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5 Reasons Why Your Cat Isn’t Drinking Water: Facts, Remedies & FAQ

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

bengal cat playing water in the bowl

5 Reasons Why Your Cat Isn’t Drinking Water: Facts, Remedies & FAQ

Ancestors of domestic felines didn’t need much water to stay hydrated. Wildcats obtained much of their hydration needs from the prey they consumed. Our cats no longer rely on hunting skills for food and water, but most cats don’t drink nearly enough for their daily needs.

Since dry food contains little moisture, cats should drink more water to compensate. Some cats, however, have difficulty managing the two. If your cat has suddenly stopped drinking water and you’re concerned, here are some reasons why.

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The 5 Reasons Why Your Cat Isn’t Drinking Water

1. Dental Issues

If you have ever had a toothache, you know how painful it can be. If your kitty has a dental issue, it could cause a significant decrease in eating and drinking. Here are some common dental problems in cats:

  • Gingivitis: Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. It is a very early stage of periodontal disease. It usually starts with a bacterial infection caused by a lack of proper oral hygiene. When it progresses, it leads to tooth loss.
  • Periodontitis: Periodontitis is a disease originating from an infection of the periodontium. Four tissues comprise the periodontium: the cementum, periodontal ligament, alveolar bone, and gingiva. The disease is a progression of gingivitis.
  • Oral Tumors: Oral tumors can cause discomfort that can lead to a lack of drinking. Oral squamous cell carcinoma is cancer in the lining of certain areas in the mouth, including the tongue, jaw, bones, palate, tonsils, and gingiva.
  • Tooth Resorption: Tooth resorption is the progressive decline of the crown and root of the tooth. It leads to pinholes in the teeth, exposing sensitive roots, which becomes increasingly painful. Tooth resorption is more detectable when your kitty is eating than drinking. Doctor Rawlinson, a veterinarian, explains that the owner might instead notice an abnormal tilt in their head while trying to chew. Cats typically show significant signs of excruciating pain when they bite down on the affected tooth. If cold water touches their tooth, it can also cause a shock sensation, which can make them avoid their water bowl.
  • Tooth Root Abscess: A tooth root abscess is an excruciating problem. It happens when bacteria enter an exposed root and the tooth canal. It is incredibly painful, leading to infection, which requires antibiotic treatment. It can also cause significant damage to the tooth’s crown.

Don’t forget the importance of tooth brushing for cats. It might not seem very practical, but it’s vital to caring for a cat. Their teeth can collect bacteria, tartar, plaque, and other buildup on their teeth and gum line. It can result in several dental issues that can be easily avoided with routine maintenance.

abyssinian cat teeth check by vet
Image Credit by: Nataly Mayak, Shutterstock

2. Gastrointestinal Disease

Gastrointestinal disease can cause discomfort, leading to decreased eating and drinking. An inflamed stomach is called gastritis, which can cause discomfort. The inflammation of the small intestine is called enteritis, and the inflammation of the colon is called colitis.

Common signs of inflammatory bowel disease include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Decreased appetite

The signs depend on which part of the GI tract is affected. The causes of the disease are largely unknown, but there is some speculation that it is a disease with comorbidities. Often, it might be linked to genetic or immune system abnormalities.

3. Certain Cancers

Some cancers can lead to decreased thirst. Unlike cancers of the adrenal glands, pituitary glands, thyroid glands, liver, or kidneys, which increase thirst, others cause a decrease. However, the cat’s thirst will decrease with some medications and cancers.

This could be due to a lack of strength, lower pain tolerance, decreased activity, and medication side effects. Brain cancer can increase or decrease the cat’s water intake. Other signs of cancer in cats might include:

  • Lumps
  • Lethargy
  • Personality changes
  • Stiffness
  • Rapid weight changes
  • Appetite loss
  • Bouts of vomiting
  • Difficulty eating/drinking
  • Bad breath
  • Breathing changes
  • Eliminating outside the litter box

However, it often depends on the type of cancer, as it causes various reactions depending on the system affected. Of course, if it’s only a lack of drinking, don’t jump straight to cancer as a conclusion.

Sick cat in animal hospital
Image Credit by: Kachalkina Veronika, Shutterstock

4. Mouth Ulcers or Inflammation

Your cat could have a mouth ulcer that makes it uncomfortable for them to eat or drink. Vets have the proper tools and restraints to look at the cat’s mouth without risk of biting.

Sometimes, it can be hard to detect a mouth ulcer when you examine your cat since cats aren’t always the most willing participants when you pry their mouths open. That’s why it’s so crucial to take them to your veterinarian.

5. Water Bowl Issues

Cats can be picky creatures. Sometimes, the avoidance of their water can be due to the location of the bowl, the material of the bowl, and other environmental factors. You can switch it up by purchasing a new one or setting the bowl in different locations.

