When kittens are feeding on their mother’s milk or being bottle-fed formula, they’re getting their hydration from the milk. But when they switch to solid foods, it’s important they start drinking water.
Our two new kittens love to drink water. As soon as we fill their bowls with fresh water each morning, they’re right there, ready to drink it. It was a bit of a surprise to me because my other cats never had much interest in water. I would rarely see them drinking from their bowl.
So when one of our kittens, Charlie, lost interest in his fresh water, we started to get a bit concerned. Then we noticed blood in his urine and were very concerned. It turned out, him not drinking water was a sign of a much bigger issue (which I share in this article).
Sometimes a kitten’s lack of interest in their water bowl is normal and natural. But other times, it can be worrisome.
This article will also answer common questions related to kittens drinking water and what to do when they aren’t drinking enough.
Why is my kitten not drinking water?
A kitten may not be drinking water if they’re getting most of their hydration from their mother’s milk, formula, or wet cat food.
Cats don’t drink a lot of water by nature, since they get most of their water from the prey they eat when in the wild. So in some cases, a kitten not drinking much water is normal, especially if they’re eating wet canned food.
Many cats also drink water privately, when you’re not watching. So it may seem like they’re not drinking water but could in fact be sufficiently hydrated, especially if they eat wet food (which is recommended for many reasons).
However, a kitten or cat not drinking water could also be due to a medical issue. There are a few serious situations in which I noticed my cats not drinking enough water.
>> We’ve dealt with intestinal blockages from a cat eating something they shouldn’t (one time it was rubber bands, one time it was hair elastics, and another it was when he got into the garbage and ate chicken bones). His interest in food and water would slowly decline. We learned to get him to the vet clinic immediately at the first sign of him eating or drinking less.
>> Our cat Josh also dealt with crystals in his urine, which made it painful and sometimes impossible for him to urinate. He would also lose interest in food and water during these times.
>> Our kitten Charlie was dealing with a mystery illness when we noticed a lack of interest in food or water, as well as blood in his urine. At first, it wasn’t noticeable because he urinated a decent amount and there was just a little bit of blood in it. But as he drank and ate less, he urinated less and the blood was more concentrated. Our vet sent us home with medication but was stumped when his health wasn’t improving. We were curious about a few houseplants and if they could be causing the issue. Although the vet insisted it was highly unlikely, his health improved as soon as we removed the plants. In case you’re wondering, we believe it was our Shamrock plant that was the cause. It would develop little white flowers that would drop on the floor when they dried up. We believe Charlie was eating those. However, we also removed a couple of Snake plants (also called Mother in Law’s Tongue) which are toxic to cats.
It can be hard to connect a cat’s behavior to an illness because they often seem unrelated. But it’s important to act quickly if you notice a change in water intake or if anything that seems off with your kitten.
You don’t want your cat to become dehydrated, or not be consuming enough water on a daily basis, as both situations can be detrimental to their health.
When to Worry
You should get your kitten to the vet clinic immediately if they’re showing any signs of dehydration, or exhibiting any odd behavior.
Signs of dehydration may be:
- sluggish, slow, and low energy
- loss of appetite
- hard stools
- their gums may be dry or feel sticky
- eyes may appear sunken in
- they may be panting
On top of not drinking water, your cat’s litter box behavior may change, they may be hiding from you, meowing more, or simply not seem like themselves (it’s not always obvious, but trust your gut; if you think something is off, it’s a good chance you’re right). These can all be signs that something is wrong with their health and you should get them to see a veterinarian immediately.
What to do immediately
If you’re certain your kitten is dehydrated, try to get some fluids into them immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to rehydrate them by injecting fluids under the skin, to be absorbed by their body, or directly into their veins in severe cases.
While you have your cat at home, try making their water more appealing by mixing in some tuna juice (the water canned tuna is packed in) or chicken broth. You don’t want to use too much, as both can have a lot of salt in them. This also shouldn’t be a long-term solution as it can add too much sodium to your cat’s diet, which brings a whole other slew of problems.
You also shouldn’t force-feed your cat water, unless your veterinarian advises you to do so.
How To get a Kitten to Drink Water
If you know there isn’t a risk that your kitten is dehydrated and you’re simply trying to encourage them to drink more water, you can try the following methods to get them in the habit of drinking water.
Hydration is important to your cat’s health, so it’s important they get enough water each day.
If your kitten hasn’t eaten wet food or had water to drink for several hours and is showing signs of dehydration, contact your veterinarian immediately.
1. Switch to wet food or a raw food diet
I had several cats that developed serious medical issues due to their low-quality dry food diet. It wasn’t until our previous cat, Josh, developed crystals, and later, diabetes, that I began to do a lot of research about a cat’s diet. I realized how important it is for a cat to be on a wet or raw food diet.
