How to Get a Cat to Drink More Water | 20 Cat Drinking Tips
Welcome to my top tips on how to get a cat to drink more water. As a veterinarian, I often advise owners on ways to get their cats to increase their water intake, both for specific medical conditions and for their general health. It was a topic I became passionate about, as keeping cats hydrated makes a huge difference to their well-being. Over the years, I have gathered various tips that I will share in this article, and we will also discuss the following:
- Reasons why it's important to encourage cats to drink more water
- 20 tips on how to get a cat to drink more water
- Different ways to monitor how much water your cat is drinking
- How much water a cat should drink each day
- How to check for signs of dehydration in a cat
- Additional interventions to keep cats hydrated if they have a medical condition and are not able to drink enough
Why Get a Cat to Drink More Water?
Cats have a low thirst drive, most likely because they originated from a desert environment where water was not always available. They adapted by producing small amounts of concentrated urine, and most of their water needs were met by eating birds and mice, which are about 60-70% water. As a result, they're not the best at drinking water to stay hydrated or to replenish fluid losses if they do get dehydrated.
However, water is vital for life as it is essential for various bodily functions such as regulating body temperature, lubricating joints and tissues, removing waste from the body through the kidneys and stools, transporting nutrients and oxygen, and supporting cognitive function. Therefore, keeping hydrated is important for optimum overall health.
There are also some specific reasons why your cat may need to consume more water, such as:
- A dry cat food diet. Dry food contains approximately 8% water, and wet food contains approximately 80% water. A study showed that although cats on a dry food diet will drink more than those on a wet diet, their overall water intake is still lower.1 Therefore, ensuring adequate water consumption is advisable for cats on a dry diet. Cats on a 100% wet diet may rarely be seen drinking due to the high water content of their food.
- Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). If your cat has idiopathic (stress) cystitis, or is prone to forming bladder stones (uroliths) or urethral plugs, it's advisable to increase the amount they drink so they produce a larger volume of dilute urine and urinate more frequently.
- Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). When kidney function decreases, urine cannot be adequately concentrated, and larger volumes of dilute urine are produced. Drinking more water is necessary for cats with CKD to compensate for their increase in urine production, otherwise, they are at risk of dehydration.
- Gastroenteritis. If your cat has an episode of vomiting and diarrhea, it's beneficial to keep their hydration levels up to avoid them feeling lethargic and help their recovery.
- Arthritis. Cats with painful joints are less willing to move to their water bowl and may find drinking uncomfortable if they have to bend their elbows, shoulders, and neck. Consequently, this may result in them consuming less water. For further information, read How to Care for a Cat With Arthritis.
- Constipation. Cats with chronic constipation need to stay hydrated to keep their stools softer and help with smooth, regular bowel movements. Also, if they are on a laxative, these often draw water into the stool from the rest of the cat, so the rest of the cat must be hydrated.
How to Encourage a Cat to Drink More Water
Cats are all individuals and have unique preferences, therefore, some of these tips to increase water intake may work well for one cat but not another. Try a variety of approaches and learn what they prefer. However, cats can be suspicious of change and sometimes find it stressful. Therefore, make changes gradually and give your cat time to adjust.
1. Avoid Plastic Bowls
Plastic bowls should be avoided as they can give the water a plasticky taste and absorb the odors of soap used for cleaning, which can be off-putting for your cat. Plastic bowls can also be easily scratched, creating grooves that can't be thoroughly cleaned, allowing bacteria to grow. Poor-quality metal bowls may also taint the flavor of the water, and some cats dislike reflections caused by a shiny surface.
Cats often show a preference for specific bowl materials, such as glass, ceramic, or stainless steel. Experimenting with bowls made from different materials can help you discover your cat's preferred choice.
2. Experiment With Different Shapes and Sizes of Bowls
Some cats prefer a wide bowl as they don't like their sensitive whiskers touching the side. One study found that when given a choice, some cats preferred a wide whisker-friendly dish over a standard one.2 Rectangular Glass Food Storage Containers or Glass Baking Trays function as ideal wide bowls. They are sturdy and hold a large amount of fresh water, which is convenient if you have multiple cats.
However, some cats prefer to drink out of tumblers and pint glasses, which are narrow and tall. They may find them more comfortable because they don't need to bend their neck or joints to drink, especially older cats with arthritis. If you frequently catch your cat drinking out of your cup, provide them with their own. Alternatively, try a raised water bowl, as they may find drinking from an upright position more comfortable.
