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Home > Cats > My Cat Doesn’t Drink Water But Eats Wet Food: Vet-Approved Reasons & Tips

My Cat Doesn’t Drink Water But Eats Wet Food: Vet-Approved Reasons & Tips

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Dr. Karyn Kanowski

Veterinarian, BVSc MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most pet parents know it’s important that their cat drinks enough water. After all, water is life, and cats need it to stay healthy and live a long and happy existence. One concern many cat owners have is when their cat doesn’t drink water but eats wet food.

Is that enough water? Will a cat’s health suffer if they don’t drink water but still eat wet food? According to veterinarians, the answer is that if your cat is healthy and shows no signs of dehydration and other illnesses, everything is most likely fine. Read on to find out why, learn more about the importance of water for your cat, and discover how to convince your feline to drink more H2O!


How Much Water Do Cats Need Every Day?

On average, cats should drink around 0.88 fl. oz (25ml) per pound per day, so a 10-pound cat should drink about 8 ounces daily.

Of course, that varies from situation to situation. For example, during winter, a cat will drink less than in summer when it’s hot. A mother cat will drink more when nursing to make more milk for her kittens, while an older cat usually drinks less since they’re less active.

white Persian cat drinking from water bowl
Image Credit: Punyaphat Larpsomboon, Shutterstock

Is the Water from a Can of Wet Food Enough for a Cat?

A single 5.5-ounce can of wet cat food is about 70% to 80% water, equating to about 3.85 to 4.4 ounces per can. Thus, for a 10-pound cat, one can of wet food per day would meet half the daily water requirement.

You might think that’s not enough, but if your cat is healthy and shows no signs of dehydration or illness, it’s probably just fine, even if they don’t touch the water in their water bowl. Why? Cats usually get water from several sources.

An indoor cat, for example, might get water from the bathroom or kitchen sink, from potted plants, a fish tank, and even from licking a window covered with condensation.

Outdoor cats get water from even more sources, including puddles, by killing and eating small animals and leaky outdoor faucets and hoses.

Do Cats Naturally Drink a Lot of Water?

cat drinking fresh water in a bowl
Image Credit: Yuliya Papkova, Shutterstock

Another reason a cat that eats wet food can go without drinking water is that cats are built to survive on less water. Not only do wild felines get their water from a wide variety of sources not classically listed as “water” (i.e., the animals they eat), domestic cats have a diminished “thirst drive” as they have adapted to a lifestyle where water is rarely scarce.

Studies have shown that cats can survive by getting almost all the water they need from their food. If your cat eats a 5.5-ounce can of wet food each day, they might only need a single extra ounce of water to stay hydrated to an adequate and healthy level. In short, cats don’t drink much water, to begin with, and if they’re eating wet food, they can drink a little extra water and still stay perfectly healthy.

The fact that cats that eat a diet of dry kibble drink more water than those on a wet food diet is due to two things:

  • they are not obtaining any moisture from the food they are eating, and
  • the require more water to aid in the digestion of that food, in addition to their maintenance needs.

Cats that eat a mostly wet diet, have the opposite situation:

  • the obtain substantial moisture from the food they eat, and
  • the moisture content of their food means that they do not need additional water to aid in its digestion.


When Do Cats Need More Water than Wet Food Can Provide?

We’ve established that cats don’t drink much water and can do well on the water from wet food alone. However, sometimes, your cat will, or at least should, drink more water to stay hydrated. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent examples.

1. When the Weather Is Hot

When the weather is hot, all animals, including cats, need to drink more water because the water in their body will evaporate and be used to stay cool. That goes for outdoor and indoor cats, but outdoor cats are more prone to losing water because they’re more exposed to high temperatures. If you don’t use A/C, an indoor cat will need more water when it’s hot.

Tabby white british shorthair cat in front of wooden shed looking to the side in sunlight
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

2. When Your Cat Is More Active

Like most animals, an active cat will use more water in their body and need to replenish it more frequently.