Wet food is about 80% water so it will help keep them hydrated. Consider keeping them on a wet or raw food diet for their entire life and talk to your veterinarian about it.
Cats should eat a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.
Dry cat food is high in carbohydrates and could increase your cat’s risk for obesity, diabetes, or intestinal disease. Cats are also carnivores and dry food is typically full of plant protein fillers they’re not meant to digest.
You can find more information here on the downsides and risks of feeding a cat a dry food diet and the benefits of feeding your cat wet food.
2. Add extra water to their food
With our cat Josh, we could get away with adding about a tablespoon of warm water to his food, without him seeming to notice. However, our new kittens, Charlie and Arthur, turn their nose up at even a teaspoon of water added to their food.
Hopefully your kitten won’t notice a little extra water in their wet food.
Start slowly with half a tablespoon of water and stir it into the food so it’s not sitting on top. I actually like to put a little bit of water into the wet food can, to scrap any bits of food or sauce left behind. Then I pour that water over the food and mix it in.
If your cat doesn’t seem to notice or mind the extra water in their food, try adding a little more next time.
If you use warm water, it will also help warm up the food, which can make it more appealing to your cat. It increases the smell of their food and is closer to the warmer temperature their prey would have.
This is especially important if you store leftover wet food in the fridge. It may be too cold for your cat if you take it right out of the fridge and scoop it into their bowl.
Adding a bit of water, stirring it in, and placing their (microwave-safe) bowl in the microwave for a few seconds can make their food more appealing. Never warm their food for longer than 10 seconds at a time and always test the temperature of their food with your finger before giving it to them.
Be sure to follow the recommendations for the amount of water your cat or kitten should have per day, based on their weight. You don’t want to give them too much water.
If your cat doesn’t like water added to their wet food, or you’re unable to switch from dry to wet food, try a cat food topper. This one is specifically for kittens and will add more hydration to your kitten’s diet. Be sure to check with your vet before changing your kitten’s diet.
3. Make sure their water is fresh and filtered
Cats want fresh water, just like we do. Be sure to give them clean fresh water every day and to clean their water bowl at least once a week, as water dishes are breeding grounds for bacteria and odors that could be turning your cat off of drinking.
Consider giving your cat filtered water, as it’s the best water out of the types of water you may be giving to your cat.
If you’re giving your cat tap water, provided by a city (as opposed to a well), it likely has additives (e.g. chlorine, ammonia, fluoride) that your kitten may not like the smell or taste of.
Your cat may also prefer running water over stagnant water. In which case you could try a cat water fountain. It will keep the water moving and filter it, so you kill two birds with one stone.
You may also try adding a little bit of flavor to their water, such as some tuna juice, to see if that attracts them to it. Don’t add too much of a salty liquid, or it could further dehydrate them.
4. Use a stainless steel water bowl
Your kitten’s water bowl may also be offputting to them. Some plastic bowls can actually leach harmful chemicals into the water, which can also make their water taste funny. They’re also more likely to harbor unhealthy bacteria.
Try switching to a stainless steel bowl. Not only is it safer and more sanitary, but it will also help keep their water cooler for longer.
You don’t want one that’s too light, or you may deal with a new water problem; your cat tipping the bowl over or moving the dish and spilling water.
I use this one, which has an anti-slip bottom and it actually solved the issue of my kittens trying to move their water bowls and spilling water everywhere.
If you don’t have a stainless steel bowl on hand, or don’t want to go buy one, try using a ceramic bowl from your cupboard. This will be a good test to see if it’s the bowl that’s the cause of their limited water intake.
You may also consider this water dispenser if you’re not quite in the habit of changing their water each day. Not only does it come with a carbon filter, so their water tastes good, it also has a stainless steel bowl that can be easily removed for cleaning. You can even place it on the top shelf of the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
5. Try using a plate for water
Your kitten may actually be experiencing whisker fatigue, which is when a cat’s whiskers are over-stimulated. If your cat’s water bowl is too deep and their whiskers press against the bowl when they’re trying to drink, it may be irritating them.
Try putting some water in a small saucer or plate to see if a shallow dish encourages them to drink more water.
Since cats would typically drink from puddles, ponds, streams, etc. (and not bowls), they may be more comfortable lapping up water from this type of flat dish.
Some cats also have a tendency to stick their faces too far into the dish and get water up their nose. This is obviously not comfortable for them and could be contributing to why they avoid the water bowl.
Since the water in a plate or saucer is much more shallow, they aren’t likely to get a nose full of water.
You’ll also waste less water. Their water should be refreshed each day and their dish also needs to be cleaned regularly. If your kitten isn’t drinking much water, this can lead to a lot of water being dumped out.
A plate obviously holds less water, so you’ll be dumping less down the drain each day.
