Water comprises approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface. It accounts for about 60 percent of our adult bodies and is found in every cell, organ and tissue; it is even in bones. In the body, water is needed to:
- Feed the cells and provide the necessary material to reproduce and grow.
- Regulate internal body temperature.
- Facilitate metabolism and digestion.
- Flush waste products.
- Lubricate joints to protect them as the body moves, while safeguarding the brain and spinal cord.
- Deliver oxygen throughout the body.
- Enable the brain to produce hormones and neurotransmitters.
Water is so important that, without it, we and the world would die. It is no less important to cats — especially because water constitutes about 80 percent of cats’ bodies.
If a cat does not ingest enough water, she can become dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the normal body fluids, including water and electrolytes, fall below required needs. The body’s cells are now deficient in the necessary water needed to perform vital functions. Dehydration can cause permanent kidney damage, heatstroke, shock and damage to the circulatory system. Untreated dehydration can lead to death in a matter of hours.
Dehydration can occur in any combination of reduced fluid intake, increased fluid losses or simply not enough water in the diet. Young, older, immune-compromised, pregnant and nursing cats are more susceptible to dehydration. It is not uncommon for a cat owner to not be aware that their beloved cat is suffering from a mild to even severe case of dehydration.
How To Check For Dehydration
Signs of dehydration in cats include:
- Capillary refill that takes longer than two seconds. Lift up your cat’s lips while pressing a finger against her gums and then releasing. These gums may also feel sticky to the touch. Note how long it takes for the natural color to return.
- Gums that look paler than normal.
- Loose skin. Skin should return to its natural position quickly when lifted and then released. Note: This is not an accurate test for overweight cats, as there is no longer natural elasticity in their skin.
- Sunken eyes.
- Tremors in back legs.
- Increased heart rate.
“When Kisa sits on my lap and I’m petting her,” says cat owner Debbie Chaffee, “I always raise the skin by the nape of her neck to see how quickly it shrinks back. Once kidney disease has been diagnosed, there is no turning back.”
The Right Amount Of Water
Many factors influence how much water any particular cat needs. All cats need to add water to their diet, including kittens. In fact, once a kitten opens her eyes she should have water available. That way, as the kitty explores, she can learn about water and how to drink. Below are other factors to consider.
1. Diet: Water is necessary for digestion. Cats who eat dry food will need 10 times more water than those who eat unprocessed or raw food. Cats eating canned food will drink somewhere in the middle. A 10-pound cat who eats only dry food may drink up to 2 cups of water a day, but if that same cat eats only canned food she will drink about 1 cup of water. Drinking less will lead to a state of dehydration.
It is a misconception that cats are considered desert animals and therefore require little water. Scientists believe that cats are descended from African wildcats. The reason cats in the wild need little water is because they eat prey and absorb the water from the animal.
2. Environmental Temperature: Temperatures in the 50 to 60 degree Fahrenheit range will require the least amount of additional water. However, either colder or warmer air temperatures requires more drinking, as it takes more water to cool or warm the body.
3. Illness: A cat with a urinary tract infection, kidney disease or diabetes will drink more water, while a cat with liver disease or a respiratory illness will drink less water. Fluid losses can occur due to diarrhea, vomiting and fevers, or from certain medications that can cause a cat to urinate frequently. Any change in water consumption suggests a problem that requires the attention of your veterinarian.
“By using a water dish that needs to be filled daily, cat owners know right away when there is a change,” says Cathy Alinovi, DVM, owner of Healthy PAWsibilities located near Lafayette, Indiana. “Acting quickly gets your cat early treatment, which results in better long-term options.”
4. Aging And Body Size: Necessary water is directly proportional to the weight of a cat. The larger or heavier the cat, the more water is needed. As cats age, they may lose body mass which then requires less water.
5. Activity: Additional water is needed to account for the higher metabolism of an active cat.
6. Mental State: Stress can reduce a cat’s desire to drink water.
How To Encourage More Drinking
You can take steps to entice your cat to drink more.
1. Serve Water Fresh And Frequently: Provide a bowl of clean, fresh, cool water that is changed daily for your cat. Replace the water more often in warmer weather or if there is debris or food in the bowl. Sometimes cats like to step in the water to agitate it. Cats will not drink from a dirty bowl.
“I keep several bowls of water in the kitchen so that Popeye has fresh water available to him,” says cat owner Jessica Pollard. “He is very particular. I watch him pass by two or three bowls before settling on the one he wants to drink from.”
2. Use The Drip Method: Allow a faucet to slowly drip water. This satisfies a cat’s need to have fresh, clean, agitated, cool water. You can place a bowl in the sink to catch the drips and use it to water plants.
3. Provide A Cat Water Fountain: Electric pet water fountains will circulate the water without a constant drip in a sink. They do need to be cleaned on a regular basis according to manufacturer suggestions to avoid bacteria buildup.
“I adore my water fountain,” says cat owner Bernie Rogers. “More importantly, DannyLion adores the water fountain. Because try as I might, I could not teach him to turn off the water in the sink when he wanted a drink in the middle of the night.”
To maximize the quality of your cat’s life, ensure that water is readily available to her in the amounts she personally needs to thrive.
When To Seek Veterinary Help
A cat should be brought to the veterinarian any time there is indication of dehydration or a change in her drinking habits. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis.