink water. This can be concerning for owners. Cats are small and can easily become dehydrated. Thankfully, there are techniques that can be used to encourage hydration in felines.
Make the water appealing for cats to drink. Get a comfortable bowl and locate it in a quiet area away from food or litter. Offer your cat bottled or filtered water, in case it dislikes the smell of tap water. Add tasty liquids, such as tuna juice, to the water to make it appealing and feed your cat a wet diet. Cats obtain hydration from food as well as water.
Cats that grow dehydrated can experience health concerns in the short and long term. This may result in the need for intravenous fluids. Encouraging a cat to hydrate eradicates this risk.
Why Is My Cat Not Drinking?
Cats can become resistant to drinking water, especially from a bowl. This is a holdover from feline evolution. As cats are descended from desert-dwelling animals, they rarely feel the need to hydrate.
This means that you may need to encourage your cat to drink. An average ten-pound cat needs to drink around 8 ounces of water each day. Any less than this leaves you cat at risk of health issues. In hot conditions, cats need more water to stay hydrated.
There are many reasons possible explanations for a cat resisting water, beyond simple genetics. Potential reasons include:
- Whisker fatigue. the cat’s whiskers rub against the water vessel, causing friction and discomfort
- Unappealing scents. The water is too close to food or litter or smells strongly of chlorine
- Noise and footfall. The cat’s water bowl is located in a busy area
- Innate distrust of still water. Wild cats drink from moving water sources. Still water in a bowl could be approach with caution
- Inappropriate volume. Cats are fussy. Too much or too little water in a bowl will deter from the drinking
A cat being fussy about water can be frustrating. The stubbornness of a feline can be admirable, but also dangerous. If your cat continually refuses to drink, it may end up dehydrated.
Dehydration in Cats
As the feline body is made up of 80% water, dehydration is dangerous in cats. A cat’s body relies upon water to keep internal organs functioning to capacity. The more dehydrated a cat grows, the more strain will be placed on its body.
As per the Journal of Applied Physiology, a dehydrated cat will experience respiratory distress. Cats are obligate nasal breathers and should never breathe through the mouth. If you see your cat panting, encourage hydration immediately. Other symptoms of dehydration in felines include:
- Dull, sunken eyes
- Lack of energy
- Dry nose (though a cat’s nose will alternate between wet and dry daily)
- Lethargy and depression
- Racing heart
Perhaps the most telling warning is a lack of skin elasticity. Gently pinch the skin around your cat’s neck. In a hydrated feline, the skin will snap back into place. If the skin struggles to return to position, the cat is dangerously dehydrated.
How to Keep a Cat Hydrated
If your cat is experiencing dehydration, rectify the situation as quickly as possible. Simply placing a bowl in front of your cat will not do the trick. You’ll need to tempt it into drinking.
In an emergency, cats can enjoy hydrating energy drinks such as Gatorade. Soluble electrolytes could also be applied to water. This should never be your default approach, though. Instead, ensure that your cat drinks water regularly.
Here are ten ways that you could encourage your cat to stay hydrated. If you pinpoint exactly why your cat is not drinking, focus on resolving the issue. If you are unsure, attempt each technique in a process of elimination.
Avoid Tap Water
Your cat’s problem may not lie with water itself but tap water. This is not snobbery. Cats have an excellent sense of smell. This makes many cats reluctant to drink tap water. This fluid can carry a strong scent of chlorine to a feline.
As cats are often dubious about water, chemical scents are not appealing. The cat will assume that the water is tainted in some way and refuse to drink. This leaves you with two options. You can invest in a water filter or use bottled water.
The former option is certainly the cheapest. If you filter water, it will be purified. This will only take a few moments. Your cat is then likelier to drink, as suspicious scents have been removed.
If you prefer bottled water, this can work too. Just ensure the bottles that you purchase are BPA-free. This can quickly become awkward, though. You’ll need a plentiful supply of bottled water, and much of it will go to waste.
If you do use bottled water, you may wish to consider sparkling water. Many cats will be fascinated by watching the bubbles form and burst in this water. Some cats will be content to simply watch without drinking, though.
Make Water Taste and Smell More Appealing
Your cat may still refuse to drink, even after you have purified its water. If you need to give your cat a nudge, improve the taste or scent of water. Sometimes, simple ice cubes will achieve this. In other cases, you’ll need an additional flavor.
This is not because a cat considers water to taste dull or plain. Cat tongues have considerably fewer taste buds than those of a human. Water tastes perfectly fine to a cat. Long-standing distrust may remain, though. Your cat needs to be tempted into drinking.
The first step here is giving the bowl a regular scrub. A quick rinse will not remove lingering scents to a cat’s strong nose. At least once a day, thoroughly wash the bowl with dish soap. This will also remove the scents of any other cats.
