Keeping Your Cats Properly Hydrated
This time of year, it's hot pretty much everywhere. One of the best ways to beat the heat is through proper hydration...and that means drinking plenty of water. Most cats may not care for swimming in water, but they should be encouraged to drink lots of it.
Why Hydration is Important in CatsA cat's body, as are those of most mammals, is composed of 80% water. If that percentage falls by as little as 5%, it can cause a cat to suffer the effects of mild dehydration. If that level drops by 10%, a cat is in severe dehydration and needs veterinary care immediately. Cats that are panting, lethargic, uninterested in any food, have sunken eyes, and an elevated heart rate are likely suffering from dehydration.
You can check your cat for dehydration by pulling up a section of skin near the scruff of the neck, in the shoulder area, and letting it go. If it returns to normal immediately in a normal-weight cat, your cat is properly hydrated. If it slowly returns to normal (a symptom known as "tenting" because it looks like a little tent), kitty needs more fluids. The longer the skin takes to return to normal, the more dehydrated the cat.
Drinking enough water helps keep a cat's electrolytes in balance and its body's cells metabolizing. It lubricates connective tissues, helping relieve the grinding pain of arthritis. It also keeps the cat's urinary tract functioning properly and flushed of impurities, an especially important factor for male kitties. Urinary tract infections are one of the top reasons for feline veterinary visits.
A 2011 study at the University of Aberdeen revealed another benefit of proper hydration: it can help control your cat's weight! In the study, cats were fed exactly the same amount of dry cat food, but those given more water gained weight more slowly than those who drank less. Weight control is important in preventing not only obesity, but also feline diabetes.
So drinking the right amount of water is extremely important to your cat's health.
How Much Water Does Your Cat Need?In the wild, cats don't drink a lot of water. They get most of their moisture from the blood and bodily fluids in the prey they hunt and eat. (I know...ew!) Our domesticated cats usually eat a combination of dry and canned foods, so they need to drink water to get enough fluids. Those that eat only dry food get less moisture from their food than those eating canned, so they need to drink even more water. A 12-pound adult cat will require about 12 ounces of water a day, or about a cup and a half. If you have a larger breed, like a Maine Coon, kitty should be drinking up to 27 ounces of water daily -- that's more than 3 cups!
Certain illnesses drive an additional need for water. Diabetic cats will drink a lot, as will those with chronic renal (kidney) failure. Cats suffering from cancer, FIV, FeLV, or hyperthyroidism also require more water. So will cats who have experienced a lot of vomiting or diarrhea.
Some chronically ill cats may not even be able to drink enough water to supply their needs, and may need to be given fluids subcutaneously, which you can do at home after instruction by your veterinarian, or even intravenously at your vet's office. I had to give sub-cute fluids regularly to both my first cat and my little Vixen toward the ends of their lives...but that's entirely another story!
Encouraging Sufficient Hydration in CatsSo how do you get your cat to drink more water? Obviously, making clean, fresh water available to your cats is an important first step. But presenting that water in the most attractive manner also helps. Try these 10 tips:
- Availability - Make sure your cat has plenty of fresh water available at all times. Seems like a no-brainer but it's something you need to keep an eye on. Some cats drink a lot of water, so make sure those bowls don't go dry.
- Cleanliness - A water bowl can get algae growing in it if it's not washed. Make sure to wash your cat's water bowl daily before refilling it with fresh, filtered water.
- Praise - Despite the mistaken notion that cats can't be trained, they do respond to positive feedback. I have always tried to praise my cats when they're drinking water, telling them how good they are and how good that water is for them. And they've all been very good water drinkers. The photo above is one of my "Golden Boys" having a nice drink after he came home from his neutering surgery.
