My Cat Won’t Drink Water – 3 Tips to Hydrate Your Feline Friend

Recognize the Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration in cats can be a serious issue, so it’s important to recognize the signs early. Some key symptoms to look out for include:

  • Lethargy and weakness – A dehydrated cat may seem extremely tired and have trouble standing or walking. They may collapse or faint when trying to move around.
  • Dry gums – A dehydrated cat usually has dry, sticky gums rather than healthy moist gums. Check your cat’s gums by lifting their upper lip.
  • Sunken eyes – Dehydration causes the eyes to appear sunken in and the skin around them to be wrinkled. This happens as fluids leave the tissues.
  • Loss of skin elasticity – Gently pinch and release the scruff of your cat’s neck. The skin should snap back quickly. If it stays tented, that indicates dehydration.

According to WebMD, these are some of the most telling signs of dehydration in cats. Catching it early and taking action quickly can help get your cat the fluids they need.

Understand the Causes

Dehydration in cats can be caused by several underlying medical conditions that result in fluid loss or prevent adequate fluid intake. Some of the most common causes of dehydration in cats include:

Fever, infection, vomiting, diarrhea – Illnesses that cause fever, gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. The body loses more fluids and electrolytes during these conditions. Infections also increase metabolism and water needs.

Kidney disease – Kidney disease is a frequent cause of dehydration in senior cats. Damaged kidneys cannot adequately concentrate urine, leading to excessive urination and fluid loss. The kidneys also cannot regulate body fluids and electrolytes properly. See

Medications – Certain medications like diuretics, laxatives, chemotherapy drugs may contribute to dehydration through increased urination or diarrhea. Always monitor cats on new medications for signs of dehydration.

Provide Fresh, Clean Water

It’s crucial to provide your cat with fresh, clean water at all times. Use a clean bowl that is washed and disinfected daily to prevent bacteria growth (1). Water bowls should be scrubbed with hot water and unscented dish soap, then thoroughly rinsed and air dried. Avoid using harsh chemicals that may leave residues.

The water itself should be refreshed multiple times per day, especially if you notice debris, saliva, or other contaminants (2). Stagnant water can harbor bacteria and affect taste. Aim to dump and refill the bowl 2-3 times daily. Having multiple bowls around the house can help ensure your cat always has access to fresh water. Bowls should be refilled whenever empty and cleaned on a daily basis.

Cats tend to gravitate toward fresh water sources. Providing clean, frequently replaced water encourages drinking and hydration. Monitor your cat’s water intake and refresh as needed to keep the water appealing. Be diligent about proper bowl hygiene to promote health.



Try Flavored Waters

One way to encourage a sick cat to drink more water is by flavoring the water to make it more enticing. Some safe and effective options to try include:

Low-sodium chicken or beef broth – Add a spoonful of no-salt-added or low-sodium chicken or beef broth to your cat’s water bowl. The scent and flavor can make plain water much more interesting. Just be sure to use an unsalted variety, as too much sodium is unhealthy for cats.[1]

Diluted juice – Try adding a small amount of diluted, 100% juice with no added sugar to your cat’s water. Tuna juice, clam juice, or diluted vegetable or bone broths are healthy options. Use only a tiny bit to lightly flavor the water. Too much can cause diarrhea. [1]

Catnip tea – Steep a small amount of dried catnip in hot water for 5-10 minutes to make a mild, attractive “tea” and allow to cool before adding a small amount to your cat’s water bowl. The scent of catnip is very enticing to many cats. Just avoid overusing it, as catnip can cause overstimulation. [1]

Make Water More Appealing

Making the water more enticing and appealing for your cat is another way to encourage drinking. Try adding a few ice cubes to the water bowl. The movement and sound of the ice can grab your cat’s attention. According to Tufts Veterinary Nutrition, some cats enjoy swatting at and playing with the ice cubes.

You can also try giving your cat a fountain water bowl. The running water can be more interesting and appealing than stagnant water in a regular bowl. Pet Health Network recommends considering a fountain water bowl to promote hydration.

Additionally, moving your cat’s water bowl away from their food bowl can help. Cats have an instinctual aversion to water sources located too close to their food, so keep the bowls separated.

