Caitlin UltimoHealth / Pet Safety & Injury Prevention

5 Ways to Prevent Cat Dehydration

If you don’t see your kitty at his water bowl often, you’re probably like most cat owners. “Cats are really desert dwellers and are not programmed to drink large amounts of water,” said Judy Morgan, DVM. This trait can make your kitty more at risk to cat dehydration than you might think.

Of course, cat hydration is very important. Although cats can generally function in a mildly dehydrated state, hydration is important for normal metabolic health, energy and digestion, says Stephanie Liff, DVM, medical director of Pure Paws Veterinary Care. “The kidneys in cats often exhibit dysfunction as cats age, at which point hydration also becomes much more important, since the normal physiologic hydration regulations can fail with kidney insufficiency as well,” she said. “In younger cats, if they experience lower urinary tract issues, increasing water intake is very important to them.”

Whatever your cat’s age, there are some ways you can help increase the amount of water he gets so you can better prevent cat dehydration. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Consider where your water bowl is, and the type of bowl you have. Domestic cats can be particularly fussy when it comes to their water: where it’s placed, how fresh it is and the source it’s coming from can all detract a kitty from drinking, leaving him more vulnerable to cat dehydration. It’s important to keep these things in mind when it comes to placement of your cat’s water bowl. “They won’t drink if their food is near the water bowl (no water near “the kill”) or if the water is near the litter box,” says Dr. Morgan. “Plus, cats don’t like their whiskers to touch the edge of the bowl, so bowls should be wide and have low edges. Water bowls should also be emptied, cleaned and filled with fresh water at least twice a day.”

2. Provide a cat water fountain. Arguably one of the most common (and potentially most fun!) ways to get your cat to drink more and ensure cat hydration is to give him a cat water fountain. “Cats like fresh water,” said Dr. Morgan, “and they are extremely sensitive to the smell of bacteria and will not drink contaminated water.” Getting a water fountain for cats is one way to ensure your cat’s drinking water stays fresh and enticing. Plus, some cats “prefer running water or they like to play with their water,” says Dr. Liff, and a water fountain for cats allows for that. A quick search for cat water fountains will likely yield quite a few results, so narrowing down which option is best for your pet could be tricky, but have some patience. Products like the Drinkwell 360 Stainless Steel Pet Fountain, Drinkwell Original Pet Fountain with Bonus 50-Ounce Reservoir and the Petmate Deluxe Fresh Flow Pet Fountain all provide fun, free-flowing streams that are sure to attract your cat much better than stagnant bowls. The Petmate Pearl Replendish Waterer With Microban is similar, but uses gravity to drop water from the tank through a charcoal filter, so you’ll be assured your cat is never without fresh, filtered and delicious water, even when you are away.

3. Serve him wet food. Feeding wet food is a great way to secretly increase water intake, although Dr. Liff says that cats who primarily eat a wet food diet are likely to drink less actual water, so don’t let that alarm you—it won’t necessarily mean your kitty is more prone to cat dehydration. Other than taking care of your cat’s water problem, “a high-moisture diet will make a more dilute urine,” says Dr. Morgan. “If the urine is more dilute, there is a lower specific gravity and less likelihood of producing crystals in the urine that can lead to obstruction.”

4. Add extra water to his wet food. While wet food alone will increase your cat’s water intake, if your cat requires extra water for whatever reason, Dr. Liff recommends adding water to the wet food. “Some people find that offering other liquids aside from water—like tuna juice or broths—can help increase intake, but these liquids are often salty and can have a counter effect to cat hydration as well,” she said.

5. Pay special attention to his regular diet. Even if you don’t feed your cat a wet food diet, you should still pay special attention to the foods you do feed him to ensure he stays healthy and hydrated. “Cats are carnivores and should eat high-meat diets,” said Dr. Morgan. “They don’t do well with diets high in carbohydrates, which lead to obesity, diabetes and urinary problems. A proper, species-appropriate, meat-based diet will decrease dental disease, while keeping the cat well hydrated. However, adding wet food to your cat’s regular dry food diet is even better for his health. “In fact, it’s estimated that 15,000 cats per year would not develop kidney disease if fed a high-moisture diet instead of dry cat food.”

Speak with your vet if you think your cat isn’t getting enough water or is at risk of cat dehydration. You can also consult your vet if you’re interested in changing up your cat’s diet to include wet food.

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