Why Won’t My Cat Drink Water? (But Eats Just Fine)


As a cat owner, it can be alarming to notice your feline friend not drinking water as usual. While cats tend to get a good deal of their hydration from wet food, an inadequate water intake can lead to potentially dangerous dehydration. When your cat stops drinking water altogether, it’s important to identify the cause and take steps to encourage proper hydration.

This article covers the warning signs of dehydration, common reasons for a cat avoiding water, tips for enticing picky drinkers, and guidance on when a veterinary visit is warranted. By understanding why your cat may not be drinking and how to mitigate health risks, you can ensure your pet stays happy and hydrated.

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration can be a serious condition for cats, so it’s important to watch for key symptoms. According to WebMD, some of the most common signs of dehydration in cats include: https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/dehydration-cats

A dry mouth or gums are a key indicator of dehydration. PetMD notes that you can check for this by gently lifting your cat’s lip and feeling their gums, which should normally feel wet and slimy. If they are dry or sticky, it likely signals dehydration. https://www.petmd.com/cat/symptoms/is-my-cat-dehydrated

Sunken eyes or eyelids can also be an obvious visual sign of fluid loss and dehydration in cats. As the body loses water, the eyes may start to look shrunken or concave.

Lethargy, weakness, or lack of energy are other key symptoms. Dehydrated cats may move around less or seem extremely tired and inactive. This listlessness signals their body is lacking sufficient fluid levels.

Causes of Dehydration

There are several potential causes for a cat to become dehydrated and avoid drinking water:

  • Illness – Various illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cancer and gastrointestinal issues can lead to dehydration in cats (1). The illness itself or side effects like vomiting and diarrhea prevent the cat from taking in enough fluids.
  • Hot weather – Cats can become dehydrated in hot weather as the heat causes them to pant more and lose more moisture through respiration. Their water needs increase in high temperatures (2).
  • Defective water bowl – Cats may avoid drinking if their water bowl is dirty, too small, too deep, or made of plastic which can give the water an unpleasant taste (3).
  • Stress – Stress from changes in environment, a new cat in the home, or negative association with the bowl can prevent a cat from drinking enough (1).

It’s important to identify the root cause of dehydration in order to properly address it. Consulting a vet can help determine if an illness is the culprit.

Dangers of Dehydration

Dehydration can be extremely dangerous for cats if left untreated. Some of the most concerning dangers include:

Kidney Failure: Dehydration places added stress on the kidneys as they struggle to concentrate urine without adequate fluid. Prolonged dehydration can lead to acute kidney injury or exacerbate existing kidney disease (Source).

Constipation: Without sufficient fluid intake, cats may experience constipation as their stool hardens. Severe constipation can cause obstructions, pain, and loss of appetite (Source).

Electrolyte Imbalance: Dehydration depletes important electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chloride. This can lead to muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, seizures and other complications (Source).

Encouraging Water Intake

There are several creative ways to encourage a cat to drink more water:

Using a cat water fountain can entice cats to drink more since they prefer moving water. The sound of running water attracts them. Make sure to clean and change the filter regularly.

Adding a few drops of tuna juice or chicken broth to the water can provide flavor and aroma to make it more appealing. Only use broth from tuna packed in water or low-sodium chicken broth.

Feeding wet food, which has high moisture content, is an easy way to increase water intake. Cats with chronic kidney disease may benefit from wet food to stay hydrated.

Place multiple water bowls around the home, especially near the food bowls. This provides easy access to water when the cat is eating.

When to See the Vet

If your cat is not drinking enough water, it’s important to monitor their intake and watch for signs of dehydration. According to PetMD, you should contact your vet if your cat hasn’t had any water for 24 hours or more. Significant decreases in water intake, such as drinking less than 2-4 ounces per day, are also cause for concern.

Cats can become dehydrated quickly, so don’t delay in contacting your vet if you notice a reduction in drinking habits. Dehydration can occur in as little as 24-48 hours in cats. According to the St. Louis Animal Emergency Clinic, it’s best to call your vet right away if your cat isn’t drinking water. Waiting too long can allow dehydration to progress and become an emergency situation.

When speaking with your vet, let them know how much water your cat is currently drinking compared to their normal intake. Provide details on any changes in energy, alertness, or other concerning symptoms. The vet can check for underlying health issues and provide treatment options to get your cat hydrated again.

Preventing Dehydration

There are several ways to help prevent dehydration in cats. One of the most important is to take your cat for routine vet visits (1) to monitor their health and address any underlying conditions early. Your vet can advise on your cat’s hydration needs.

It’s also crucial to ensure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Provide multiple water bowls around your home, away from their food bowls. Change the water daily. Consider getting a cat water fountain, as cats often prefer moving water. Only use cat-safe plastic or ceramic bowls, as cats can develop acne from plastic or metal bowls (2).

Pay attention to your cat’s diet. Feed wet food or add water to dry food to increase moisture intake. Avoid too much dry kibble, as this can contribute to dehydration. Canned tuna or broths make tasty “kitty cocktails” to encourage drinking. Talk to your vet about supplementing with cat milk or electrolytes if needed (3).

Monitoring Water Intake

It’s important to monitor your cat’s water intake to ensure they are staying properly hydrated. An average cat should drink around 6-8 ounces of water per day. However, this amount can vary based on factors like age, diet, activity level, and health conditions. Here are some tips for monitoring your cat’s water intake:

Check the litter box – Urine should be light yellow and odorless. Dark yellow urine can indicate dehydration. You can also note if your cat is urinating less than usual.

Test skin elasticity – Gently pinch and release the skin between your cat’s shoulders. The skin should snap back quickly. If it stays tented, this could signal dehydration.

Use an automatic water fountain – Fountains come with apps to track exact daily water consumption. This allows you to monitor changes over time.

Weigh water bowls daily – Note the change in water weight from one day to the next. However, this doesn’t account for spillage.

Track frequency of drinking – Watch how often your cat drinks throughout the day. Increased frequency can indicate a need for more fluids.

By monitoring water intake, you can identify any concerning changes early and take steps to keep your cat hydrated.

Tips for Picky Drinkers

If your cat is picky about drinking water, there are some tips you can try to encourage more water intake.

Using a cat water fountain can entice picky drinkers to drink more. The moving water seems more appealing and natural to cats. Make sure to clean the fountain regularly.

Offering ice cubes made with cat-safe broth or plain water can turn drinking into a fun game and activity for cats. Just be sure to use cat-safe broths without onions or garlic.

Feeding canned wet food, which has high water content, is another great way to increase fluid intake for picky drinkers. Choose low-sodium varieties made for cats.

Try different styles of bowls as well – wide, shallow bowls may get more interest than narrow, deep bowls. Place water bowls away from food to prevent contamination.


In summary, a cat not drinking water but eating food can be a sign of an underlying health issue. The most common causes are kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cancer, and dental disease. Lack of water intake leads to dehydration, which can become life-threatening if severe. Signs of dehydration include lethargy, dry gums, sunken eyes, poor skin elasticity, and dark yellow urine. If your cat is not drinking water, try tempting it with running water, flavored broths, or wet food. Cats with continued disinterest in water should be taken to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. With the proper care, most cats can recover and maintain normal hydration. Stay attentive to your cat’s water intake habits to identify any issues early. Repeated vet visits may be needed to monitor chronic conditions causing hydration troubles.

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