- Flowing water - A lot of cats enjoy flowing water, whether from a tap or a fountain. This is a carryover from their wild ancestry, as flowing water in nature is less likely to harbor bacteria and if they did drink water, it needed to be from a flowing stream. My little Vixen used to enjoy drinking sideways from a running faucet in the bathroom sink. Many cat fountains are on the market in various designs, and most including a filter to ensure the water's freshness.
- Shallow bowl - Cats don't like for their ultra-sensitive whiskers to touch the sides of bowls. There's even a name for this: "whisker distress." They prefer flat or oval-shaped bowls that allow them to drink without touching the sides. This also allows them to observe their surroundings in their peripheral vision, helping them feel more secure.
- Temperature - Many cats enjoy a few ice cubes in their water in summer. They'll watch them suspiciously and play with them at first, but once they figure out how much that ice cools the water, they'll be clamoring for their "cubes" and lapping up that cool water.
- Positioning - Cats don't like to eat or drink in high-traffic areas. Make sure to put their water dishes in a quiet little alcove somewhere, if at all possible.
- Stability - My kittens get a little carried away with their chase-and-play game sometimes and will knock over their water bowl. Then they start playing with the water on the floor, and maybe even drinking a little of it.
If you're not around to wipe up the mess and refill a spilled water bowl, it's a good idea to make sure that bowl can't be tipped or swatted over. Large bowls with rubber bases, or perhaps even a place mat underneath the water bowl, can help.
- Alternatives - Sometimes placing more than one drinking alternative in different spots around the house can encourage cats to drink more. Place additional bowls or fountains near the places where your cats hang out. You may be surprised to find those that aren't placed right next to their food getting emptied first!
- Flavoring - Cats recovering from illness may not want to drink much, so you can make their water more tempting by adding a little juice from tuna or salmon to it.
Cat Drinking Fountain Options
OldMaidCatLady.com has a nice selection of cat drinking fountains. Here's information on them to help you decide which is best for your cats. Click on the link in each to get complete details or to buy it.
Drinkwell was the original cat fountain, invented by a a veterinarian whose cat was always drinking from the kitchen faucet. It's designed with a spout from which the water flows freely for 5 inches, landing on a little ramp below to keep it from splashing in the bowl. There's a charcoal filter for purifying the water, and even a pre-filter to keep shed cat hair from clogging the main filter. We sell it for $54.95.
CleanFlow is our newest addition in the cat fountain lineup. Made by K&H, it has a silent, leak-proof design and won't splash on your floor. Its bowl holds 80 ounces of water, which is constantly circulated through a filter to keep it clean. An available reservoir tank expands its capacity to 170 ounces, and is great for amulti-cat household. Available from $38.95.
Petmate's Fresh Flow fountain sends the water down a little ramp into the bowl. Its ultra-quiet operation won't frighten your cats. Filtration is via a charcoal filter and it has a translucent reservoir that lets you quickly check the water level. It's available in a 50-ounce or a 108-ounce size. $31.95 to $53.95.
The CatMate Fountain has water available on three levels, and running down a ramp to give your cat plenty of drinking options. It has a polymer-carbon filter and operates exceptionally quietly. It has a 10-foot electrical cord, has a dishwasher-safe bowl, and holds up to 70 ounces of water. On sale for $40.95.
The Healthy Pet Water Station has a removable stainless steel bowl, the best material to prevent bacterial growth. It's dishwasher safe and comes with or without the purifying filter. A big difference in this one is that it's a gravity-driven water station that does not need power to operate. Available in three sizes to hold up to 2.5 gallons of water. $20.95 to $33.95.
Our most economical fountains are from Molor Products. They use a standard 2-liter soda bottle as a reservoir and are also gravity-operated. The Standard Version comes in 8 colors, while the Deluxe Version includes a stainless steel bowl. Both are available for under $10 each. And for $11.95, you can even get a non-skid Cat Buffet with water in the middle and a stainless steel food dish on each side.
Whatever your cat's drinking style or your budget, there are plenty of options available to keep all your cats properly hydrated this summer...and all year round!