Just be sure to keep an eye on the plate throughout the day. Since a plate can’t hold as much water as a bowl, your kitten may run out of water faster, and/or the water may evaporate quicker.
6. Add an ice cube to their water
As you probably know by now, each cat has a unique personality and preferences. Cold water may be one of those picky preferences.
Try giving them colder water from the tap, or from a refrigerated water filtration system. To keep it colder for longer, add an ice cube.
Watch to see if they seem more interested in their water bowl when you first add cold water to it.
If they are, it may indicate they prefer cold water, in which case, you can add ice cubes to their bowl throughout the day.
This way, you don’t have to dump their water bowl and fill it with cold water throughout the day to accommodate their preferences (although you still want to give them fresh water each day).
7. Move their water dish away from their food
In the wild, a cat would eat their prey and drink their water in two different spots. So your kitten’s natural instincts may just be kicking in if they’re not interested in drinking water from a bowl that sits right next to their food dish.
Your kitten may also prefer to be able to look out into the room as they drink water, to avoid being surprised or attacked from behind.
If another cat attacked them while at the water dish, or they were startled at some point while drinking from it, they may be associating something bad with the bowl or location of it.
Try moving their dish across the room or away from the wall but in a corner. That way, they can sit in the corner, and feel they’re protected from behind, while they look out into the room as they drink water.
You can also test out different spots around the house, to see if there’s one dish they gravitate to. They may prefer a quiet spot to drink their water, or one that’s brighter. You won’t know your cat’s odd preferences until you test different scenarios.
Never place a water (or food) dish next to their litter box. No one, including your cat, wants to drink or eat next to where they defecate. If you have a small space and aren’t sure where to relocate the litter box to, so it’s not next to their food, water, or bed, check out these unique litter box location ideas for small spaces.
Even if your cat’s water dish is nowhere near their litter box, try moving it to a new location to see if it encourages them to drink more water.
8. Turn on a tap
Your kitten may be more interested in water when it’s moving. Try turning on a tap in the bathroom and see if your cat is interested in it. If they try to drink from it, consider investing in a cat water fountain.
Cat water fountains really are hit or miss. So introducing your kitten to moving water with a bathroom tap is a good way to “test the waters” 😉
Our kittens spend more time playing with the water than they do drinking it, and we end up with a big puddle of water next to the fountain. However, our cat Josh loved his cat water fountain. We invested in one after noticing how much he was attracted to tap water when we were brushing our teeth.
How much water should a kitten drink?
In the wild, cats get most of their water intake from the prey they eat. So cats aren’t big water drinkers by nature. However, when kittens are put on a dry food diet, they need to drink more water since they’re not getting any from their food.
Kittens can typically start eating solid food between 4 – 8 weeks of age. However, their teeth aren’t fully developed at that age so they should be eating wet food. Wet food contains water, so if they stay on a wet food diet, which is about 80% water, they’ll likely drink less water from their water bowl.
Cats need about 3.5 to 4.5 ounces of water per 5 pounds of body weight each day (source). Some of that water may come from their wet food.
How long can a kitten go without drinking water?
A kitten should not go longer than 24 hours without getting any water or dealing with symptoms that contribute to water loss.
If your kitten isn’t drinking water, eats dry kibble, and/or is experiencing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, sweating in hot weather, etc., they can quickly become dehydrated.
When a cat is dehydrated, their skin won’t bounce back.
If you pull on the skin above their shoulder and the skin slowly moves back into place, they’re likely dehydrated.
If you imagine a Ziplock bag with water in it; when there’s lots of water and you pull on the plastic, it will go right back to form as soon as you let go. If there’s only a little bit of water in that bag, the plastic will stay scrunched up after pinching it.
There are other symptoms of dehydration, read more about them on Pet WebMD’s website.
If you believe your kitten is dehydrated, contact the veterinarian right away.
If your cat isn’t dehydrated but doesn’t drink enough water day after day, it can lead to urinary tract diseases or kidney disease.
If you notice your cat isn’t urinating or is straining to urinate, it’s again, important to get them to the veterinarian immediately as urinary tract diseases can lead to death within 24 – 48 hours if they’re not treated quickly.
How do you Rehydrate a Kitten?
If your cat is dehydrated, you must get them to the veterinarian’s clinic immediately. They’ll be able to rehydrate your kitten with subcutaneous fluids (fluids injected under their skin) or through an IV.
When you get your kitten back home, they will need time to recover and steps taken to ensure they don’t become dehydrated again. You may need to use a plastic syringe with a blunt end to give them water each day or your vet may recommend at-home subcutaneous fluid therapy.
Your veterinarian can offer instructions and guidance for caring for your rehydrated kitten and ensuring it doesn’t happen again.
I hope this article has helped you understand why your kitten won’t drink water and how to encourage them to 🙂