HEALTH & CARE

How Much Water Should Cats Drink: Hydrated but Not Bloated

A beautiful black and white cat drinking water out of a metal bucket
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

The question about our cats’ water consumption is often quite scary for new cat owners. Sometimes it feels like our feline friends are not drinking any water at all. Other times they seem to be going through their water bowls at a worrying speed. It’s completely natural for you to wonder: “Exactly how much water should cats drink?” Any good owner will wonder about these things at one point or another.

Water is vital to every living creature’s physical condition. Drinking too little water is dangerous because it can cause dehydration, but at the same time, making your cat drink too much water isn’t a good idea as well. Did you know that even humans could suffer from water poisoning? To avoid all that, it is important to know just how much water your cat should drink ideally. Just the right amount of water is good for your cat’s immune system, digestive system, and overall health.

Black and white drinking water from a fountain

To help you decide on the right amount of water to give your cat, our in-house experts have compiled all relevant and credible info in this article. So, here, we’ll go through all the specifics on the subject of a cat’s water consumption, but be warned, there’s quite a lot of them. We understand that you’re just looking for the X amount of water, and we’ll give you that, but the surrounding factors are vital as well.

The Normal Amount

Simply put, a normal, healthy cat should drink as many milliliters of water per day as the number of kilocalories consumed during that same day. To put a number on it, that’s about 60mls per kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) of cat weight, assuming that your cat eats exactly as much as she needs to.

ginger cat drinking water from a bowl

For a 4kg cat (8.8 pounds), that makes 240mls. It sounds pretty straight-forward when we put it like this, but it really isn’t. There are a lot of additional factors that you need to consider when you’re trying to figure out your cat’s intake of water.

When Should Your Cat Drink More?

While we can easily put a number on the amount of water your cat needs to drink, you can’t really rely on this number all the time. Instead, you must look at your cat’s overall behavior, health, habits, and food to determine whether or not your pet needs more or less water. Don’t worry—we’ll delve into all of that here.

So, when exactly should you make your cat drink more? They have their water bowls, so logically they can drink whenever they’re thirsty, right? Well, sure, but that doesn’t stop a cat from getting dehydrated. There are a lot of different things that can affect the amount of water your cat needs to drink to avoid dehydration:

The Type of Food

What food does your cat eat? Dry cat kibble contains between 7% and 12% of water, whereas canned cat food contains anywhere between 78% and 83% of water. So, if your cat is eating canned cat food only, then he or she might need no more than 30ml of additional water per day.

cat-eating-dry-cat-food

Cats on a kibble diet, on the other hand, may require up to 200ml of water. If you’re feeding your cat with a homemade cat food, then things become even more unpredictable.A sudden change in your cat’s diet can cause dehydration as well. If your cat’s used to eating canned or homemade wet food, a switch to kibble can leave your furry friend dehydrated before he feels/figures out that he needs to consume more water.

The Weather

Hot weather can cause overheating, which in turn will cause your cat to require more water. If the water bowl is small, you may get caught off-guard and not refill it frequently enough.

The Level of Activity

Hyperactivity can have the same result. That often happens when you introduce a second cat or a child.

A cat meowing to his owner

Your first cat becomes much more playful and active than usual, so he or she starts needing much more water. This could mean trouble if you’re not used to refilling the water bowl often enough.

Physical Health Conditions

On to the more serious causes of dehydration, there are a lot of diseases that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or other forms of water loss. A lot of diseases can also cause the body to require more water to battle the sickness.

cat sleeping in the sun

Additionally, a lot of physical conditions can lead to stress, which can prevent your cat from drinking enough water and thus, dehydrate. Pregnancies can also be a factor since they increase the amount of water your cat requires.

Mental Health Conditions

Stress and depression can come from other sources other than physical conditions. Maybe you introduced a new cat or dog in the household, and your cat became unhappy and depressed? Maybe you lost another beloved pet and your cat, now alone, is depressed?

Or, maybe you just moved to a new place, which can also get your cat into a depressed mood? Either way, depression can cause your cat to start eating and drinking less, which in turn can lead to dehydration.

Scared Cat looking up

Stress, just like depression, can cause your cat to drink less water. Such increased stress levels can be caused by the arrival of a new, hyperactive member of the family (a pup, a younger cat, a baby or a kid, etc.). It can be caused by moving to a new place, and it can even be due to a noisy construction work outside.

