Most cats are dehydrated, simply due to lack of knowledge! Many people don’t know that cats struggle with water intake and staying hydrated. Felines don’t have thirst the way dogs do; they don’t crave water. They also have a very differently shaped tongue that doesn’t allow much water to be held when lapping from bowl to mouth. Dogs have big spoon-shaped tongues that allow a nice big puddle of water to be lifted up into their mouth, whereas cat tongues are smaller and more flat, so that puddle is way smaller! In the wild, cats get their hydration mostly from their food by eating small mammals, and drinking from available rain water. For your indoor cat, who is maybe only offered dry kibble and a small bowl of stale water, you might have a hydration problem. (Hopefully not, but that’s why we’re here!) Knowledge is key! Having an understanding of your cat’s hydration needs is the first step. Once you are aware, you can then make some changes to help increase their water intake to keep them healthy for a long time.
The health benefits that come from increasing hydration are well worth the effort! The
main benefit is that it can reduce the risk of urinary issues or stones/crystals. Unfortunately urinary issues are common with cats, which can come from genetics, diet, lifestyle, as well as a serious lack of hydration in the body. Water also helps the kidneys flush out toxins and waste. When there is less water, the organs have to work harder to do their job. Increasing hydration improves the immune system as well as providing more energy!
Since cats don’t like to drink water the way dogs (or humans) do, adjusting their diet to
include canned/wet food is an excellent step in the right direction. Wet food has WAY more moisture than dry food alone, so even offering wet food once a day in place of a kibble meal can make a huge difference. An all-canned food diet (also known as a wet diet) is ideal, but if that doesn’t work for your lifestyle or financial situation, adding or substituting a dry meal with a wet one once a day is great! Be sure to try lots of different proteins, brands, textures, and flavors to help entice your kitty to eat wet food*. Another option is to introduce raw goat’s milk or bone broth into their daily feedings to promote hydration. Cats usually take to these well, as they are very flavorful! Remember to never give kitty regular milk - they cannot digest and utilize it the way we can. You can also try adding a small amount of water to your cat’s kibble, but be sure they eat it all in one sitting. You don’t want to let the kibble sit and soak in water for a long time, as it is the perfect storm for bacterial growth. There are quite a few options to add moisture into
their diet, it just might take some trial and error since cats tend to be quite picky. :)
*Random tip - any unopened wet food that kitty doesn’t eat while trying out different
brands and flavors, can be donated to a shelter or rescue!
One of the best investments you can make for your kitty is to purchase a water fountain!
Running water entices cats to drink more, because it is interactive and fresh flowing. You might be hesitant to try a fountain, but a cat is never too old to try it out! You’ll probably be surprised at how your cat responds. There are a lot of different shapes, sizes, and flow patterns of fountains out there. It might take some time to find one that best fits your cat's interests. If kitty likes to drink out of the kitchen sink, then finding a fountain with a tall spout that mimics that is a good idea! Also, don’t hesitate to remove parts off the top of a fountain (if applicable) to adjust how or where your cat can drink water out of it. Some spouts can be removed, and that makes the water flow much lower, which might be better for some cats who want a more calm experience while drinking. If you are unsure of where to start, find a cheap, smaller fountain to test-run with your cat. If it’s a huge hit, then you can invest more money into a nicer, bigger fountain! A lot of cats like to play in the water, and some people discourage this, but it’s actually not a bad thing. When kitty puts her paw in the fountain, she then licks it! So she’s still getting a higher water intake than if a fountain wasn’t available. You can set a towel or absorbent placemat down under the fountain to help keep the area around it dry. Although, it’s worth noting that the fountain should be placed in an area where the surroundings are okay to get splashed every now and then. :) The most important part of having a fountain is keeping it clean and safe. Ensure that the water line doesn’t go below the minimum level (or pump) to prevent pump failure. Also make sure the plug for the fountain is above the fountain, i.e.- create a drip loop with the cord. This just means that if water drips from the fountain down the cord, it can’t drip directly into the outlet (gravity is your friend). About once a week you’ll want to do a quick cleaning of any fountain (wipe it down), especially if you have multiple cats drinking out of it. A full cleaning is usually needed every 2 weeks or so, depending on the number of cats and type of fountain. This means taking everything apart, including the pump, and thoroughly washing it with hot soapy water to get rid of any slime or bacteria build up. Don’t forget to rinse or replace any filters that might come with the fountain! Always read and follow the instructions that come with the fountain in case there are any specific needs for it.
Try adding ice cubes into the water bowl/dish. This is fun for kitty to watch or bat around, it will melt and add to the water level, and it might entice kitty to interact with the water.
Add extra bowls/dishes all around the house! Just don’t forget to clean and refill them at least every other day so they don’t get gross.
Material of bowls: NO plastic; it harbors bacteria very easily! Stick with ceramic or, better yet, stainless steel. These are both easier to clean and typically can be put in the dishwasher.
Try filtered water, or bottled water if your cat is super picky!
Give it time! If your cat isn’t showing interest in a fountain right away, try moving it to another location for a week.
Hopefully you are now equipped with more knowledge to help enhance your cat’s life by
increasing their water intake. Remember to be patient with your cat - they usually need time to adjust to new changes.