3. Have Multiple Bowls Throughout the House
Place multiple bowls in multiple sites throughout your home so they don't have to travel far to find water. A water bowl on every floor is particularly useful for lazy cats or cats with arthritis who have difficulty moving.
Bowls should be spread throughout the house if you have more than one cat, especially if your cats don't always get along. For example, if one cat tends to bully the other, they may guard the water source, or the more timid cat may feel uncomfortable using it. Plenty of water resources throughout your home will ensure that none of your cats are prevented from drinking. Remember, water bowls next to each other are considered one resource, so place them in separate locations.
4. Carefully Consider the Locations of Your Bowls
Water bowls should be easily accessible and in quiet locations where they feel comfortable drinking. For example, not next to washing machines, dishwashers, doors, cat flaps, or busy areas. Ideally, they shouldn't be placed in a corner because cats usually prefer a clear view of what's around them while drinking.
Place one of your cat's water bowls where they spend time sleeping so they can easily drink after waking up from a nap. Some cats also like to drink from water bowls placed in the bathroom, while others like water bowls raised off the floor, such as on a shelf or feeding station. If your cat has arthritis, keeping the bowls at floor level may be best if they have difficulty jumping.
5. Keep Water Bowls Separate From Food and Litter Boxes
Most cats don't like their water bowl next to their food or litter tray. In the wild, cats eat, drink, and go to the toilet in separate locations. The theory is that they don't want urine or faces contaminating their water or food, nor do they want their food (blood and intestinal contents) contaminating their water supply. To encourage your cat to drink more water, try having their water bowl a few feet away from their food bowl and litter box or even in separate rooms.
6. Make Sure Your Cat's Water Is Always Clean and Fresh
Clean, fresh water is vital to keep cats healthy and hydrated. Ideally, change their water twice a day and clean their bowls once a day. In addition, using a water filter pitcher can remove chlorine from tap water and improve the taste.
7. Fill the Water Bowl Near the Brim
Filling your cat's bowl near the brim allows them to drink water without needing to put their head too deep inside, helping them feel safer as they have a clear view while drinking. Doing so will also help prevent their whiskers from touching the side of the bowl.
8. Provide Your Kitty With a Drinking Fountain
Many owners find their cats prefer drinking from a fountain as they find flowing water more appealing, and the circulation keeps the water fresh. In addition, cats have trouble focusing on near objects, so if the water is running, they may also be able to see it better.
When introducing your cat to a water fountain, it's understandable if they are initially hesitant, as some cats don't like change, and some will be wary of the noise from the motor. If your cat won't use their water fountain, it's recommended to give them at least a couple of weeks to adjust before giving up. Keep providing them with their regular water bowls until you are sure they are drinking from the fountain. Fountains must also be cleaned thoroughly at least weekly to prevent scaly build-up.
If your cat is reluctant to use a water fountain, read How to Get a Cat to Use a Water Fountain for further advice.
The PetSafe fountains are made from high-quality ceramic that's scratch-resistant and free of heavy metals. They are easy to clean, and the motors are nearly silent. The Pagoda is recommended if you want to hear the sound of water, like a babbling brook. If you want a completely silent fountain, the Creekside is recommended.
9. Let Your Cat Drink From the Tap
Many cats love to drink from the tap, and if your kitty is a tap lover, you can let them drink from it several times a day, as long as the water where you live is safe for consumption.
However, if your cat frequently hassles you for tap water, day and night, or you also want to make sure they can drink while you are out, an excellent option is to install an AquaPurr Cat Fountain. It's a proximity sensor cat fountain that sits next to the sink and connects to your tap. Your cat can trigger it to turn on by themselves when they sit next to it, and when they walk away, it turns off. There is also a diverter valve, so you still have full use of your sink when required.
10. Transition Completely or Partially to Wet Cat Food
If your cat only eats dry food, start incorporating wet food into their diet. A combination of wet and dry food can be fed, but a 100% wet food diet is best for maximum hydration. If your cat refuses canned food, read How to Get Your Cat to Eat Wet Food Instead of Dry.
When switching to a new diet, always transition slowly over one week to avoid causing a tummy upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Gradually add less of the old diet and more of the new diet.
11. Add Water to Your Cat's Wet or Dry Food
Adding water to your cat's food is an easy way to get them to drink more. Warm water may be preferable as it releases pleasant aromas from the food.
When adding water to dry food, start with a minimal amount, for example, just sprinkle a little water on top of the kibble. If accepted, add a teaspoon of water and gradually increase the amount to see how much your cat will allow. If you get to a point where they are eating soaked biscuits, either continue using this technique, or you may now find it easier to transition to canned food (see above). If they have yet to eat all the moistened biscuits within 1-2 hours, it's best to discard them to avoid bacterial overgrowth.
