Cat drinking water from fountain

Q: Am I a bad cat owner if my pet doesn’t have fresh water all the time?

A: Lots of things fall into the category of being a "bad" cat owner, such as letting an animal’s coat become filthy and matted, or not providing appropriate training and then punishing the pet for mistakes. Let’s just say, though, that you’d be a much better owner if you refreshed your cat’s water bowl at least once a day. That’s because it’s really important to encourage cats to drink — and I’m not talking about the hard stuff.

Benefits of Water

Cats need water to preserve life and health. Without water on a daily basis, even healthy cats can develop dehydration. The severity of dehydration that can occur in cats with other health issues is even greater. Water helps to maintain body temperature, aids in digestion and circulation, and transports nutrients, to name just a few of its vital functions.

Another reason water is an essential element of a cat’s diet is because cats can be prone to idiopathic cystitis — in other words, bladder infections of unknown cause. Taking in enough water helps to dilute urine, causing cats to urinate more often. That helps to prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold there, as well as helping to reduce the risk of crystal and stone formation.

Ensuring your cat stays well hydrated also helps reduce hairballs. Cats who take in enough liquid have better intestinal motility, allowing hair ingested during grooming to pass normally through the gastrointestinal tract.

Paying attention to how much water your cat drinks offers clues to her health. Suddenly starting to drink large amounts of water on a regular basis may indicate that your cat has a medical problem, such as diabetes or kidney failure. Any change in your cat’s level of thirst should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention, but if you aren’t putting fresh water in the bowl at least once or twice a day, you might not notice how rapidly the level drops.

Adding More Water

If you don’t feel that your cat takes in enough water and you’re concerned about it, you should talk to your vet. Here are a few of my favorite ways to keep fresh water available for your cat:

  1. Feed at least some canned food, which contains a high percentage of water — some 70 to 75 percent.
  2. Provide her with a pet fountain. Cats are drawn to moving water, which is easier for them to see and hear, unlike a bowl of still water. Just be sure to clean the fountain regularly!
  3. Use a wide, shallow bowl. Some cats don’t especially like their sensitive whiskers to touch the sides of the bowl when they’re quenching their thirst, so this type of bowl can increase their willingness to sip.
Make checking and filling your cat’s water bowl a simple task. Place the water bowl or pet fountain in a prominent area of a room that you enter frequently. It could be the bathroom or kitchen, for instance. Every time you go there, take a look at the water level. If it’s down by a noticeable amount, refill it. If you are refilling the water bowl more frequently than normal, this could be suggestive of an underlying health concern. You should speak to your veterinarian about this concern, and she will most likely recommend bloodwork, as well as measuring the amount of water you are giving your cat on a daily basis. Wash the bowl daily in hot, soapy water to remove the slick bacterial film that can build up on it.

It’s not uncommon for some cats to be chronically dehydrated, but with a regular source of fresh, clean water, your cat should drink more frequently and more willingly, and she’ll be healthier for it.

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