Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 23, 2022 by Crystal Uys


Water is critical to keeping your cat healthy. Cats as a species don’t have a high thirst drive, and this can lead to chronic low-level dehydration if a cat is fed mostly dry food, which in turn, can lead to urinary tract and kidney problems. Proper hydration can help prevent urinary tract disease and promote healthy kidney function by flushing toxins.

The importance of proper hydration

A properly hydrated body will have an optimal balance of electrolytes, minerals and fluids. Water affects everything from transport and absorption of nutrients and digestion to circulation to maintenance of body temperature.

Signs of dehydration

When a cat is dehydrated, she doesn’t just lose water, but also electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chloride, all of which are important for normal body function.

An easy way to check for dehydration is “skin tenting.” Gently pinch the skin over your cat’s shoulder blades and pull up. The skin should spring back into place when released. When a cats is dehydrated, the skin goes back in place increasingly slowly. If the “tent” stays in place, it is a sign of severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.

Other signs of dehydration are

  • Dry, tacky gums
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Panting
  • Loss of appetite

How to increase water intake

Even though cats get moisture from a raw or canned diet, they should still have plenty of fresh water available at all times. Try one or all of the following suggestions:

  • Choose the right bowl. Cats prefer wide, shallow bowls to deep, narrow bowls. Your cat’s whiskers are super sensitive, and it may be uncomfortable for her if they touch the side of the bowl (something that is also knows as whisker stress.)
  • Location, location, location. Place water bowls in easily accessible locations and in areas where your cat tends to spend a lot of time. Place multiple bowls throughout the house.
  • Keep water fresh. Wash bowls daily and change water once or twice a day. You wouldn’t want to drink stale water that’s been sitting out for hours, and neither will your cats.
  • Get a fountain. Fountains are a great way to encourage cats to drink more water.

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10 Comments on Why Hydration is Critical to Your Cat’s Optimal Health

  1. My two cats have three different fountains throughout my home. Each has a different type of flow. They love drinking from the fountains and I often watch them go straight to the fountain as soon as they’ve eaten.

  2. I have several bowls and cups for my girls. One cup in each bathroom sink, a bowl in the kitchen sink and one bowl on the kitchen floor. I like to make sure they have lots of options.

  3. I have two beautiful fountains I purchased (one is stainless steel, the other plastic with a flower). I put them in storage because the cats NEVER drank from them. I even changed the location of the fountains, cleaned them daily, had the water pouring feature on both…but nothing worked. I do add water to their bowl when I feed them wet food twice a day. I’m worried that it’s not enough for the cats. Anybody have any tips?

    • I long ago thought of putting water bowls around the house — I had two cats with early CKD. I could see their preferences: cool water, which stoneware bowls provide the best, keeping the water cool longer. And as mentioned above, bowls which are large but not deep. I found some stoneware bowls in thrift stores, spent some money to get a couple which are handmade and very attractive (for the living room) and found some which seem to be available everywhere pet supplies are sold — blue and tan. To get these in the large but shallow size, you will have to spend a little money again.
      I rescued a cat who was then about 12 years old and neglected; she was such a mess no one wanted her and she was going to be “euthanized” if a home couldn’t be found for her. I had met her and knew her to be friendly, affectionate and playful. So I took her home. She had always had one water bowl, in the kitchen, which wasn’t kept as clean as it should have been. Now, she drinks every time she comes to a water bowl. There’s none in the kitchen as it’s a smallish room and the only place left would be next to the food bowls — not a good idea, the water gets dirty. There are bowls in the bedroom, living room (2) and bathroom. It’s as if she’s thinking, ‘OH, water! how nice, I’ll have some.’ I also learned from a shelter volunteer who has 3 cats that cats like ice in their water. When I put ice in a water bowl for Bennie, she loves it. She drinks again and again until the ice melts, and then for awhile longer. If I pay attention, I can see when she thinks the water in a particular bowl is not as clean as she wants. She sniffs it, takes one lap, maybe, and turns away. I change the water in different bowls at different times of day. I keep a dish brush at the kitchen sink which makes cleaning quick and easy. I don’t use soap every time — the brush alone does a good job.
      When I took care of a neighbor’s cat, he always wanted me to turn on the kitchen sink faucet for him to drink from. I gave him a fountain and he took to it right away. Some of my own cats have been unwilling to have anything to do with a fountain. So, more bowls, the “right” bowls.

  4. We learned about hydration the hard way when we had Pono. It’s amazing how quickly a cat came get dehydrated.

  5. I have been blessed with a cat that doesn’t like water in a bowl. And tho he went through a short period of drinking from a fountain or the sink, he has also stopped doing that. He suffered from a urinary blockage last summer and we switched him to all wet. Along with that, I add extra water. Luckily he likes very wet food. . We monitor his “pee pods” daily to make sure he is getting enough water. Thank goodness he is cute.

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