Sometimes, cats prefer to eat and drink in peace. So, placing the bowl in a secluded space might make it more attractive and appealing to your cat.

tabby cat sitting next to a bowl of water
Image Credit: Impact Photography, Shutterstock

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When to Make Your Kitty a Vet Appointment

If you have noticed a significant decrease in drinking,  don’t hesitate to contact your vet. Your vet can thoroughly examine your cat’s urine and blood samples as needed to get to the bottom of the issue. While lack of drinking isn’t always life-threatening, it can be if it goes on too long. Letting it get to the point of no return can be detrimental.

So, it’s always for the best to be safe and take care of problems as they arise. Hopefully, it’s something as simple as an unappealing bowl or an unsavory location.

How Much Water Should Cats Drink Daily?

Cats must drink up to 4.5 ounces of water per 5 pounds of body weight. Therefore, 10-pound cats need up to 9 ounces of water daily to stay healthy and hydrated. This includes all the fluids they consume in a day. Cats get hydrated through food, broth, and plain water.

Cat looking at drinking glass
Image Credit: JumpStory

Watch for Other Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration is a life-threatening problem. Cats can only go 48 to 72 hours without drinking before death. Before it gets to that stage, they start losing the function of their vital bodily organs. So, you have a small window of time if your cat isn’t drinking water to get them rehydrated.

To keep your cat hydrated, ensure they have fresh, clean water available. If your cat has already crossed the threshold into dehydration territory, you’ll likely notice a few other signs:

  • Energy loss
  • Panting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dry, pale gums
  • Sunken eyes

All of these signs indicate advanced dehydration. Encouraging drinking might not be adequate at this point. Your vet can rehydrate your cat with intravenous fluid, however.

Skin Tenting to Test for Dehydration

One effective way to check for dehydration at home is to take a small portion of your cat’s skin and pull it up, then let it go. A dehydrated cat won’t have the same skin elasticity as a hydrated animal. The skin will fall back slowly instead of returning to normal as soon as you let go.

If you do the skin tenting test and realize dehydration is, in fact, a problem, medical attention is crucial at this stage. It is a case of severe dehydration and will require your vet’s help.

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The 6 Ways To Persuade Your Cat to Drink More Water

If your cat is not drinking very much due to an environmental factor or plain pickiness, here are a few tips to get them interested in the water dish.

1. Offer Wet Food

Wet food can hydrate your cat when they aren’t getting enough water, and most cats love it. If you want to avoid switching completely to wet food, you can mix wet and dry food to enhance your pet’s appetite.

Rather than wet canned options, you can also try fresh foods with increased hydration. Some brands are healthier for cats and don’t use preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors.

tabby cat eating wet canned food
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

2. Get a Flowing Fountain

If you have a cat that loves batting the water around every time you turn the faucet on, they might benefit from a flowing fountain water bowl. You can get intricate designs or simpler and cheaper ones. The fountain provides a fresh, flowing water source, and some cats find it more appealing than a stagnant bowl.

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3. Add Broth

Chicken or beef bone broth is a perfect enhancer for water. If you don’t have broth, add just a bit of tuna water to the mix. It will make the water much more attractive to them, and they will likely lap it up in no time.

On top of being delicious, bone broth is nutritious. It provides cats with vital nutrients, but it’s best to serve a broth without too much salt or seasonings. Don’t serve the broth every day because it’s not healthy for your cat in large quantities, and your cat may start to refuse plain water if they get used to water with broth in it.

bone broth in a pan
Image Credit: Alp Aksoy, Shutterstock

4. Change the Location of the Water Bowl

Sometimes, the water bowl might be in an inconvenient and busy location. If your cat doesn’t like the location, they might avoid it. Also, if your cat shares their dinner spot with the dogs and other animals, it might also turn them off.

Sometimes, cats prefer a quiet spot to eat and drink. You could try giving them more privacy and see if it helps. 

5. Change the Material of the Water Bowl

Sometimes, the material of the water bowl can bother your cat. You’re better off going with a stainless steel, ceramic, or porcelain dish. The materials allow for a cleaner drinking experience since they’re less likely to hold bacteria and foul odors than plastic.

6. Always Keep the Water Bowl Clean

Make sure that the water bowl doesn’t stay stagnant long. It’s best to clean it thoroughly every day to avoid buildup like saliva, bacteria, and other less-than-favorable water additives.

grey cat drinking water from bowl
Image Credit: Prilutskiy, Shutterstock

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If your cat is not drinking for any reason and changes to the water bowl or its location don’t work, it’s best to get them to your veterinarian just to be safe. Dehydration is a severe condition, and treating it as quickly as it pops up is best. It could be a simple fix at home or require medical treatment.

If you feel that your cat is dehydrated or you’ve noticed a significant decrease in drinking, visiting your veterinarian immediately is crucial. However, after a visit to the vet’s office, you can make the necessary changes to try to persuade your kitty to drink using our tips in this article.


Featured Image Credit: kalyanby, Shutterstock

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