The average human lifespan is seventy-nine years, while the average domestic cat lives only about fifteen.
And, though they appear in our lives for such a short period, we are present for all of theirs. We are their caretakers and they are totally dependent on us for water, food, shelter, and love.
Did you notice that I listed water first? That is because water is the single most important resource for survival; for cats and for everything else.
And they can only survive without it for a limited time. Just how long can they go without it? How much do they need? How can you tell if they’re getting enough? I’ve scoured the internet for the answers to those questions and more!
Where Do Cats Get Their Water?
The first cats emerged during the Oligocene era, about 25 million years ago and, as a species, have mostly stuck to dry regions like deserts and plains.
Obligate carnivores (animals that eat meat exclusively), cats naturally got most of their water via the meat and blood of their prey. Likewise, bone and hair provided them with necessary fiber and minerals.
But cats have come a long way since prehistoric times and the average domestic cat now relies entirely on humans to get the water they need.
How Much Water Does a Cat Need?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Cats are as varied in their caloric and hydration needs as they are in their appearance and personality. Things like size, diet, age, health and activity levels all factor into the equation.
For instance, a cat that eats wet food (about 80% water by volume) and naps most of the afternoon requires less water per day than a highly active cat that eats dry food (only 7-12% water by volume).
In an interview with Catster.com, Dr. Ernie Ward estimated that “…an average ten-pound domestic shorthair cat will typically need to drink seven to ten ounces of water per day.”
What Happens If My Cat Isn’t Getting Enough Water?
Cat’s are tenacious animals; able to survive in the most inhospitable conditions. According to the folks over at Physiology.org, they can even drink sea water in the absence of fresh (owing to the most efficient kidneys in the animal kingdom).
It is ironic then that cats are so prone to infections and diseases of the kidneys. And, without enough water, they can quickly become dehydrated and take ill.
How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Dehydrated?
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to determine whether your cat is getting enough water.
WebMD says that Dry mouth, sunken eyes, lethargy, racing heart and showing disinterest in food are all signs of dehydration.
However, cats often cannot communicate that something is wrong with them.
Here are a couple of simple tests you can perform to assess your cat’s hydration:
The Skin Turgor Test involves lightly pinching the nape of the cat’s neck.
How quickly the skin snaps back is a good indicator of how well-hydrated your cat is.
This YouTube Video is a short step-by-step video demonstrating the technique.
As detailed in The Purrington Post, the Capillary Refill Test is another painless method for checking for dehydration.
So, How Long Can a Cat Go Without Water?
Like humans, cats lose water through sweat and urination (yes, cats sweat). And, while felines can survive up to fifteen days without food, they can only go without water for four.
After that, they begin to encounter problems like kidney failure, heat stroke, blood toxicity and even death.
What Can I Do to Help My Cat Stay Hydrated?
There are many ways to supplement your cat’s water intake. Most pet stores offer a selection of moist treat and wet food.
Additionally, adding warm water to wet cat food gives it a gravy-like texture cats love. It also warms cold food that’s been in the refrigerator overnight.
Not All Water is Created Equal
If your cat refuses to drink the water they’re given, it may be that they simply don’t like the taste. Fear not. No one is asking you to go out and buy Mittens a bottle of Perrier.
Higgins Animal Clinic offers these simple (and affordable) alternatives:
– Try filtered, bottled or distilled water (but beware: distilled water lacks some minerals essential to cat health).
-Move your cat’s water dish out of the sun and into a shady spot where it will stay cool and refreshing.
-On hot days, drop a couple of ice cubes into your cat’s water dish.
Another trick involves placing your cat’s water dish in a separate area of your home than their food.
This is because -in the wild- a cat’s food is usually an animal they’ve killed and they do not want the carcass of their prey contaminating their water supply.
For the same reason, cats show a strong preference for running water. This has led many cat owners and enthusiasts to introduce a pet fountain.
Canned tuna fish may seem like a no-brainer when attempting to supplement your cat’s water intake.
But, according to both Vetinfo.com and the Environmental Defense Fund, canned tuna is almost always polluted with mercury; a highly toxic chemical element that can accumulate in the bloodstream and cause serious health problems.
The Bottom Line
Though cats can survive for days without water, it is important to keep our feline friends well-hydrated.
That means making a water dish available to them at all times and replacing the water inside of it regularly.
And don’t forget to clean the dish itself periodically (if the inside feels slimy, it’s time for a cleaning). Remember: If you wouldn’t drink the water, why give it to them?
Cats make great companions. They provide us with the company, keep our homes free of vermin and make us laugh with their playful and sometimes eccentric behavior.
Keeping them well-hydrated and healthy is the least we can do to protect their health and wellbeing.