Whether your cat was trapped in the neighbor’s shed for a long weekend, hasn’t been consuming much water over the past few days, or you’re simply wondering whether cats are tough enough to support the “nine lives” theory, you are in the right place.
There are several factors that affect how long a cat can survive without water, and in some cases, cats survive over a week.
The safest answer is 3-4 days for the average house cat. However, if your cat has gone without water for longer than that, you don’t need to panic just yet.
Keep reading to learn why adequate water consumption is important, how to care for a dehydrated cat, and what you can do to ensure that your cat is drinking enough.
Why do cats need water?
Humans are supposed to get a certain amount of fluid ounces of water per day, but how often do we get enough?
We’ll pack a couple of bottles for a long hike, drink half a glass to wash down the medicine, and order it with or without lemon when we go out for dinner.
Surely that’s enough because really, how important could water possibly be?
It turns out that water is essential to some of the most important organs and bodily functions in humans, including:
- Joint lubrication
- Temperature regulation
- Blood circulation
- Kidney function
- The ability to absorb nutrients
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Water is very important.
Would you be surprised to hear that cats need water for the exact same reasons as humans? That’s right, everything on the list applies to cats, too.
They need water consistently throughout the day to stay healthy and keep everything functioning the way it’s meant to.
What happens if my cat doesn’t get enough water?
More than two days without any water is definitely cause for concern, but it’s equally dangerous for your cat to go a couple of consecutive weeks with very little water.
Both of these scenarios would result in your cat becoming dehydrated.
Symptoms of dehydration
Dehydration isn’t always easy to identify, but it helps if you know the symptoms, which include:
- Dry mouth / tacky gums
- Sunken eyes
- Increased heart rate
If you notice your cat displaying these symptoms, try to treat them early. Symptoms will continue to worsen the longer a cat goes without water.
Effects on the body
Cats can develop very serious health problems if dehydration becomes severe.
All the organs and bodily functions that depend on water consumption (which we covered in the first section) will begin working less efficiently and eventually shut down.
Cats with severe dehydration may experience irreparable organ damage even if they survive.
Dehydration will cause dysfunction in the kidneys and bladder, and urinary tract. It also hinders blood circulation, putting additional stress on the heart and sometimes causing cardiac arrhythmias.
How to care for a dehydrated cat?
Restore fluids and nutrients ASAP!
A cat suffering from dehydration won’t just be short on fluids. They’ll also be low on several nutrients such as electrolytes, chloride, sodium, and potassium.
It’s paramount that your cat gets fluids immediately so its body has a chance to being absorbing and regulate those nutrients again.
Rehydrating your cat isn’t as simple as setting out a water bowl, though. A dehydrated cat is actually less willing to drink water than a healthy cat.
Luckily, you can do a few things to convince your cat to take a drink.
Start by putting water in your cat’s favorite bowl. Add ice chips, a small amount of chicken broth, or a little tuna.
If that doesn’t work, sometimes moving water will do the trick. Try using a fountain instead of a bowl.
Evaluate the severity of your cat’s condition
If your cat has gone three or more days without water, it will likely be moderately dehydrated. There are two simple ways to determine how critical your cat’s condition is.
Perform the “skin tent” test by gently pinching and lifting the skin on the back or neck to see how “springy” it is.
A healthy cat’s skin will spring back immediately, while a dehydrated cat’s skin will be slow to spring back (or not spring back at all).
Another method is to check your cat’s capillary refill time by pressing one finger against their gums, then removing it and seeing how long it takes to turn pink again.
If it takes longer than a couple of seconds, your cat is dehydrated.
Treating severe dehydration
Water helps restore some minerals but using a formula like unflavored Pedialyte is quicker and more effective.
For moderate to severe hydration, give your cat a few drops of Pedialyte every 10 minutes for 1 hour using an eyedropper (adding it to a water bowl will dilute it).
If your cat refuses all fluids or cannot keep them down, it should be taken to the vet immediately.
The vet can administer fluids under the skin and monitor them for a few hours, or they could hospitalize your cat for a few hours up to a few days to administer fluids through an IV.
How much water do cats actually need?
The general recommendation is that cats consume 4 ounces of water per 5 pounds of body weight.
This amount can vary depending on other factors, such as what type of food they eat and how much water they dispel.
Food makes a big difference!
Cats in the wild used to get about 70% of their water from fresh meat. That isn’t exactly a realistic water source for most domesticated cats.
However, the food you feed them greatly impacts how much water they need to drink.
Dry food is only 10% water, so your cat needs to consume most of its water separately. On the other hand, Wet food provides about 75% of the water your cat needs daily.
To put it into perspective, a 10-pound cat on a dry food diet should drink at least 7.2 ounces of water. The same cat on a wet food diet might only need 2 ounces.
How much water do they lose?
Cats expel most of their water through urine and a lesser amount through sweat.
Vomiting, diarrhea, and urinary tract infections lead to greater loss of fluids and can induce dehydration more quickly. The more fluids your cat loses, the more they need to drink.
Why isn’t my cat drinking enough water?
If your cat doesn’t drink as much water as they’re supposed to, it isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
Maybe they’re picky about the flavor of tap water, or maybe they’re preoccupied watching the birds outside.
There are some legitimate reasons for your cat not drinking enough water, though, and they have nothing to do with your cat’s taste buds or busy schedule.
It should be no surprise that cats don’t drink (or eat) as much when they’re not feeling well.
Short-term causes may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, decreased appetite, hot weather, dental problems, or fever.
Your cat may drink less water if it is experiencing any of these symptoms but should start drinking normally again when they recover.
Chronic illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism could also result in lower water consumption.
Even unrelated illnesses could be a factor if they’re being treated with medications that affect water loss, such as diuretics used to treat heart conditions.
What you can do about it
Whether your cat is hesitant to drink because they’re sick or just picky, you can do a few things to encourage them to drink more.
The first thing to do is to ensure the water comes from a clean source and not to feed them something they are not supposed to consume.
Cats don’t appreciate stagnant water more than humans, so provide fresh water more frequently and clean their bowls out each time.
You can also try a different water bowl or a fountain. Sometimes cats are picky about the material or shape of their bowl.
For multi-cat households, have one bowl for each cat and disperse them throughout the house. Place bowls away from litter boxes, food bowls, and high-traffic areas.
Is it possible for my cat to drink too much water?
Yes! Excessive water intake is known as “polydipsia” and is a symptom of some very serious underlying illnesses.
To be clear, though, we’re talking about a significant increase in water consumption compared to your cat’s normal behavior.
Drinking a little more than usual if it’s hot outside or rehydrating after an intense play session is normal and not cause for concern.
How much is too much?
Anything more than 7.5 ounces per 5 pounds of body weight is considered too much.
If you’re doing the math, don’t forget that wet food is a water source and needs to be added in. Drinking much more than normal (even if it isn’t more than the recommended amount) is also a red flag.
Possible causes and what to do
Drinking too much is indicative of some serious conditions, including:
- Kidney dysfunction (renal problems)
- Liver disease
- Urinary tract disease or excessive urination (polyuria)
These can only be diagnosed by a vet, so consider scheduling a check-up if you think your cat is drinking too much.