Beyond this, consider adding some new flavors and aromas to the water. Do not use cordials. These are filled with sugar, and your cat will likely be indifferent anyway. Instead, drizzle a few drops of gravy or tuna juice to the water.
This may not sound refreshing to the human palate, but your cat will love it. The scent alone will be enough to draw the cat’s attention. Once it starts to drink, it will continue to do so as it enjoys the taste.
Change the Water Location or Bowl
Your next step is to assess whether your cat’s water bowl is in the right location. If so, the bowl itself may be the problem.
Location of Water Bowl
Cats are fussy about whether their water bowl is located. It must be on the other side of the room from food or litter trays. If water is too close to food or waste, the smell contaminates the water. The cat will not go near it.
Place water is a unique corner of a room. This should also be a quiet area, with limited footfall and noise. Cats feel vulnerable while drinking. If you are wandering around, the cat will be dubious about stopping to drink.
Equally, a water bowl beside a window or TV may lead to distracting noises. Cats do not need any further reasons to avoid drinking. Ensure the water source (or, ideally, sources – more on that anon) are in a peaceful zone.
Design of Water Bowl
The bowl itself may also be a problem. If your cat’s water bowl is too narrow, whiskers will rub against the sides. This leads to a condition called whisker fatigue. Feline whiskers are in constant use, and thus sensitive. The cat will avoid anything that inflicts pain.
The cat may also dislike the material the bowl is made from. Make sure your cat is not allergic to plastic, for example. Even if not, plastic can make water a displeasing temperature for cats. Most felines prefer to drink from cooling porcelain.
Ideally, you should aim for around half a bowl of water for each serving. Any less and the cat thinks the bowl is empty. More and the cat will knock it over, considering the vessel too full for comfort.
Provide Multiple Water Sources
Your cat may not be unwilling to visit its water bowl, but unable. This is likeliest in older cats. As a cat grows older, its bones and joints begin to degenerate. As per Veterinary Surgery, this leads to restricted mobility.
The likeliest explanation is age-related arthritis. Even younger cats can struggle with this, though. As Research in Veterinary Science explains, the respiratory infection calicivirus can provoke acute arthritis in felines.
Whatever the cause of the discomfort, the result will be the same. An arthritic cat will experience pain whenever active. This discomfort can, and should, be managed. All the same, arthritic cats will not move unless they need to.
A cat with arthritis will likely be tempted into walking across the house for food. Water rarely holds the same appeal and attraction. Combat this by providing multiple water sources. Ideally, one per room that your cat frequents. This makes your cat likelier to drink.
This can also be effective in multi-cat homes. One cat in a family may be dominant and lay claim to a water bowl. Equally, a skittish cat may not drink from a bowl that caries another feline’s scent. Multiple water sources will resolve both these issues.
Provide a Moving Water Source
Sometimes, all the reorganizing and replacement of water bowls in the world makes no difference. In such an instance, the cat’s problem is with the stillness of the water. Some cats are distrustful of water that does not move or flow.
This stems from wild instinct. For undomesticated cats, still water is potentially stagnant. Your house cat may be far from feral, but it shares with DNA with wild felines.
You’ll know if this is the case by your cat’s drinking habits. Some cats ignore water bowls, but rush to drink from a running tap. Your cat may also drink from the toilet, or even from a fish tank. Some cats also knock a water bowl over and lap from the floor.
You could try countering this by tapping the side of your cat’s bowl with a spoon. This will cause ripples in the water.
A simpler solution is to purchase a water fountain. These can be found online or at any pet store. A water fountain creates a constant cascade of fresh, moving water. Few cats can resist drinking from such a resource.
Feed a Wet Food Diet
It is not just water than hydrates a cat. Food can be equally important. If your cat subsides exclusively on kibble, it is unlikely to get enough water. Consider switching your cat to a high-quality wet food diet.
If you take this approach, do not force a sudden transition on your cat. This will cause stomach upsets, purging your cat’s body of even more water. Any change in diet must be a gradual process, unfolding over around two weeks.
Start by mixing a little wet food into your cat’s kibble. The ratio should 90:10 in favor of the familiar at first. You are attempting to give your cat a taste of wet food. Over the course of two weeks, reverse these ratios. Eventually, exclusively offer wet food at mealtimes.
Feeding a cat wet food has numerous advantages, especially for senior felines. Wet food is easier to digest. Some wet food does not need to be chewed, either. This makes it ideal for cats with weak teeth. Wet food also often contains more taurine and protein than kibble.
Do not eradicate kibble from the diet completely, though. It makes a great overnight snack for hungry cats. This will prevent harassment and demands for food in the middle of the night. Just make wet food the primary source of your cat’s food intake.
