Have you ever wondered how much water a cat should drink?
Water is just water right? We (hopefully) refresh our cats’ water bowls daily, they drink out of them, and life goes on doesn’t it?
Well! There are quite a few considerations that cat guardians should know regarding their cats’ water requirements and drinking habits! Even something as seemingly innocent as the location of the water bowl can make or break whether your cat enjoys using it, or whether it’s a source of stress for them!
Let’s get into the fascinating world of cats and water!
For millions of years, our cats’ furry little ancestors were largely desert dwellers. This brought about many biological mechanisms when it came to the all-important water.
Firstly, they developed abilities to tolerate large fluid losses and still be able to function (please don’t test this). On top of this their kidneys evolved to retain as much fluid as possible to reduce dehydration, by producing highly concentrated urine. These mechanisms helped them to stay alive in a desert/savannah-type environment.
With a natural environment largely devoid of regular water sources, cats get most of their water requirements (70 – 80%) from their food. Their natural prey is mostly small mammals, birds and lizards, which contain 70% moisture, thus delivering most of the daily moisture requirements.
Issues can occur in a domestic situation where cats are fed a primarily dry-food diet. Now, the subject of cat and other animal diets are almost as divisive as human diets, so I’m not going to talk about the best diet for your cat’s health and nutrition (in this post anyway!). But purely from a moisture perspective, dry food diets don’t cut it.
Why is this? Well, commercial dry food diets contain a maximum of about 10% moisture. This means that cats must drink extra water to remain hydrated. Sounds logical right?
Well, it appears that there are studies (here and here) that suggest that even when given access to water, cats fed a dry food diet to not get as much moisture overall, as cats who are fed wet food diets. This may be because cats have naturally evolved to have a low thirst drive.
So, a moisture-devoid diet, combined with a naturally low thirst drive, can predispose cats to a number of kidney and urinary issues.
If you feed a primarily dry food diet, it may be worth introducing some wet or high moisture food to increase their daily fluid intake.
Why do I say anecdotally? Because this is one of those areas where science and observation seem to conflict.
When you start to research how much water your cat needs to drink, you’ll find many resources that will tell you that cats prefer running water over still water. They will suggest using a drinking water fountain rather than a water dish. I am definitely in this camp.
Though if you look closely at those studies, they were very small, with one only looking over a 24-hour period, and the other over 4 days. It doesn’t say whether the cats were used to drinking from a water bowl beforehand (and given cats are naturally curious but apprehensive about changes in their environment, may not have been given enough time to really see results).
In my own experience and through the experience of my clients, the introduction of a running water fountain has usually resulted in the (apparent) consumption of more water (or at least a preference for the running water over the still water). Which can be a really good thing if you feed dry food.
It is suggested that the running water preference is an evolutionary protective mechanism to ensure drinking water is fresh. It is also thought that cats can locate running water sources easier because of the sound.
Observational experiments (and many owners will attest to this) show that cats will prefer a water source that is further away from their food source, given the choice. Placing food and water together or next to each other may actually be deterring your cat from drinking.
Because we can’t actually ask a cat why this is, it is considered to be another evolutionary quirk that suggests that a water source near a food source may be contaminated.
This is the same with the litterbox. Water near a litterbox is less likely to be drank, or vice versa, that litter may not be used. I’ve helped plenty of clients with litterbox avoidance issues that were at least partially due to this reason!
So if you can’t put water near food or litter, where do you put it? Well, think of places that your cat might feel safe. Some cats won’t drink out of a bowl in a corner, as it makes them feel trapped, others prefer to be up high so they can see the surrounding environment when they drink. So don’t confine your ideas just to the floor. Is there a bench, shelf or desk that you could put a water dish or fountain?
The number of water sources is very important also, especially in a multi-cat household. You see, water is considered an important resources, and only one water source amongst multiple cats can and will cause territorial tension, even if you don’t see it!
The basic rule of thumb for all resources in the environment (food, water, litter, cat trees, scratching posts etc), is the number of cats, plus one.
This means that if you have 2 cats, you should have 3 water sources, all spread around the house (don’t just leave them all in the kitchen!), considering the sub territories of each cat.
Phew, who thought something as simple as water could be so complicated? Though making some small changes can make a big difference to the happiness of our cats!