Should You Add Water to Your Cat’s Dry Food? The Surprising Answer


Dry cat food refers to kibble or biscuits that have a low moisture content, usually around 10%. It is a very convenient way to feed cats, but lacks the high water content found in canned wet foods. Some cat owners choose to add water to dry food to increase the moisture content and hydration for their cat.

Adding water to kibble before feeding can help to soften the food and release aroma, which can increase palatability for finicky cats. It also helps to add moisture into the diet, which is beneficial for urinary tract health. However, adding water to dry food also has some downsides to consider, such as potential bacterial growth if left out too long. There are also alternatives like wet food or cat fountains that can provide hydration.

Pros of Adding Water

One of the main benefits of adding water to dry cat food is that it can make the food easier for your cat to digest and chew. Dry food can be quite dense and hard for some cats, especially senior cats or cats with dental issues. Adding a splash of water softens up the kibble, making it simpler for your cat to break down and swallow. This is an easy way to improve the palatability of dry food without needing to switch formulas. According to Executive Cat, adding water to dry food can “soften up the texture” and make it “easier on their teeth and gums.”

Additionally, adding water to your cat’s food is an excellent way to increase their overall fluid intake and prevent dehydration. Cats generally don’t drink as much water as they should, so adding moisture to their food can help them stay properly hydrated. Dehydration can cause serious health issues in cats, so taking this simple step to add more water to their diet is beneficial. The added fluids also help your cat’s kidneys function properly.

Cons of Adding Water

While adding water to dry cat food may seem harmless, there are some potential downsides to be aware of:

Loss of nutrients – When cat food is saturated with water, some of the nutrients can leach out into the water. This means your cat may not be getting the full nutritional value of their food if you add water.

Tooth decay – Dry kibble helps clean cats’ teeth as they chew. Adding water softens the kibble, reducing these dental benefits. Soft food sticking to cats’ teeth increases plaque and tartar buildup.

Gastrointestinal issues – Suddenly increasing moisture in your cat’s diet can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and upset stomach. Cats need time to adjust to significant dietary changes.

Additionally, the soggy food left uneaten can spoil quicker and grow mold if left out too long. Bacteria from the cat’s mouth can also contaminate the slurry.

Overall, while a small amount of water mixed into dry food is likely safe, thoroughly soaking kibble routinely can pose health risks for cats. It’s best to transition slowly and ensure your cat has adequate water available separately.

When to Add Water

There are certain situations when it’s especially important to add water to your cat’s dry food:

For Kittens: Kittens have small stomachs and need to eat frequently. Adding water to dry food makes it easier for them to swallow and digest. The extra hydration also supports healthy development.

For Senior Cats: Older cats are prone to kidney disease and dental issues. Adding water softens food, making it easier to chew and digest. The extra fluids help aging kidneys function properly.

For Cats with Dental Issues: Dry food can be painful for cats with dental disease or missing teeth. Adding water softens kibble, making it more comfortable to eat. It also provides much-needed hydration if your cat struggles to drink.

How to Add Water

Adding water to dry cat food properly maximizes the benefits while ensuring safety and palatability.

The recommended water temperature is room temperature or slightly warm. Cold water from the tap can turn off your cat’s appetite. Water that is too hot can be dangerous. Test the temperature before adding it.

Only add enough water to moisten the kibble, not soak it. About 1-2 tablespoons of water per 1/4 cup of dry food is sufficient. If you add too much, it can lead to an upset stomach.

Let the food sit for 2-3 minutes after adding water. This allows the kibble to absorb the moisture for a softened texture your cat will love.

Stir the food and water together before serving. This evenly distributes the moisture and flavor.

Due to bacteria growth, do not leave moistened dry food out for more than 30 minutes. Discard any leftovers after that time.

