How to Encourage Your Cat to Drink Water

You can lead a cat to water… but you can’t make it drink. Sound familiar?

This can be a really tricky business for a lot of cats – it’s something of a Goldilocks approach in finding out what suits yours. As cats are very susceptible to water infections, struvite stones and various kidney related problems that stem from dehydration – making sure your cat is drinking enough is vital in ensuring that they live a long, happy (and lower vet-bill related) life.

Over my years as a cat sitter, I’ve collected information about weird drinking habits, and thought it might be helpful to share! So here’s a brief summary of things that have worked for the cats that I have met along the way;

  • Try placing water bowls in a completely separate area, away from the food bowls and away from the litter tray. We have a bowl on the mantelpiece and the cats queue up in a line to drink from it. The thinking here is based on how cats may behave in the wild; either the “peace at the water hole” theory – or, that food found near to a water source could contaminate the water and therefore be unsuitable to drink from.
  • Use a ceramic/glass bowl for water. Plastic bowls can often change the taste of water – as well as harbouring bacteria if there are any scratches or dents on the surface.
  • Some cats prefer ‘day old’ water – we’ve all seen our cats head straight outside to drink from puddles despite our best efforts!…
  • but clean water is best – and messy eaters will need their bowls changed sometimes twice per day.
  • Experiment with different shapes and sizes of bowls. Some cats prefer shallow dishes like glass casserole lids, others prefer to drink from something deeper like a cereal bowl – depending on how they use their tongue to lap it up. We have a huge dog bowl because we find the cats’ whiskers get ‘twitchy’ if they’re trying to drink from a smaller bowl and their whiskers hit the sides.
  • Consider offering your cat a glass to drink from. I have a lot of customers who put glasses of water on windowsills (after realising their cats would drink from their bedside tables during the night!). Maybe they like to be able to drink from something more like a deep pool of water.

Cat drinking water from tap

  • A lot of cats prefer to drink straight from the tap – and I’m often asked to facilitate this when I’m looking after cats! – but this can be difficult to make sure your cat gets enough liquid if you’re not always in the house to keep the tap running… aaand a lot of people aren’t that keen on the hygiene side of things. Hence you could try…
  • …different types of pet water fountains. There are so many different types available – but the running water can stimulate interest. Make sure to fully empty and wash regularly and replace the filters as these fountains can too often get forgotten and attract insects.
  • Cook them some chicken broth – simply place raw chicken (no salt or added flavourings) in the bottom of a small saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cover and turn down the heat to a simmer. Two chicken breasts will usually cook in about 15-20 minutes – just make sure they’re not pink in the centre. Chicken thighs can be tastier and cheaper – but make sure to never feed your cat cooked bones. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the pan and slice up as a treat for you or your cat. Once the remaining ‘broth’ has cooled you can serve some to your cat. This can also be a good way of stimulating a poorly cat’s appetite.
  • Switch to a special urinary diet. This could either be wet food with a high moisture content or specially formulated recipe – or dry food that encourages drinking (e.g. Royal Canin Urinary High Dilution).
  • The dry food vs wet food debate is possibly the most contentious amongst cat owners – second to the outdoor/indoor cat question! I’ll come back to the merits of each another time. In relation to cats’ drinking habits a lot of theory is linked to the fact that a cat’s natural prey e.g. a mouse would be roughly 70-80% water. Wet food is usually within that range but dry food is roughly 10%. Dry food has been linked to bladder issues and renal failure because cats can struggle to drink enough water to combat dehydration when on an all dry diet.

kitten water fountain

  • See if your cats prefer filtered tap water – they may like the taste better, especially if you’re in a hard water area.
  • Lactose free “cat milk” can encourage your cats to drink, and the lactulose it contains can make cats thirsty. Please beware that cat milk can often cause tummy problems, which in turn can lead to dehydration!
  • If you give your cat the occasional treat of tuna, you could also give them a small amount of the ‘tuna water’ (make sure to go for tuna in fresh spring water as opposed to oil or brine) and add water to that. Be careful with ‘human’ tuna as it’s not nutrionally complete for cats and you have to be aware of the mercury levels in their diet. Some cats can become very fussy if they have too much tuna – and start refusing their normal meals!
  • Simply adding a few tablespoons of water to wet food and mixing it in can help.
  • Try putting the bowl on top of a thick book (like the argos catalogue) if elderly cats are struggling to bend down quite so low… or splash out on a fancy feeding station if you’re feeling particularly lavish.
  • Always ask your vet if you’re concerned about your cat’s hydration levels. They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action – and explain what signs you’d need to watch out for – such as dry/sticky rather than moist gums, or the ‘pinch test’ to measure elasticity.

Cat drinking water from sink

So there we are. Now you’ve tried all of those… you’ll suddenly start worrying, “is my cat drinking too much water?” I told you! It’s the goldilocks principle at work!

If you have any more suggestions – I would love to know.

Rach x

(The Cat Whiskerer, South Shields and Sunderland pet sitter)

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