Some cats will not accept a change in diet. Felines can be stubborn, especially where food is concerned. If your cat will only eat kibble, do not despair. As explained by the American Journal of Veterinary Research, nutrient-enriched water counters the impact of a dry diet.
Feed Chicken or Beef Broths
A logical extension of wet food is feeding a cat broth as a meal. These dishes will be almost exclusively water based. This makes them hydrating by default. Many owners feed cats with respiratory infections broth for this reason. It can rapidly replace any lost fluids.
Most cats will happily lap at a meaty broth, made from chicken or beef. Do not include any dangerous ingredients for taste. Cats have a simple and basic palate. Garlic and onion, for example, may appeal to humans but are toxic to felines.
Another advantage of broth is that is typically low in calories. This can make it a useful tool in weight loss for obese felines. A home-made broth is best. This way, you can control the ingredients and sodium levels. If the broth is too salty, it negates any hydrating properties.
Cats should not subside exclusively on liquids. Eventually, you’ll need to move the cat back onto solids. Senior felines, in particular, need the vitamins and minerals provided by specialist cat food. Broth can be a great way to occasionally replenish hydration, though.
Offer Hydrating Treats
In addition to meals, you can hydrate your cat using treats. This can be especially impactful during the hottest months of the year. There are two main ways that you can achieve this aim.
On a hot day, fill your ice cube tray with meaty gravy and freeze it. Place this in front of your cat, and licking will likely follow. It may take a few moments for the cat to show any interest. Cats cannot always smell frozen foodstuffs. Eventually the meat aroma may prove tempting.
The only issue with this is that you’ll need to supervise. Ensure your cat does show enough interest in the treat to consume it. If not, the ice will melt. You will then likely be left with a stain in your rug and cat that remains dehydrated.
An alternative could be to freeze a favored treat within a water-based ice cube. This will create a stimulating puzzle for the cat. It will lick and crunch at the ice to reach the treat. In doing so, you are essentially tricking the cat into hydrating.
Fruit, by its nature, is often hydrating. Watermelon is perhaps the best example of this. A watermelon is 90% water. This means that a cat eating the flesh of this fruit will hydrate. Strawberries can also be hydrating. Avoid oranges as these are unsuitable for cats.
The problem with fruit lies in the taste. A cat’s tongue cannot taste sweetness, so many are indifferent to fruit. A juicy slice of watermelon is no tastier than cardboard to a feline. You may struggle to convince your cat to eat.
If you have a rare cat that enjoys fruit, there is no need to freeze the treat. The water will be found in the flesh. Just be careful to remove any rind and seeds. Fruit pips, particularly those found in apples or pears, contain deadly arsenic.
Turn Hydration into a Game
If your cat is playful, you could try to turn hydrating into a game. Have your cat hunt down water sources. This will encourage the cat to drink. Its brain will be flooded by dopamine when it receives its ‘reward.’
One way to do this is to use the aforementioned ice cube treats. Tie these to a piece of thread and have your cat stalk them. Few cats can resist a moving target. The cat will stalk and pounce upon the ice cube. It will then lick the ice to claim its prize.
You could also lead your cat to its water bowl using treats. Create a path that your cat must follow. All being well, it will culminate in a drink. There is always the risk that the cat will ignore the water once treats are claimed, though.
The most important thing is to shower your cat with praise when it drinks. For this technique to be successful, you must convince your cat that drinking is fun. Attention is a better reward that food-based treats. The latter opens up the risk of further dehydration and weight gain.
Apply Water Through a Syringe
If your cat continues to be stubborn, you may need to apply water from a syringe. This should be a last resort. Only attempt this if your cat is dehydrated and other approaches have been exhausted.
If you need to use a syringe to get your cat hydrated, pick up a cat-friendly tool. Do not use a human-centric syringe. Purchase an appropriate model from a vet or pet store. This should be plastic, not glass, in case the cat bites the syringe. When ready to offer water, follow these steps:
- Fill the syringe with room temperature water
- If the cat is very dehydrated, consider adding an electrolyte solution
- Show your cat the syringe. Let the cat investigate so it is not frightened
- Calm your cat and encourage it to open its mouth
- Place the syringe inside and release around 30 milliliters of water
- Repeat on an hourly basis until your cat is sufficiently hydrated
Do not leap straight to ‘force-feeding’ your cat water. Try running a tap first. It’s no ideal for a cat to drink this way, but it’s better than syringing water. All the same, hydrating your cat this way is preferable to requiring intravenous fluids.
Dehydration in cats can be easily resolved if caught early. It is better avoided altogether, though. Follow these tips to ensure that your cat drinks regularly. This will keep your cat in good health, going some way to staving off health concerns.