Either way, in these trying times, your cat may not feel the thirst even though her body actually needs more water to combat the stress.

Cleanliness

The simplest and most frequent cause of dehydration is a dirty bowl. Cats are not just picky eaters; they are also picky drinkers. If the water in your cat’s bowl becomes dirty, your cat may simply refuse to drink from it. And if it has become dirty just after you poured it (say, some dust or a ball of hair fell into it), your cat can easily go all day without drinking water, or just drinking a little bit.

cat cleaning itself

Additionally, maybe the water simply doesn’t taste good. A lot of cats dislike “hard” water (water which is high in concentrates of mineral salts). In such cases, it’s best to pour your cat filtered water instead of water from the tap.

Plastic water bowls can also be a problem since they often leave a plastic taste into the water (and the food, for that matter). This is why glass and stainless steel food and water bowls are highly recommended. There are a lot of other lesser or bigger factors to it, but you get the idea.

What are the Symptoms of Dehydration?

We believe that you’re a dedicated cat parent, and you always make sure your cat has plenty of fresh water to go by. But sometimes you can simply miss something. Sometimes, you’re just too busy, you’re out of the house for too long, and you fail to consider and prevent one of the factors above.

How then can you figure out if and when your cat is dehydrated, or how bad it is? When should you simply coax your cat to drink more with gentle words and when do you have to take her to the vet immediately? Well, there are several different symptoms to keep an eye on:

Sunken Eyes

Also known with the medical term Enophthalmos, this is a condition where the eye sinks deeper into the eye socket. There are a lot of general causes of sunken eyes.

Portrait of yellow sad sick cat lying at home

They can be a congenital condition from birth, they can occur after various diseases, they can be the result of trauma, or they can occur after dehydration.

Decreased Skin Elasticity

An easy way to check the skin elasticity of both a cat and a dog is to lift the skin behind their front shoulders and then let it go. In a healthy animal, the skin will immediately go back to its original position. In a dehydrated animal with a less elastic skin, the skin will go back to its standard position much more slowly.

Lethargy

Quite self-explanatory, lethargy is relatively easy to identify if you’ve made it a habit of playing with your feline friend at least a couple of times throughout the day (which you should!).

Lethargic cat laying in a bed

If your cat is lethargic, she won’t be very responsive to your encouragements to play. There can be a lot of other causes of lethargy, but dehydration is high on that list.

Depression

Often confused with lethargy, depression is a more complex condition that is harder to identify. Depression in people is defined mainly by self-reported symptoms, and since cats aren’t really able to give us reports of their symptoms, depression can be hard to pinpoint.

Orange and white cat laying down

Still, the main difference between depression and lethargy is that the former is often accompanied with a more active avoidance of contact and activities, often even through hissing. Like lethargy, depression can be caused by a longer dehydration.

Loss of Appetite

Although this can be a supporting symptom of the previous two conditions, it can also be a “stand-alone” symptom of dehydration. Especially if you’re feeding your cat dry food, your pet will likely refuse to eat when she is dehydrated.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a bit harder to identify in cats than it is in dogs. However, it can still be spotted relatively easily.

Image showing a cat with a dry mouth

If your cat has an unusually bad breath, if the saliva is quite thick and sticky, if you notice dental issues, or if your feline friend has a hard time chewing, then this is probably a case of dry mouth.

Panting

Your cat will often pant after a nice and exhausting play session, and that’s fine. However, if you see your feline roommate panting even when standing still, this may be caused by dehydration.

Lessened Urination

A healthy and well-hydrated cat urinates 2-3 times a day. If, when cleaning your cat’s litter box, you notice that there are fewer clumps than usual, this can be a pretty clear sign of dehydration.

Factors that Affect a Cat’s Vulnerability to Dehydration

Dehydration doesn’t affect all cats the same way. Some cats are quite resistant to dehydration while others are more prone to suffering from it. Now that you understand the dangers and signs of dehydration in a cat, you might be wondering just how vulnerable your cat is to dehydration. A female cat will require more fluids and food when pregnant or nursing, but aside from that, there isn’t a significant difference in the water consumption of the two genders.

