Water is undeniably one of the most important resources in the world – an essential requirement for life that has a knock-on effect on every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. When we, or indeed our pets, are properly hydrated, the physiological balance that the body experiences allows all systems to function efficiently. Nutrients are delivered through circulation and digestion, components are carried in and out of cells, kidneys are flushing toxins and the body temperature is maintained. For many of our cat owners, one of your biggest ‘pet peeves’ may be your cat’s drinking habits and you’re already all too aware of how difficult it can be to get them to drink a reasonable quantity of water every day, right? But do you know how much water your cat actually needs? If your answer is no, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Our veterinary advisor, Paola has some helpful information to get you on the right track!
According to recent studies, most cat owners believe their cats drink enough water every day, but when asked what exactly this amount is, most are unable to respond. The truth is daily water required for cats is still not well-defined, especially for healthy animals (most studies are focused on hospitalised patients). In general, it has been reported as 1ml/kcal ingested, although lower daily water ratios of 0.6 to 0.8 have been reported in healthy cats housed indoors in a climate-controlled environment with a stable calorie intake.
What does this mean for our feline friends? Unfortunately, it is well recognised that cats are predisposed to urinary tract disease, and that a lack of fluid intake can be one of the contributing causes. In fact, 30-50% of cats over the age of 15 suffer from chronic kidney disease.
What can cause a cat to become dehydrated?
Your cat becoming dehydrated may result for a number of factors. Age, health condition and diet can have a chronic (long-term) impact on their hydration status whilst environmental factors, physical activity, and water availability lead to acute (immediate) effects. Conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and others such as vomiting, and diarrhoea can make cats more prone to dehydration. For our cats living in sunnier climates, their daily water needs will increase – similarly to our physically active cats who will require higher fluid intake than inactive cats.
All of the above can have a significant impact on your cat’s hydration levels however one of the most important factors to note is that cats have a weak drive to drink water – even when they’re healthy!
Why isn’t my cat drinking water?
There are many reasons to explain why cats are considered poor drinkers, starting with their genes. Cats evolved from desert dwellers with a very high urine concentrating ability, driving them to survive on less water than their canine counterparts. Back then, their primary source of water came from their prey, which had a water content of over 60 percent.
Besides that, they can be extremely sensitive to taste and presentation which can be understood as a result of natural selection: in the wild, only those who exhibited this behaviour were protected from illnesses. On the top of that, when cats do become dehydrated the hormone system appears to be minimally sensitive to triggering a thirst response. The physiological aspect is another reason why drinking is not a very effective activity for cats. When they drink free water, only 3% of a teaspoon is consumed with each flick of the tongue. That means lot of lapping is required for sufficient water intake!
Cats also self-regulate total water consumed through drinking in response to the moisture content of their food. That means they will drink significantly more water when consuming dry food when compared to the amount of free water they consume when eating wet food. This is the area that strongly contributes to owners’ misperception on their cat’s hydrations status:
- Cat eating dry food -> owner observe cat drinking water -> must be adequately hydrated
- Cat eating wet food -> owner rarely observe cat drinking water -> must be dehydrated
Well, this is not always the case! The water absorbed in wet food, if in the right amount, can compensate for a large part of the volume ingested through drinking, although as time goes by, you may find that this is quite an expensive option!
How can I get my cat to drink more water?
For us humans, the most common way to increase fluid intake is to simply drink more water – if we apply this same approach to our cats, it’s doesn’t work quite as well! All cats are different and have their own preferences, so the only way to encourage them to drink more water is by taking the time to experiment with different methods and (please don’t forget this part) observe the cat’s reactions to these changes. Identify what is effective for your cat and take the opportunity to get to know them better:
- Keep it fresh: the most basic and effective advice I can give you is to make sure your cat always has free access to fresh water – change the water in the bowl at least once a day. Compare how much is consumed when using tap water, filtered water, or bottled water (tap water usually contains chlorine, which can decrease fluid intake)
- The right water bowl: try various sizes, shapes, materials. Usually, they prefer bowls that are wide and shallow as it can be uncomfortable for them when their whiskers touch the sides of the bowl. They also prefer glass, ceramic, and stainless steel over plastic, with plastic being more susceptible to cracks which can accumulate bacteria along with an unpleasant odour.
- Location: Cats are very hygienic and in the wild they would never pick a water source near their toilet, so the first rule is keeping the water away from the litter box. Also, while keeping the food and water together seems like the sensible choice for most people, our cats also dislike this. It doesn’t feel natural for cats to bring their prey close to their water as it could cause contamination. They’re more likely to prefer a quiet location, away from foot traffic or noise where they can relax fearlessly. It’s a tricky balancing act to find what works best for your cat as for some, the bowl could end up being too far away and as a result they may not visit it as often. It sounds complicated but there is an easy way to learn where your cat’s water bowl should be placed: spread out several bowls in different locations and let the kitty decide his/her own preferences.
- Fountains: Although there are still no studies proving that the use of fountains can increase water intake for cats, we know from experience that some cats do prefer moving water to still wate – most often we see this when they’re sticking their head under a dripping tap from the counter they’re not supposed to be on. Fountains are certainly worth a try!
- Wet food: As mentioned before, switching diets from dry food to wet food can bring significant benefits to your cat’s hydration levels. It feels natural considering that their primary source of water previously came from their prey. If making this change its important to consider wet food that is high quality and free from additives such as preservatives or colourings – after all, you want to improve your cat’s health, not make it worse.
- Add some flavour: sometimes our cat’s need that little extra encouragement to drink their water and adding a touch of flavour could be the answer for you. I’m sure you, just like any other cat owner can relate to the absolute adoration your cat has for you when prepping your own meals – when really, they’re just after your tasty chicken dinner. Apply this same tastebud treat for your cats with a nutrient-enriched water with poultry flavour, such as Oralade RF+, to enhance their water bowl but most importantly, increase their water intake and subsequent urinary output. The 330ml bottle can be given in a dish beside their water bowl, simply added to their water as a hint of flavour or popped into an ice cube tray for smaller portions which can easily be added to their water bowl at any time as a cool treat.
Promoting healthy kidney and urinary function is important for cats of all ages, however as mentioned before, it is even more crucial for our older cats who may have a lower motivation to drink and eat. Hydration is also key for cats with a history of urolith (stone) formation.
Time to put your learnings into practice!