Alternatives to Adding Water

There are some alternatives to simply adding water to dry food that can help increase your cat’s moisture intake:

Wet Food – Feeding wet or canned cat food is one of the best ways to increase moisture. Wet food contains much higher moisture levels (around 75-85%) than dry food (around 10-12%). If possible, feed wet food daily or several times a week. Even adding some wet food to your cat’s normal dry food can help increase hydration. [1]

Broths – You can make unsalted homemade broths using chicken or fish and mix a small amount into your cat’s dry food. This can add palatable moisture. Just don’t overdo the broth, as too much can lead to diarrhea. [1]

Cat Water Fountains – Having a cat water fountain with continuously flowing water encourages most cats to drink more. The moving water seems more appealing than sitting water in a bowl. Plus, the water stays fresher.

Signs Your Cat Needs More Water

There are several signs that may indicate your cat needs more water intake:

Increased urination – If your cat is urinating more frequently or in larger volumes, it could be a sign of dehydration as the body tries to flush out excess toxins. Pay attention to the number of times your cat visits the litter box.

Lethargy – Dehydration can cause fatigue, weakness and low energy levels in cats. If your normally active cat starts sleeping more or moving less, it may need more water.

Dry skin – Dehydration can cause dry, flaky skin in cats. Check for patches of irritated skin or a dull coat. Providing more water may improve skin and coat health.

Other possible signs include sunken eyes, loss of appetite, low skin elasticity, and sticky or dry gums. If you notice any of these, try encouraging more water intake. Speak to your vet if signs persist despite increased hydration.

Tips for Hydrating Cats

There are several ways to help ensure your cat stays properly hydrated:

Feed Wet Food. Canned or pouched wet cat food contains much more moisture than dry kibble. Feeding wet food, or mixing wet and dry food together, can help increase your cat’s intake of water.

Use a Water Fountain. Cats often prefer drinking running water to stale water. Invest in a cat water fountain with a continuous flow of fresh, filtered water to encourage drinking.

Provide Water in Multiple Locations. Cats can be finicky about location. Place water bowls in different areas around your home so there’s always one nearby when your cat gets thirsty.

Wash and Refill Water Daily. Change water frequently to ensure it’s clean, fresh tasting, and appealing to your cat.

Consider Flavorings. Adding a bit of tuna juice or low-sodium broth to the water can make it more enticing for some cats.

Keep the Litter Box Clean. Cats won’t drink dirty water, and they may avoid the litter box if not kept clean. This can lead to dehydration.

Talk to Your Vet. If your cat isn’t drinking enough, ask your vet for hydration tips tailored to your cat’s needs and preferences. They may recommend products like catnip water to increase palatability.

When to See a Vet

If your cat is showing signs of chronic dehydration such as lethargy, vomiting, or not producing urine, it’s important to seek veterinary care immediately. Dehydration can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated. According to PetMD, symptoms like sunken eyes, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, and dry or sticky gums indicate your cat needs to see a vet right away.

Bring your cat to the vet or emergency animal hospital if they are extremely lethargic, vomiting frequently, or haven’t urinated in over 24 hours. The vet will examine your cat and determine the cause and severity of dehydration. They may administer subcutaneous or intravenous fluids to rehydrate your cat. The vet will also address any underlying illness causing dehydration, such as kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cancer, or infection.

Treating dehydration as soon as possible is crucial. According to the Boston Veterinary Clinic, cats can deteriorate rapidly once dehydrated, and may need hospitalization for a couple days. With prompt veterinary treatment, most cats can fully recover from dehydration. Just be vigilant about signs of dehydration, and don’t hesitate to seek medical care if your cat seems ill.


In summary, adding water to dry cat food can be beneficial in some cases but is not always necessary. Kittens, elderly cats, and those with dental issues may find it easier to eat and digest moistened food. However, too much added moisture can dilute nutrients and lead to dental problems. Moderation is key.

The best approach is to monitor your cat’s hydration and only add small amounts of water if needed. Pay attention to signs of dehydration like lethargy and dry mouth. Provide plenty of fresh water separately from food. Consider alternatives like broths, canned food, or cat fountains to promote hydration.

If your cat is struggling with chronic dehydration or having difficulty eating dry food, consult your veterinarian. They can recommend tailored hydration strategies and diet modifications to keep your cat healthy.

With attention to your cat’s unique needs, adding water to dry food can be done safely and judiciously to support hydration and nutrition.

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