Assist with Drinking

If your cat is too weak or unwilling to drink water on its own, you may need to assist it. One way to do this is by using a syringe, dropper or spoon to place small amounts of water into your cat’s mouth. Squirt or pour just a little at a time, allowing your cat to swallow after each one. This allows you to control the amount of water intake.

You can also try letting your cat lick water off your finger or the spoon. The act of licking provides needed stimulation and encourages drinking. Just dip your finger or the spoon in the water and hold it to your cat’s mouth so it can lap up the water. Offer several times a day until your cat is drinking adequately on its own.

Be patient and gentle when assisting a sick cat with hydration. Give frequent breaks as needed. The goal is to keep your cat hydrated without causing additional stress.

Change Food Texture

One way to help a sick cat get more fluids is by changing the texture of its food. Dry kibble contains only around 10% moisture, whereas wet canned food can contain up to 78% moisture. According to this source, feeding your cat wet food or adding water to dry food can significantly increase its fluid intake.

If your cat is used to dry food, try transitioning to wet food gradually by mixing the two together. Cats tend to prefer shredded, chopped, or “flaked” wet foods which replicate the texture of dry food. You can also make dry kibble mushy by adding warm water to it and letting it soak before serving. Adding tuna water, clam juice, or other flavorings to the water may entice your cat to drink the moistened kibble. Just remember to keep the food fresh by refrigerating or discarding any wet food not eaten within an hour.

Making your cat’s usual dry food mushy and moist can provide essential fluids along with its meals. It also stimulates thirst so that your cat is more likely to drink water, too. Check with your vet for specific recommendations on adjusting your cat’s diet to maximize hydration.

Give Subcutaneous Fluids

One effective way to treat dehydration in cats is to give subcutaneous fluids. This involves injecting saline solution under the skin, which allows the fluid to be slowly absorbed into the body. Subcutaneous fluid administration is typically performed by a veterinarian, as it requires training on proper injection techniques and sites.

The vet will use a needle and syringe or an IV catheter and fluid bag to administer the fluids. Common injection sites include the scruff, between the shoulder blades, and along the back. The vet will pinch up a tent of skin and insert the needle under the skin at a shallow angle. Once the needle is in place, the fluids are infused slowly and absorbed over 8-12 hours.

Giving subcutaneous fluids can be an effective way to treat dehydration, especially in cats not drinking enough on their own. It provides an infusion of fluid that gets absorbed gradually, helping to rehydrate the cat. This can buy time to address underlying causes of the dehydration and get the cat drinking normally again.

Prevent Future Dehydration

To help prevent your cat from becoming dehydrated again, it’s important to encourage water intake daily. Here are some tips:

Feed wet food. Canned or pouched wet foods have high moisture content, so feeding wet food instead of only dry kibble can help increase your cat’s water intake. Aim to feed wet food for at least half your cat’s meals.

Provide fresh, clean water daily. Cats are picky about water freshness and clean bowls. Wash and refill your cat’s water bowl with cool, filtered water every day.1 Multiple water stations around your home can encourage drinking too.

Monitor urine volume and color. Keep an eye on your cat’s litter box habits. Normal urine should be pale yellow and produced in adequate amounts. Dark yellow urine or infrequent urination can indicate dehydration.

See the Vet

If symptoms of dehydration persist despite your at-home efforts, it is important to seek medical care from your veterinarian. Dehydration can quickly become life-threatening, so do not hesitate to have your cat seen by a professional if they are showing concerning signs. The vet will conduct a physical exam, checking gum color, skin turgor, heart rate and other indicators of dehydration.

If your cat is found to be moderately or severely dehydrated, the vet may recommend IV fluid therapy. This involves fluids being administered directly into the bloodstream via an intravenous catheter. This allows rapid rehydration and electrolyte balance restoration. Hospitalization may be required for ongoing fluid therapy and monitoring. IV fluids are often the quickest and most effective treatment when a cat is not responding sufficiently to oral rehydration efforts.

Depending on the cause of dehydration, the vet may also recommend medications, dietary changes, or suggest addressing predisposing factors like kidney disease. They can advise you on how to care for your cat during recovery and prevent future dehydration episodes.

While most cases of dehydration can be treated at home, it’s critical to have your vet evaluate your cat if you notice them becoming lethargic, not improving within 24 hours, or showing other emergency signs. Prompt veterinary treatment can help get your cat rehydrated and back to feeling their best.

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