While cats and people may seem as unlikely as two species can be, there is a lot of similarity inside the bodies of felines and humans.
For example, your own body is estimated to contain 63 percent water.
Your cat’s body contains even more – according to Pet MD, up to 80 percent of the feline body is made up of water!
So when a cat doesn’t have access to water or chooses not to drink water, things can get serious very quickly.
In this article, learn how long a cat can go without water. Also, find out why a cat would choose not to drink water. And discover how to encourage your cat to start drinking water again to avoid preventable health issues.
How Long Can a Cat Go Without Water
Unfortunately, there is no uniform consensus on the length of time a cat can go without water intake before death will occur.
Part of the reason for this is because cats have evolved over millennia to take in most of their moisture from the prey they eat.
Cats in the wild rely on their prey to provide for the majority of their moisture needs. Domestic pet cats are still hard-wired to do the same even though you provide fresh water for drinking.
Learn About How to Get Your Cat to Drink More Water
This short video explains how to easily get a cat to drink more water regardless of whether your cat ever goes near their water bowl.
Why Don’t You See Your Cat Drinking Any Water?
The Honest Kitchen explains the average cat needs to take in about one ounce of water per day for every pound of weight.
So if your cat weighs 10 pounds, they will need to take in about 10 ounces of water per day.
However, here is where it gets more complicated. Because as long as your cat is taking insufficient moisture and hydration from their food every day, they can conceivably go for a long time without actually drinking any water!
But this is an unlikely scenario for pet cats today given the moisture content of most commercially available dry (kibble-based) cat foods.
As WebMD for Pets points out, the typical moisture levels for most commercial dry cat foods are quite low, averaging just seven to 12 percent moisture content per serving.
However, canned food can contain as much as 80 percent moisture, making it a suitable source of hydration for pet cats.
So if you are not seeing your cat drinking any water (or very much water) but you are feeding canned or wet food or you are adding water to dry food, it may just be that your cat is getting all the hydration they need from food.
However, if you are feeding all dry food and you never see your cat drink, there is definitely a potential for your cat to become dehydrated. We will talk about how to spot dehydration in felines here shortly.
How Long Can a Very Young Kitten Go Without Water?
Young kittens up to the age of three to four weeks are completely dependent on the cat mom for everything they need, including food and water.
Kittens this young are still nursing, which means they take in both nutrients and hydration from their mother’s milk.
A very young kitten cannot go more than two hours without nursing before the risk of death becomes severe.
How Long Can an Older Kitten Go Without Water?
Once a kitten has begun the weaning process, which is the process of transitioning away from nursing and towards eating solid foods, they shift their dependence away from the mother cat and towards a human carer.
Five to seven weeks
As Best Friends animal shelter explains, starting around five weeks of age, older kittens need to be fed with a transitional diet until they are fully eating solid dry food.
This involves mixing kitten formula with moistened dry kibble or wet cat food, increasing the percentage of the latter, and decreasing the percentage of the former until the food is more solid than wet.
So at this stage, kittens should still be getting all of their moisture from their food.
Eight to 10 weeks
Kitten Rescue points out that kittens usually do not develop the strength and digestive maturity to eat only dry food until about the same time they are ready to be adopted out – so about eight weeks old.
So while you should always be providing freshwater, you may not see your kittens drinking it as long as you are providing wet food, whether canned wet food or moistened dry kibble.
This is when it will be important to start monitoring your juvenile cat’s daily water intake separately from food intake.
How Long Can An Adult Cat Go Without Water?
According to The Feline Nutrition Foundation, a wild cat would normally need to eat every 24 hours to stay healthy.
Since we now know that wild cats typically get most of their hydration from their prey (mice, rats, and other small rodents), this would mean an adult feral or wild cat would need to take in hydration at least once per day.
As the Journal of Experimental Biology and Medicine points out, the average small rodent, eaten whole, contains around 75 percent moisture – more than sufficient to meet an otherwise healthy adult cat’s daily hydration needs.
But what if the cat cannot catch any prey and this doesn’t happen? How long before the situation becomes life-threatening in terms of water consumption?
Here again, it really depends on what your cat is eating and how much moisture they are taking in from their food. If your cat is not eating or drinking for even a single 24-hour period, dehydration can start to set in quickly.
What Are the Signs of Feline Dehydration?
Figuring out how much (or if) your cat is drinking water is one of the big challenges most cat owners today face.
You might think that since you leave out a bowl of freshwater every day for your cat to drink, that your pet would never experience any dehydration. But drinking water is far more intuitive to you than it is to your cat.
To add even more challenges, cats are notoriously good at hiding any signs of illness, discomfort, pain, or injury from their owners.
So you definitely need to learn how to recognize the warning signs of feline dehydration, because you may not have any other visible visual clues that your cat has stopped drinking water.
Here are the main warning signs of feline dehydration according to WebMD for Pets:
- Eyes appear sunken in the sockets.
- Skin, gums, and eyes seem yellow in color (jaundice).
- Skin sags.
- Fatigue and lethargy.
- Lack of interest in eating and drinking.
- Dry mouth and “sticky” feeling gums.
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Mood changes.
Skin sagging is one of the primary diagnostic cues used to detect feline dehydration. The easiest way to do this test yourself is to gently grasp your cat’s skin between their shoulder blades and lift it up.