3. You’ve Recently Switched From Wet Cat Food to Dry Cat Food

Dry cat food has significantly less moisture; if you switch to dry food, your cat will need more water, and this will usually be very obvious.

persian cat eating dry food
Image Credit: Patrick Foto, Shutterstock

4. Your Cat Might Have a Health Condition

Cats with kidney disease, diabetes or urinary issues often drink more water and urinate more frequently or in larger volumes. A trip to your vet is necessary if your cat suddenly starts drinking and peeing much more than usual.


Signs Your Cat Might Be Suffering from Dehydration

As we’ve discussed, conditions like warmer weather, increased activity, diet change, or disease will cause your cat to increase their water intake. But what if they don’t? What happens when the amount of fluid they are losing is more than they are taking in?

The body needs fluid in order to transport oxygen to organs in the blood. As hydration levels drop, the blood becomes thicker, slowing down oxygen transport, and severe dehydration can cause disorientation, dizziness, and organ damage.

This is a particular risk with conditions like kidney disease, vomiting, diarrhea, or heat stroke. You might think that a cat that has become overheated will naturally drink more water, but the trouble with dehydration is that drinking water is often the last thing they want to do, which only makes things worse.

There are several ways in which you can assess your cat’s hydration status and determine if they are dehydrated.

  • Eyes – when cats are severely dehydrated, their eyes become sunken.
  • Gums – in early dehydration, the gums may look pale and feel tacky. In severe cases, the gums may appear dark.
  • Breathing – when cats are dehydrated their breathing often becomes quite rapid and shallow.
  • Energy levels – dehydration causes lethargy as circulating oxygen levels fall.
  • Appetite – when they are dehydrated, cats are not interested in food, and paradoxically, often will not drink.
  • Skin recoil – normally, if you gently pick up some skin on the back of your cat’s neck, it should spring back into place. The more dehydrated they become, the slower this recoil is. In severe cases of dehydration, the skin won’t bounce back at all.

How To Encourage Your Cat to Drink More Water

As we’ve established, cats are not always big water drinkers, even if their body needs it. To help your cat stay hydrated, follow the tips below.

  • If your cat eats wet food, add 2 tablespoons of water to their meal. It might not seem like a lot, but it is enough to bring their intake up to normal requirement levels.
  • Give your cat multiple water sources, in a number of different locations.
  • Keep your cat’s water bowls away from their food and litter box. Cats will see both of these as a potential source of contamination, and avoid drinking water near them.
  • Swap plastic bowls for ceramic or stainless steel. These materials keep the water cooler, and stay cleaner.
  • Get a cat water fountain for your cat. They love running water and enjoy drinking from fountains.
  • Make sure your cat’s water bowl is wide and shallow. Cats don’t like narrow or deep bowls due to having sensitive whiskers, and losing their peripheral vision when drinking.
  • Place your cat’s water bowl in a spot where they can have 360° vision and will not be bothered by other pets or people.
  • Refresh your cat’s water several times daily so it stays clean and cool.
  • Place a few ice cubes in your cat’s bowl in the summer. They like to play with the cubes, and they cool the water.


Final Thoughts

Unlike dogs, a lot of cats aren’t as fond of drinking from their water bowls. but as a general rule, they will naturally drink as much, or as little, as their body requires. Wet cat food is an excellent source of water for cats, and studies have shown that it gives them almost all the water they need to stay healthy. As long as your cat has no signs of illness or distress, a 5.5-ounce can of wet food per day will provide nearly all the water they need, and by adding an extra tablespoon or two, you can be confident they are getting everything they need.

That’s not to say you can’t encourage your cat to drink more water. The tips we provided will help encourage your pet to drink more water to stay hydrated and healthy. If you are worried that your cat is drinking excessively, not enough, or particularly if they might be dehydrated, make an appointment with your veterinarian for a health check.

Featured Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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