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

bengal cat playing water in the bowl
Image Credit: kalyanby, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Ashley Bates

Ancestors of our domestic feline didn’t need to drink much water just to stay hydrated. Wildcats obtained much of their hydration needs from the prey they consumed. Obviously, our cats no longer rely on hunting skills alone to keep them nourished correctly.

But, as it goes, most cats don’t drink nearly enough for their daily needs. Since dry kibble takes out most of the moisture from their food source, they really should be drinking larger amounts of water to compensate. Some cats, however, find a little difficulty managing the two.

If your cat has suddenly stopped drinking water and you’re concerned, here are some reasons why that might happen.

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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 just how painful it can be. If your kitty has any dental issues going on, 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 from 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: cementum, periodontal ligament, alveolar bone, and gingiva. This disease is the progression of the gingivitis that we just mentioned.
  • 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, as opposed to drinking. Doctor Rawlinson, a professional, explains that the owner might instead notice an abnormal tilt in their head while trying to chew. Cats typically show major signs of excruciating pain when they bite down on the affected tooth. If very cold water touches their tooth, it can also cause a shock sensation, creating an avoidance to the water bowl.
  • Tooth Root Abscess: A tooth root abscess is an excruciating problem for cats. 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 cause significant damage to the crown of the tooth.

Don’t forget the importance of teeth brushing for cats. It might not seem very practical, but toothbrushing is a vital part of owning a cat. Their teeth can collect bacteria, tartar, plaque, and other buildup on their tooth structure 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: 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 stomach discomfort and upset. Inflammation of the small intestine is called enteritis. Inflammation of the colon is called colitis.

Common signs of inflammatory bowel disease include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Decreased appetite

Actual symptoms depend on what 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

Certain 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, with some medications and cancers, thirst will decrease.

This could be due to lack of strength, lower pain tolerance, decreased activity, and medication side effects. Brain cancer can be one specifically that can increase or decrease 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 just jump straight to cancer as a conclusion. But peace of mind might be necessary sometimes.

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

4. Mouth Ulcers or Inflammation

You know just how painful they can be if you have ever had a mouth ulcer. If you’re doing any of your normal routines, like drinking or eating, it just seems to make the pain worse. Your cat could very simply have a mouth ulcer that’s making it uncomfortable for them to perform these normal functions.

Vets have the proper tools and restraints to look at the cat’s mouth without risk of biting. Sometimes it can be a little hard to tell, as cats aren’t always the most willing participants when you pin them down and examine them yourself. That’s why it’s so crucial to get them into your veterinarian.

5. Water Bowl Issues

Cats can be picky creatures. Any cat owner can contest to this. Sometimes the avoidance of their water can be due to the location of the bowl, the material of the bowl, and all sorts of environmental factors. You can switch it up by purchasing different materials or setting the bowl in different locations.

Sometimes, cats prefer to eat and drink in peace. So, trying to put these bowls 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 and you have no answers, don’t hesitate to contact your vet. Sometimes, you can attribute their drinking less water to a simple source, but other times, it can be serious—and you won’t want to take a gamble.

Your vet can thoroughly examine urine and blood samples as needed to get to the bottom of the issue. If it’s something simple, your vet can suggest how to improve the matter. Your cat will also be in the right hands if it’s something a little more complicated.

While lack of drinking isn’t always life-threatening, it can be if it goes on a little 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 a lack of an appropriate food bowl or an unsavory location.

How Much Water Should Cats Drink Daily?

Cats need to 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. Keep in mind this is all fluids in a day. Cats don’t necessarily get water plain. They consume water through food, broth, and other liquids.

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 and in working order before things start going south.

To ensure proper hydration, you need to ensure that your cats always have a fresh, clean water source available. But if your cat has already crossed the threshold into dehydration territory, you’ll likely notice a few other visual signs.

Signs of dehydration in cats include:

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

All of these symptoms signal advanced dehydration. Encouraging drinking might not be effective at this point. Your vet could rehydrate your cat, even through intravenous methods, if necessary.

Skin Tenting to Test for Dehydration

One effective way you can 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 absolutely crucial at this stage. This is a case of severe dehydration and will require intervention.

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The 6 Ways To Persuade Your Cat to Drink More Water

If your cat is simply 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 is a great additive to your cat’s diet when they aren’t getting enough moisture. Not to mention, they will absolutely adore the stinky, mouthwatering platter. If you want to avoid switching completely to wet food, you can mix wet and dry food together to enhance appetite.

Rather than wet canned options, you can also try fresh foods with increased hydration. These recipes tend to be a lot healthier for cats, cutting out a lot of the processed preservatives and artificial flavors and colors.

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

2. Get a Flowing Fountain

If you have the type of cat that loves batting around the faucet every time you have it on, they might very much benefit from a flowing fountain water bowl. You can get these types of bowls on sites like Chewy and Amazon. Or, you can pick them up at your local pet shop.

You can get very intricate designs or ones that are simpler and cheaper. It’s really up to you! The design allows water to free flow through the design to give a constant fresh flowing water source. Many cats find this more attractive than a stagnant bowl.

3. Add Broth

Broth is a perfect enhancer for water. If you don’t have broth on hand, add just a bit of tuna water to the mix. This track will get your cat’s senses working, making the water source much more attractive for them. They will likely lap it up in no time.

On top of being delicious, bone broth and other types are extremely nutritious for your cat’s body. So, not only will it boost hydration, but it will also add vital nutrients to your cat’s system. Just don’t use this method too much, because it’s not good 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 hustle or the bustle, they might avoid it. Also, if you have your cat sharing a location with the dogs and other animals, it might also turn them off.

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

5. Change the Material of the Water Bowl

It might sound silly, but sometimes the material of the water bowl can turn your cat off. You’re much better off going with a stainless steel, ceramic, or porcelain dish. These materials allow for a cleaner drinking experience. Veer away from plastic when you can.

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 any 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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So now you know that 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 into your veterinarian just to be safe. Dehydration can be a serious consequence, so treating it as quickly as it pops up is best. It could be a simple fix at home, or it could require medical treatment.

If you feel that your cat is dehydrated or you’ve noticed a significant decrease in drinking, that’s when action is required. 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

About the Author

Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.

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