Extra water can also be added to canned food, which is helpful for maximum hydration or if they eat a mixture of wet and dry food. Start by adding a teaspoon of filtered water, and if they happily consume it, add an additional teaspoon each day. However, if you add too much water and they no longer enjoy it, or they are unable to finish their food, revert to the previous amount. You can also try adding extra water to their wet food, mixing it, then placing the meat on one side of the dish and the 'soup' on the other since some cats prefer this separation.
12. Provide Your Kitty With Soups, Broths, or Flavored Water
Various cat soups and broths are available to help your cat drink more, such as Friskies Lil' Soups or Fancy Feast Broths. However, these are not complete diets and are supplementary feeds, so they should only comprise up to 5-10 % of their total caloric intake to avoid nutritional deficiencies. If your cat has kidney issues, always check with your vet before adjusting their diet.
Homemade cat soups are also easy to prepare, and there are various methods, such as:
- Add a little water to a can of tuna (in spring water, never brine or oil), mix it, and then drain the water off to give to your cat (you can use the tuna for your sandwich)
- Poach chicken, fish, or prawns for your dinner, then offer your cat the water the meat has been cooked in once it's cooled to room temperature
- Thicker soups can be made by liquidizing the poached chicken, fish, or prawns and water in a blender (some cats find these more viscous fluids easier to lap up)
A batch of flavored water or soup can be frozen in ice cube trays, then popped out and thawed as needed. These soups will likely make the ice cube tray smell, so have one designated only for cat soup. After thawing the soup, anything that remains unconsumed should be discarded after 1-2 hours to avoid bacterial overgrowth. If you want to keep it fresher for longer, you can place the dish on an ice pack.
If you are buying or making soups, they must not contain onion or garlic as they are toxic to cats, and avoid high levels of salt.
13. Give Your Cat Low Lactose Milk
Many cats love milk, but most of them can't digest lactose, which can result in diarrhea. A great solution is Cat Sip Milk, which is low in lactose. However, it's a supplementary feed (not complete and balanced) and should only comprise up to 5-10 % of their daily calories. Also, milk is high in phosphorus and should be avoided in cats with chronic kidney disease.
14. Offer Hydra Care to Increase Water Intake
Hydra Care by Purina is nutrient-enriched water that promotes hydration in cats. It helps increase water intake and keep their urine dilute. Purina recommends putting it in a separate bowl from their food and water.
15. Sprinkle Catnip in Your Cat's Water
For cats who love the smell and taste of catnip, sprinkle a little on their water to entice them to drink more.
16. Place Toys and Ice Cubes in Their Water Bowl
Placing ice cubes and toys, such as ping-pong balls, in their water bowl can stimulate play and hopefully increase their drinking. Also, since cats have difficulty focusing on objects closer than 25 centimeters, having toys in the water will cause movement, which helps them to see the water's surface better. This also explains why many cats like to agitate the water with their paw before drinking.
17. Increase Their Meal Frequency
A study found that increasing meal frequency significantly increased water intake in cats.3 Therefore, splitting their daily allowance into small, frequent meals may help increase the amount they drink. While you're out at work, use the Cat Mate Automatic Feeder to provide them with five meals throughout the day.
18. Make Sure Your Feline Friend Is Not in Pain
A cat with dental disease may drink less if they have toothache. Their teeth should be checked annually by your veterinarian, especially if you notice inflamed gums, calculus, or they have bad breath.
Cats with arthritis often have reduced mobility due to painful joints and make less frequent trips to their water bowl. If their elbows, shoulder, or neck are affected, they may find a raised water bowl more comfortable. Arthritis is common in senior cats, and if suspected, they should be assessed by a vet in case they require pain relief. For further information, read How to Care for a Cat With Arthritis.
19. Think Outside the Water Bowl
Pay attention to your cat's drinking habits. If your cat has a more unusual way of obtaining water, make use of their quirk as long as it is safe.
For example, if they like licking water from the bath, leave a small amount of water for them. If they enjoy drinking from mugs or cups, provide them with their own. If they prefer drinking from the tap, install an AquaPurr Cat Fountain. If they love licking the condensation of a cold glass of water, provide them with a fresh one several times a day.
20. Don't Create Negative Associations
Avoid picking your cat up or engaging in activities that may startle or distress them while they're at the water bowl, as they may quickly form a negative association. Make sure each time they visit their water bowl it is a calm and undisturbed experience to help foster a positive association with hydration.