Cat drinking water from a green bowl

Breed and age also don’t seem to be a factor. However, older cats are sometimes inclined to drink less water than they need to. This can be due to underlying diseases and conditions, or just due to depression or lethargy (yes, they can be both a symptom and a cause of dehydration). In such cases, you should encourage your elder cat to drink more water as well as to go to the vet for a check-up.

How Can I Prevent Dehydration?

If your cat is vulnerable to dehydration, you will want to know how to prevent it. Preventing dehydration is basically done by making sure you avoid all the factors that can lead to it:

Provide Clean Water

Make sure that the water bowl is not only always full, but that it’s always filled with fresh, clean water. Filter the water if you’re concerned that it may not be delicious to your cat.Also, make sure that the bowl itself is nice. Plastic can often be unpleasant for cats. Also, make sure to wash the bowl daily. Bacteria can form on its sides and bottom and saliva can settle down at the bottom as well.

Now, you may have tried your best to keep your cat’s water bowl fresh and clean, but then your cat decides not to drink from it and instead goes to drink stale water in the bathtub or directly from the tap. You might start to wonder: Why do cats often drink from other, “unconventional” sources of water, other than their bowl? Is this a sign of something?

Cat drinking water from a water source

Typically, it’s just a sign that they are cats, nothing more. This is a natural cat behavior—especially drinking from the tap part—since cats prefer fresh, running water to drinking from a water bowl, hence the increasing demand for cat water fountains.

Still, while this is a rather typical feline behavior, it can also be a sign that your cat doesn’t like the water in her bowl. Maybe it’s not tasty enough and needs to be filtered, maybe you need to clean the water bowl more regularly, maybe you need to change the water bowl altogether, etc.

Monitor Your Cat’s Water Intake

This can be done easily when cleaning the litter box. Always be mindful of how much your cat has peed over 24 hours.

Be Mindful of Your Cat’s Behavior

Depression, stress, anxiety, lethargy—all of these can both lead to depression and be its symptom.

Cat drinking water from an automatesd water bowl

Make sure you minimize your cat’s stress—not just for the sake of proper hydration, but for a ton of other reasons as well.

How is Dehydration Treated?

Prevention is better than cure, but sometimes it is not enough. Dehydration could strike your cat out of nowhere even if you’ve done all you can to prevent it. It’s not your fault. What’s important now is to treat it ASAP.

Do’s

  • Aside from trying to encourage your cat to drink more water, the main thing you should do is get your cat to a veterinarian. The vet will administer intravenous, subcutaneous fluids and run various tests to determine the cause of the dehydration.
  • To stimulate your cat to drink more water, you can simply lead him or her to the water bowl more frequently, put additional water bowls around the house, and so on.
  • Another trick that sometimes works is to give your cat an ice cube. A lot of cats like licking ice cubes, and this also hydrates them.
  • Switching to a wet diet is also advisory.

Don’ts

  • Forcefully giving water to your cat is a no. It may only discourage him or her from drinking even more.
  • Using an oral injection syringe to squirt water directly into your cat’s mouth is a no-no. If the water goes down the wrong channel, it could enter her lungs and cause major illnesses such as bronchitis.
  • One last big no is allowing your cat to drink too much water.

We’ve been talking exclusively about dehydration, but in fact, your cat can also drink more water than she should.Also easily noticeable through the rapid emptying of a water bowl or the frequent urination, drinking too much water can be a sign of urinary cystitis (a bladder infection), a tapeworm infestation, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and of many other conditions.

A stray cat drinks water from a plastic tub in a heavily wooded area

This doesn’t mean that you should immediately freak out if one day you notice your cat drinking more than usual—maybe the weather is hot that day, maybe the cat’s been running and playing more extensively. Still, be mindful of that and if you see no reason for your cat’s excessive drinking, consult a veterinarian.

Wrap Up

You don’t need to monitor the exact amount of water your cat drinks strictly. You don’t need to count the number of licks from the water bowl. You don’t need to weigh the pee clumps from the litter box.

Simply make sure that your cat always has access to fresh, clean water, that your cat is satisfied with her water bowl, that she’s not too stressed out or depressed, and that she is in an overall great health. All of those are things that you’d want to do anyway, simply for the comfort and well-being of your feline friend.

A cat drinking water from a glass

Should any of the symptoms of dehydration appear, you are now well-prepared to deal with it. And that’s more or less it. Did we miss anything related to a cat’s drinking habits and dehydration? Do you have experience with this? We’d love to hear your story!

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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