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Feline Dehydration: Don’t Forget to Water Your Cat

The simple act of putting fresh water in your cat’s bowls can help her thrive, especially during a drying winter.

Some cats have no scruples about drinking straight from the tap. By: davedugdale

You always want to keep watering a very dry plant in the sunlight to keep it healthy, right? Well, it seems that our cats need some special watering care too, particularly in winter.

Healthy cats don’t tend to drink a lot of water. They sometimes drink what they need, but often they drink less than what they need. This dehydration can lead to many medical problems, and many cat-loving veterinarians believe that dry diets and indoor cat routines can lead to dehydration and illness such as early kidney disease or urinary problems, GI disturbances, constipation…and the list goes on.

I am totally in this camp. So you know that Christmas cactus you forgot to water for 6 months, and it’s still alive? Your cat will not do as well if not encouraged to keep hydrated.

Seasonal Dehydration

Whether you’re in the North or the South, in a warm climate or frigid, winter usually means your home environment is more closed down, shut in and, above all, heated. I see more kitty health problems related to dehydration in the winter than in the summer.

Are you using more hand cream, face cream, bath oil? Are those little corners by your nails cracking? Well, similar things are happening to your cat, but Frosty Paws just might not know it. We need to keep Frosty hydrated.

Picky Drinkers

More than 10 times a day, my clients love to tell me their cats’ weird preferences for drinking water.

  • “My cat licks the tub.”
  • “My cat drinks water from my glass.”
  • “My cat drinks from the dog bowl.”

Oh, and yes, some cats drink from the toilet. The message here is that your cats may be finicky about their water source.

Other cats have no problem getting their water from the dog’s bowl. By: trekkyandy

Fresh Water

Every time you walk by your cat’s water bowl, change it. Truly. Many cats are only turned on by fresh water. Cats also like to see us work hard as they sit and look at us like we are the stupid ones. Don’t take it personally.

Cats enjoy making us suffer. But isn’t it a great feeling to see them dip their little paw into that fresh bowl or begin to lap the new water in a bright clean bowl? You bet.

Dish Dilemma

Cats might be finicky about fresh water, but they can also be strange about the receptacle. Wait, did I say cats are strange? Yeah, a bit. I did a small, completely unscientific study in my own house, placing 3 different water bowls next to each other to see which was more popular.

One white crockery won out over another slightly different one and a clear glass bowl. Why? I asked my cat, Snoopy, but he just looked back at me with an indignant cat-face that said, “Just put fresh water in this bowl, stupid.”

I did what I was told.

Location, Location, Location

In cat estate, as in real estate, it’s all about the location. Cats tend to drink more water depending on where the water bowl is placed. Again, you can ask your cat where he prefers to have his nightcap, but he may not answer and just give you that evil cat eye. So, you need to figure it out.

I did another very unscientific experiment in my house. To my surprise, my cats preferred to have their water bowl separate from their food bowl. They liked to eat food on one counter and have water on another counter, about 5 feet away.

One cat prefers the dog water bowl in the upstairs bathroom. Another cat only likes a white bowl without any design 4 feet away from his food bowl. Yes, I’m cat crazy, but if this keeps the cats healthy, I’ll continue to do their bidding.

And then some cats just prefer to drink water by the paw-ful:

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Straight Up, or a Splash on the Side?

You’ve heard of Liquiteria, the juice bar? Well, I’m running Kittiteria, the water bar for cats. Water is free, at least, so they’re not running up a tab. One cat gets very excited about running water from the tap; another dips his paw into my bedside water glass, and yet another races to the bathroom when he hears the tub tap run.

Why jump through hoops to encourage your cat to drink? Dehydration in cats can cause or make any minor or underlying medical problem much worse. Indoor cats eating any dry food and who are not particularly happy with their water source are particularly susceptible to dehydration.

Water your cat! And once in a while, water that Christmas cactus, unless you hate it. Then throw it away — along with that dehydrated fruitcake in the closet.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Oct. 13, 2018.