If it snaps back into place quickly, your cat may not be dehydrated. If it “tents” after being lifted and stays in position longer, this is a common symptom of dehydration.
You can also try monitoring the level of water in your cat’s water bowl, keeping a daily diary of whether you see any evidence that your cat has visited it to drink.
Why Do Cats Stop Drinking Water?
While most pet dogs will drink eagerly at the first opportunity, it is no secret that most pet cats can be reluctant to drink water on its own.
This again dates back to their ancient feline ancestors who relied on live whole prey for their moisture needs. This is especially the case for felines that lived in arid climates that may not have had ready water stores for months out of every year.
But why would a pet cat that has ready access to fresh drinking water every day choose to stop drinking it?
There are a number of reasons.
Change in food or environment
One of the most frequently cited reasons owners sees cats stop drinking is simply stress. A change in the cat’s food or environment can trigger a temporary fast where the cat will stop drinking and eating.
If the change in food is away from dry food to wet food or a raw diet, however, it could also be that the cat is taking in more moisture from food and has simply reduced water intake as a result.
Not feeling well
By far the most common reason that a cat might stop drinking is feeling unwell. Some diseases can prompt a refusal to drink while others may trigger an intense desire to drink.
Since cats are so adept at hiding any sign of weakness from the outside world, you may need to have your feline veterinarian examine your cat to figure out if there is an underlying illness or disease causing the lack of interest in water.
End of life
A cat that has entered their golden years may go through a system shutdown at the end stages of life. This can include fasting and abstaining from water.
Always talk with your feline veterinarian if you suspect your cat has entered the end of life phase so you know what to expect and how to care for your cat in this difficult time.
What Happens When a Cat Goes Without Water?
If there is one fact you can be sure of, it is this: water is just as essential to your cat as it is to you. Nothing good happens when your cat is not taking in enough water every day.
Here are some of the most common health issues that are directly linked to a lack of water consumption in cats.
The kidneys require water to help with processing waste matter and transporting it out of the body.
When there is no water, toxins build up in the kidneys and this can lead to kidney failure, which is always fatal.
Dehydration is often triggered by a bout of diarrhea or vomiting.
But it can also be caused by environmental issues, stress, other underlying health issues, or a simple dislike of where the water bowl is placed or how the water smells.
Constipation can occur for a variety of reasons. But when your cat does not take in enough moisture, the waste matter becomes hard and dry.
This in turn becomes a severe impaction risk. Your cat becomes constipated and cannot pass the waste matter. This in turn triggers even less desire to eat or drink.
How to Get a Cat to Start Drinking Again
In the previous section here, we mentioned that sometimes cats will refuse to drink for the simplest reasons – so simple, in fact, that we may miss seeing them entirely!
Preventative Vet has some fun and creative tips for encouraging your finicky kitty to take in more water each day.
If you can’t figure out why your cat won’t drink, and your feline veterinarian can’t find any health issues, these tactics might be worth a try.
Add a surprise odor and flavor to the water
Maybe your cat just doesn’t particularly like the way the water smells.
You may not think there is anything odd about the smell of your water, but as Cats International points out, cats have about 200 million olfactory cells (you have about five million).
So perhaps your cat is sniffing out something your own nose cannot pick up.
There is an easy fix for this problem, thankfully. Just add in a little cat-safe broth, salmon juices, or tuna juices!
You can also try changing out the bowl itself to see if that helps. And definitely make a practice of cleaning the bowl daily with scent-free detergent.
Yet another tactic to try would be offering spring water or filtered water if you have been using plain tap water. It may just be that the spring water is better smelling as well as being better tasting.
Get that water moving
Cats are naturally attracted to moving things and water is no exception. If you are serving up your cat’s daily dose of water in a plain old bowl, it may simply not be attracting any attention.
There are plenty of cat fountains readily available in pet stores and online. These have become popular because the water bubbles and ripples and moves and this can encourage your cat to play with the water and eventually drink it as well.
You can combine the previous tip with this one for more impact by making tuna juice ice cubes and adding them to the water (plain water ice cubes will work to add visual interest and movement as well).
Put the water in a more attractive place
Just like you probably don’t like to eat or drink near the bathroom, your cat may prefer not to be anywhere near the litter box area (or any other household cats) while eating and drinking.
Some cats don’t mind sharing their litter boxes or water bowls but most cats prefer to have their own.
So you may want to move the water bowl to a more attractive spot and also add more water bowls to the house if you have a multi-cat household.
Hold a water bowl “meet and greet”
If you are caring for a kitten or a recently adopted cat, your feline may be wary of the water bowl or even unclear about what it is there for.
In this case, you can host a water bowl “meet and greet” to help your cat understand it is there for drinking.
Just like when weaning a kitten you try to get them to lick the semi-solid food from your fingers first, you can dip your fingers in the water and invite your kitten or rescue cat to lick your fingers.
This might help your cat figure out that the water bowl is a place to go if they feel thirsty next time.
What to Do If Your Cat Won’t Drink Water
Because dehydration can lead to so many serious health issues and to kidney failure, which can quickly be fatal, you don’t want to wait if you think your cat isn’t drinking.
This is always the right time to reach out to your feline veterinarian for guidance.
If the situation is serious, your veterinarian can administer subcutaneous fluids on an emergency basis to get your cat stabilized until the situation can be sorted out.