How to Monitor the Amount of Water Cats Drink
- Technology. The Felaqua Connect Smart Water Bowl by Sure Petcare tells you how often, when, and how much each of your cats drinks. It has a wide, shallow bowl that appeals to cats, and a 1-liter reservoir, so they always have clean, fresh water. To encourage drinking, it's recommended to place it in a low-traffic, quiet part of the house.
- Measure the water. Measure the amount of water you add to the bowl at the beginning of the day, and subtract the amount left at the end. A cat's water consumption can vary from day to day, so record the result over a week and calculate the average.
- Urine-specific gravity (USG). Your vet can check your cat's urine-specific gravity, which is when they place a urine sample on a refractometer that measures its concentration. Take a urine sample to your vet before implementing a new intervention, such as a diet change, starting them on Hydra Care by Purina, or introducing a water fountain. Follow up with a repeat urine sample 1-2 months later to determine if it made a difference. A urine sample can be collected using non-absorbent litter, such as the Kit4Cat Cat Urine Sample Collection Kit.
How Much Water Should a Cat Be Drinking?
A normal daily water intake for a cat is 50-60 ml/kg, so a 4.5 kg (~ 10 lb) cat will need around 250 ml of water per day, which is approximately 1 cup. Cats with a medical condition that causes them to urinate more, such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease, may drink more than 100 ml/kg daily.
However, cats also get water from their food since dry food is approximately 8% water and wet food is approximately 80% water. Given that wet food has such a high water content, if their diet is 100% wet, you may rarely see them drinking.
I recommend using the Expert Cat Care Cat Water Intake Calculator to determine how much fluid your cat gets from their food and how much water they should drink daily.
How to Tell if Your Cat Is Dehydrated
You can assess your cat's hydration by:
- Performing a skin pinch test, which is when you gently pinch the skin on their back to form a skin tent and then let go. It should spring back quickly into place if they are well hydrated. If they are mild to moderately dehydrated, it may return more slowly. If they are severely dehydrated, it may remain tented.
- Lifting up their lip and feeling their gums, which should be moist, not tacky or sticky.
- Observing for other signs of dehydration, such as lethargy, sunken eyes, or a reduced appetite.
Assessing for signs of dehydration is not always reliable. For example, it might not be possible to detect mild dehydration in a cat, and their physical examination could be normal.
Additionally, as cats age their skin becomes less elastic, and they lose muscle and fat beneath their skin. Therefore, it can appear as though their skin does not spring back into place very quickly, even though they may be well hydrated. On the other hand, overweight cats may be dehydrated, but their skin may still spring back into place quickly, helped by the excess fat underneath. For elderly or obese cats, it can be useful to gently pinch the skin on top of their head instead.
Also, cats who are very nauseous can sometimes produce a lot of saliva, making it seem as though their gums are moist, but actually, they feel sick and could be dehydrated.
Contact your veterinarian if you are ever concerned that your cat may be dehydrated.
Additional Ways to Help a Cat With a Health Condition Stay Hydrated
If your cat has a medical condition, such as chronic kidney disease, that can cause dehydration, and the above tips for encouraging them to drink more water are not enough, you will have to consider other ways to maintain their hydration.
If your cat suffers from frequent bouts of mild dehydration, your veterinary team can teach you how to give subcutaneous fluids at home. A needle is directed under the skin, which is connected to a fluid bag, and the fluid is slowly trickled in over 10 minutes. Typically, 75–150 ml every 1–3 days is administered depending on the size of your cat and how dehydrated they tend to become.
If they are moderately to severely dehydrated and showing signs of lethargy, a reduced appetite, or constipation, you need to take them to your vet. They may require hospitalization for intravenous fluid therapy, where fluids are administered straight into their vein via a cannula.
A low-stress option for some chronic kidney disease cats that still have a good quality of life but need additional hydration and nutrition is to place a long-term esophagostomy feeding tube (E-tube). A short general anesthesia is required to place a tube through the side of their neck directly into their esophagus (food pipe). As well as water, it can also be used to administer food and medications at home.
- Buckley, C.M. et al. (2011) “Effect of dietary water intake on urinary output, specific gravity and relative supersaturation for calcium oxalate and struvite in the cat,” British Journal of Nutrition, 106(S1).
- Slovak, J.E. and Foster, T.E. (2020) “Evaluation of whisker stress in cats,” Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 23(4), pp. 389–392.
- Kirschvink, N., Lhoest, E., Leemans, J., et al. (2005) "Effects of feeding frequency on water intake in cats. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine," 19(2), 277.