Cat water

You Can Lead A Cat To Water

January 22, 2024 Dan Su, MS, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition) and Katy Miller DVM, CVFT, CVNAN, CPFFCP, CPCQI, PAS

Water is fundamental to all living organisms, and domestic cats are no exception. Adequate hydration plays a crucial role in regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, facilitating digestion, and supporting numerous vital functions.1 However, unlike many other species, the domestic cat has evolved from populations of the African wildcat, Felis sylcestris lybica, leading to the domestic cat having a low thirst drive.2 This trait stems from their evolutionary origins in desert environments where readily available water sources were scarce. Their ancestors adapted to obtain moisture primarily from their prey,3 which typically contains around 70% water. Consequently, domestic cats may not exhibit signs of thirst until experiencing up to 4% dehydration.4

Hydration and Urinary Tract Health

A cat requires 44 to 66 ml of water per kilogram of body weight per day, which equates to 0.67-1 oz per pound. The water can be acquired from drinking or from moisture in their diet.5 Maintaining proper hydration is particularly important for feline urinary tract health and optimal urine production.6 Urinary tract disease, encompasses various conditions like infections, crystal formation, and stones. Cats are prone to lower urinary tract diseases that can lead to the formation of urinary crystals and stones. These crystals and stones can lead to discomfort while urinating or even life-threatening blockages in severe cases. Studies7,8 have noted that increasing water intake can dilute urine, preventing crystal formations and encouraging more frequent urination. Increasing a cat’s moisture intake can help dilute the urine to keep the crystal precursors (minerals and bacteria) far apart from each other and increase urination so the precursors do not stay in the bladder.9

Chronic kidney disease is very common in older cats. As the disease progresses, the kidneys’ ability to conserve water becomes impaired, leading to increased urination and dehydration. It is estimated that 20-30% of cats will suffer from chronic kidney disease, which dehydration is a significant risk factor for the development of.7-11 Increased moisture intake compensates for the increased water loss to help keep cats well hydrated.12

Hydration and Overall Health Benefits

Beyond urinary tract health, proper hydration offers several other benefits for domestic cats. The regulation of cats’ water intake in relation to the moisture content of their food has been studied extensively over the past 40 years.13 It is estimated that up to 63% of cats are considered overweight, which comes with its own set of significant detrimental health implications.14 Increased water intake can be associated with weight management, as high-moisture diets can be less calorically dense. The additional water can contribute to the feeling of fullness and satiety with fewer calories consumed.15 Additionally, moisture content can play a role in palatability.16 One of the most important considerations for pet parents is the effect hydration can have on the palatability of a cat's food. 1 Cats are very peculiar about a food’s texture.17 Canned cat food is often more palatable, one reason being that its texture aligns more with a cat’s natural preference.18 This can be especially appealing to cats with picky appetites.

Strategies to Support Hydration

Catering to Individual Preferences

Each cat has unique preferences regarding water intake and presentation. While the notion that cats favor moving water persists, research suggests individual variations.19 Some cats may enjoy water fountains, while others prefer still bowls. Therefore, offering both options initially can help identify a cat's individual preference. Freshwater, regardless of presentation, should always be readily available in multiple locations throughout the living environment.

Incorporating Moisture into the Diet

A practical and effective method for increasing a cat's water intake is to incorporate moisture into their diet. Replacing some dry food with wet food or adding water to a dry meal can significantly contribute to daily hydration needs. High-moisture toppers or broths can also be mixed with dry food for cats who prefer kibble. For additional support, specialized supplements designed to encourage water intake are available.

Domestic cats possess remarkable adaptations stemming from their desert ancestry. While these adaptations were once essential for survival, they can raise concerns in the modern pet environment. The naturally low thirst drive in many cats can lead to chronic dehydration, potentially contributing to urinary tract complications and renal disease later in life. Prioritizing and monitoring water intake and employing strategies like high-moisture diets and diverse water sources, can help prevent these potential health issues and promote overall well-being in our feline companions. By understanding the unique hydration needs of cats and implementing effective strategies, we can ensure they thrive and enjoy a lifetime of health and happiness.


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About the authors: Dan Su, MS, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition) works at BSM Partners as Manager of Nutrition Services. His areas of expertise include nutritional management of dogs and cats and the culinary arts. As a food and animal enthusiast, Dan loves to give his pets food names. He is the proud owner of a cat named Gravy.

Dr. Katy Miller works as the Director of Veterinary Services at BSM Partners. She previously served for 11 years as the Director of Dog and Cat Health and Nutrition for Mud Bay, prior to which she practiced general and emergency medicine for 7 years. She is also a competitive 3-day eventer, licensed falconer, and claims only 3 (2 Goldens and Mini Doxie) of their ten dogs.

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