How to Lead a Cat to Water AND Make Him Drink it

Cats who eat a dry diet need more water than those on canned food.

Published: September 12, 2016


As a general rule, cats and water don't get along, but did you know that many cats will avoid getting water in them as well as on them? Sometimes, getting water into a cat is as challenging as getting a cat into water.

It seems reasonable to expect that when cats get thirsty they will drink, but cats don't have that long-standing reputation for being finicky for no reason! Sometimes it seems that along with their inherent aversion to water, cats also seem to have an aversion to doing whatever it is you want them to do, even when it's in their best interest. You can lead a cat to water but you can’t make him drink.

A 7-pound cat's minimim water requirement is 5 ounces per day. That assumes that the cat is hanging out in a nice temperate environment, not outside in tremendous heat or being chased up a tree and spending energy and fluids with exercise. This minimum also assumes that it's a normal, healthy cat, not an old one with kidneys that aren't up to speed any more. Of course the requirement goes up as the cat gets bigger or more active.  For a normal, healthy, small to medium-sized cat, 5 to 10 ounces of water per day is probably fine.

Cats who eat a primarily dry diet need to drink more than cats who eat mostly wet food, as wet food already contains about 70-80 percent water. If kitty’s diet consists of mostly canned food, she's likely getting a good portion of her daily water requirement just from eating. For the rest, fresh, clean water should be available at all times.

Since we can't observe our feline friends' behavior all day every day, we can't really be sure how much water is actually ending up inside them. When you consider the potential health issues that can occur if your cat doesn't drink enough, making some small changes around the house and to your daily routine in order to avoid those issues is more than worth the trouble.

Among the most common health issues that can arise from dehydration are constipation, urinary tract and/or bladder inflammation, and urinary blockage. Blockages occur when enough crystals/stones form to prevent urination. A serious blockage of the urethra, the thin tube that transfers cat pee from the bladder to your favorite rug and your new shoes, can very quickly become life-threatening. Blockages are most common in male cats, as the urethra is narrow and more easily obstructed. If you see blood in kitty's urine or feces or he seems to be straining to pee or poop, the best thing to do is get him to your veterinarian immediately.

If you have a senior cat, helping her stay adequately hydrated is even more important, as her aging kidneys need all the help they can get to keep functioning properly.

Some cats are especially finicky and need a little extra enticement to bring them to the water bowl. If your cat isn't into canned food (surprisingly, some prefer dry!) there are several ways you can help encourage your cat to drink more water.

  • Try switching to a mostly canned diet. Cats are creatures of habit, so change can be hard for them to accept. Consult with your veterinarian before you change the diet as they can help you select the best food for your cat and give you tips to make the transition smooth and successful.

  • Wash and refill your cat's water bowl daily. You wouldn't want to drink from a glass of water that's been sitting around on the floor for three days, so your cat probably doesn't either. He is way more finicky than you about things like that, most likely.

  • Put several water bowls throughout your home in different locations. With their well-earned reputation for being finicky, it's no surprise that some cats will show a preference for drinking from certain spots in the home over others.

  • Try different kinds of water bowls. Just like with the location of the water bowl, kitty may have a preference for a certain type of bowl. Try rotating between metal, plastic, and ceramic bowls. Cats often prefer wide, shallow bowls because they don't like sticking their faces down inside a bowl with tall sides.

  • Never keep kitty's food and water next to or near the litter box. Cats may be animals but chances are high that even they don't like to eat or drink next to the odor (and possible contamination from) their toilet.

  • Add appetizing flavor to the water. A few drops of tuna juice (from tuna packed in water – not oil!) or chicken broth can make kitty more inclined to drink. Make sure you limit the amount of sodium in whatever you add to your cat's water.

  • Feed smaller meals, more frequently. Eating triggers thirst so eating more often could lead to drinking more. Be careful not to overfeed, though.

  • Try a water fountain. Many cats are attracted by the moving water and the circulation helps to keep the water fresh. Some cats need time to get used to it though, so if you're trying it for the first time and kitty doesn't seem interested, leave it running for a couple of weeks before you give up on it.

You probably don't need to try all of these ideas to get your cat to drink more water, but implementing just a couple of them could make a huge difference and help keep your cat hydrated, healthy, and happy longer.


Krisann Siegle
February 17, 2022

Thank you for your article.  I have tried all of these things and still my cat won't drink.  He also only pees every other day.  Anything else you can tell me would be appreciated.

Dr. Nathan Mueller
July 19, 2021

John, I would you advise you to not add peat moss to your cat's water. It would likely contaminate your cat's water bowl with bacteria or fungi and could lead to illness. It would be safest to stick to some of the things we know might help such as adding more water bowls (e.g., a water bowl in multiple rooms throughout the house) and a small water fountain.

July 16, 2021

Thanks for these thoughts and information. I’m uncomfortable with flavoring water with tuna juice as it will encourage bacteria or fungus. My cat is fond of drinking water coming out of flower pots - need to prevent her from getting fertilizer, and prepare puddles for her, flavored with peat moss. Does that sound safe?   Alternative to suggest that will taste like puddles?

July 11, 2021

My cat drinks very little water on her own, no matter what I've tried. I now mix a quarter of a cup of warm water in with a couple of t teaspoons of wet food to be added to her dry food, three times a day. She's gotten very resistant to this option whereas at first she seemed to eagerly lap it up. Now she will reject the food at the times when I've added the water so I'm trying to find other options. Some good ideas to try here.

November 11, 2020

I really appreciate sharing this information with kitten clients. There is so much the average kitty owner isn't aware of about kitties NEED for water just to maintain health. Thank you for your article.

Ginger Wiley
August 1, 2020

Very helpful!! Great ideas like adding water to canned food have made an important improvement for my cat!!

Deborah Price
January 17, 2017

Thank you for an informative article.  I'd just like to suggest avoiding plastic contain BPA and ceramics from China, as about 25% of them contain lead.  Also, please use the purest water you can.

Emily Mullen
October 20, 2016

I make a "soup" in the bowl along with Bindi's canned food by adding some warm water to the food, stirring, and piling the food on one side of the bowl so that she has a flavorful soup to drink along with her canned food. Invariably she slurps up all the liquid first...even if she decides she won't eat the food that day.

Kathleen Guy
October 20, 2016

This article was very informative.  Thanks so much for ideas..

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
October 19, 2016

That's great, Cheryl!  Cheap and easy.  I like it.  :-) I do something similar--I wash my crew's bowls out before every meal and deliberately don't dump the last half ounce or so of the rinse water out.  That way, there's a tasty little puddle in the bottom of the bowl when the canned food is gone.  What they don't know will help them!

Cheryl Webster
October 19, 2016

I make "kitty gravy" every morning with Henry's canned food and he loves it. I add quite a bit of water to his canned food,mash it all up, and he laps it all up!

Janet Leger
October 17, 2016

Great suggestions. Thanks! We have a few water bowls in different locations around the house because one of our cats won't drink from the bowl in the kitchen. And they always take a drink right after I clean and refill the bowl with fresh, filtered water. They definitely like it fresh!

October 14, 2016

My last cat only drank bottled distilled water. Only water my cat will drink.she didn't like the flavor of the unfiltered stuff.

Ann Corner
October 13, 2016

I add a little extra water to the canned cat food. I wasn't sure how much water a cat needed to drink. This article was very helpful. Thank You.

Ray M
October 13, 2016

We discovered our 17 year old Siamese loves San Pellegrino, and drinks it with enthusiasm.

Kathy Morris-Stilwell
September 30, 2016

Nice article! Thank you.

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