You can lead a cat to water, but you can’t make them drink.

Hydration plays a critical role in nearly every internal body process, but convincing your cat that water is valuable to their health can be tricky. Domestic felines descend from desert animals and are naturally designed to derive their moisture from their diet (i.e., fresh prey), rather than a water dish. Sadly, inadequate water consumption worsens many common feline health issues, including urinary tract infections and kidney disease. 

Here are seven tips from the Wales Animal Clinic team on leading your cat to water and convincing them that drinking was their idea.

#1: Select a whisker-friendly water bowl for your cat

Cat whiskers are not facial hair, but finely tuned sensors with roots surrounded by sensitive nerves and blood vessels. These long, coarse fibers transmit information, such as air flow and proximity to nearby objects, about the surroundings and help cats detect minor environmental changes and “see” up close. However, your cat’s whiskers are finely calibrated and sensitive, and they are easily agitated by unnecessary stimuli such as brushing against a narrow water bowl’s sides. This constant barrage of information can cause whisker fatigue, which is an irritating sensory overload of your cat’s nervous system, and once cats associate the water bowl with this unpleasant sensation, they may avoid their bowl altogether.

Reduce whisker fatigue by using a shallow water dish, saucer, or pan with no lip or broad rim around the edge. But, these designs hold less water, so ensure you refill your cat’s bowl regularly and provide multiple water stations throughout your home.

#2: Ensure your cat’s water is fresh 

Fresh water smells and tastes better and is much more attractive to cats. Make a point of emptying and refilling your cat’s water several times throughout the day. Fill the bowl to the brim to provide a comfortable sipping experience.

#3: Clean your cat’s water bowls every day

Your cat’s food and water bowls are breeding grounds for bacteria and germs that alter the water’s smell and taste and can make your cat sick. To eliminate accumulated bacteria, clean your cat’s dishes daily with warm water and a fragrance-free soap or a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar, and rinse thoroughly to remove any soapy residue or odor. 

#4: Provide multiple water stations for your cat

In the same way that you place a glass of water on your nightstand before you go to bed, increasing your cat’s access to fresh water can promote better drinking habits. Location suggestions include:

  • Next to the food dish — Cats like to alternate between eating and drinking, so provide some fresh water every time you feed your cat.
  • On each level — Arthritic or senior cats may have difficulty using stairs and not be able to access water dishes on other floors, so provide an easily accessible water dish on each home level. For multiple cats, you should provide elevated and non-elevated dishes to discourage competition or bullying. 
  • Private spaces — If your home has an open floor plan, place some dishes behind visual barriers (e.g., furniture, curtains) to help submissive cats in multi-pet homes feel more comfortable about getting a drink.

Avoid placing your cat’s water or food dish near the litter box or in noisy, high-traffic areas, as these locations can create an undesirable aversion. 

#5: Try a cat water fountain

Cats naturally find moving water more attractive for its visual appeal, sound, and freshness. If your cat loves to hang out around the faucet, invest in a cat water fountain that will provide a continuous recirculating stream of flowing water that will tempt the most reluctant cat.

While some cats will immediately take to their new drinking fountain, others will require more time to adapt. Continue providing a traditional water dish until your cat will confidently drink from the fountain.

As with water dishes, clean your cat’s water fountain and refresh their water daily. 

#6: Add wet food to your cat’s diet

Wet (i.e., canned) cat food is approximately 75% to 80% water and a tasty way to satisfy your cat’s daily hydration needs. If your cat eats dry food, consider supplementation with a wet food formulation. Alternatively, try soaking your cat’s dry food in warm water or low-sodium broth. As with any diet change, introduce new foods gradually and always provide your cat’s normal (i.e., unadulterated) diet in a separate dish to prevent stress and anxiety, or food refusal, which can lead to serious health problems.

#7: Enhance your cat’s water with low-sodium broth or flavored liquid 

If the previous strategies don’t wet your cat’s water whistle, try boosting its appeal with additives, such as a dash of low-sodium chicken broth, tuna or clam juice, or cat-specific water enhancers. Never use human water products, which could contain harmful preservatives or toxic sweeteners, such as xylitol.

When introducing flavored water, always provide a second bowl that contains fresh plain water in case your cat isn’t impressed.

Your cat’s daily habits can speak volumes about their internal wellbeing. If you’re concerned about your cat’s thirst, appetite or other behavior, the Wales Animal Clinic team can help. Contact us to schedule a comprehensive exam or request an appointment online.