Encouraging Cats to Drink Water

When cats eat prey, their food has a high water content (about 70% water). Dry foods contain only 10% moisture, and canned foods are 70-80% moisture. Therefore, canned foods approximate the normal moisture intake from diet for a cat. Dry foods on the other hand require a terrific amount of water intake to increase the moisture in the intestine to that of the original cat diet. When cats fail to drink enough water, they can develop urinary problems from the high concentration of the urine that encourages the formation of crystals. Cats that have had urinary issues have a 90% recurrence rate of problems if there are no long term steps taken to avoid the crystals. Interestingly, in my experience, many of these cats seem to have problems around the same time each year – ie some have problems when the weather gets very hot, some have problems when the weather gets very cold, etc. Perhaps they don’t like to drink cold water, or maybe they fail to increase their water consumption as we all should when the weather gets hot. There are a number of ways to encourage moisture consumption to avoid these problems.

  • Feed canned food. While not every canned food prevents urinary crystals, canned food is a method of increasing moisture intake. Any cat that has had urinary issues should have their urine checked on the canned diet that they enjoy eating to insure that the urine appears to be adequately diluted and crystal free on that particular food. Changing foods can change the urine composition rapidly.
  • Many cats are very particular and prefer to drink only when the water is presented a certain way. I call them “fetish drinkers.” Maybe they like the water on the shower or bathtub after a bath, maybe they like the sink (drips from the faucet or drinking the water as it lands in the bowl of the sink), maybe they like a particular glass or bowl – whichever way they prefer their water, it is important for us to maintain fresh water in the way they prefer to encourage them to drink plenty of water.
  • Provide plenty of places for your cat to drink water. A bowl in each room or multiple drinking stations throughout your home make it less of an effort for your kitty to get a quick lap of water.
  • Buy a cat fountain. Most cats will drink more when they are presented with circulating water in a fountain. My favorite is called Cat Mate (not Pet Mate). It is simple to clean (important in keeping the water tasting fresh), very quiet (less scary for nervous cats), and provides water in a variety of ways which encourages cats to find the presentation site they prefer – ie small waterfall, a ramp, circulating pool, etc.
  • Consider methods of enhancing water to encourage water intake. Many of us will drink more liquids if we have flavored liquids like herbal teas or juices. Likewise, cats will often drink more water if we add flavor to the liquid. One way to flavor their water is to mix a can of tuna packed in water or canned chicken with about 3 cups of water. Mash the meat into the water, and then freeze the liquid and meat bits in an ice cube tray. Pop the cubes into a plastic bag, and keep in the freezer. You can thaw or warm one ice cube at a time to provide the flavored water that your cat may like.

During periods of intense crystal formation, I do recommend using a prescription food designed to prevent crystals. Ideally this would be the canned versions of these foods, but if your kitty will only eat dry make sure you are using these diets only. Start making modifications to encourage water consumption. Have the urine checked to insure that that the urine is becoming less concentrated and the crystals are no longer present.

It is important when urinary problems are present to try to encourage water consumption quickly. If you have ever made rock candy from sugar water, or watched sugar come out of solution at the bottom of a cup of tea as it cools, you will recognize that concentrated solutions can rapidly cause large accumulations of solid matter. In the case of the bladder, these are stones. Stones and crystalline debris can obstruct the urinary outflow from the bladder and lead to obstruction. This condition is an emergency, and cats will die if the urethral obstruction is not relieved within a very short period of time. If your kitty is trying to urinate and nothing is coming out, or only small amounts, please see a veterinarian immediately.

By Eleanor Dunn Veterinary House Calls