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How Long Can a Cat Go Without Water? Cats vs. Water and What You Need to Know

Cats are these little bundles of joy that we never thought we needed in our life – until one fateful moment when they showed up at our doorstep. Every cat owner knows that we don’t choose the cats – they choose us.

Cats have 32 muscles in each of their ears that they use to ignore us every day. But while these moody kings and queens may ignore us if it benefits them, we can’t do the same. This goes particularly when it’s something as important as their water intake.

So, is your cat safe from the claws of dehydration? Considering that you barely see it touching the bowl, can you be completely sure that it is not dehydrated? Cats vs. water, let’s see who has the upper hand here.

What Does Water Do for My Cat?

The one obvious thing is that water keeps our cats hydrated. Granted, cats were originally desert animals – so most of the water that they get is from the food that they consume. Even so, most cats have adapted to the non-desert life – which is why they may now need more water than the “cats of old” did.

And here are the main reasons why you may want to ensure they get enough water:

  • It Keeps the pH Level in Their Urine in Check

As a cat owner, you may have realized that cats urinate quite a lot. You don’t see them drinking water – but you see them peeing. Or at least, you see the pee in their litter box, which you obviously have to clean several times a day.

Since they urinate quite a bit, it is important that they stay hydrated. If they don’t, the pH level in their urine becomes imbalanced – exposing their body to toxins. Thanks to drinking a sufficient amount of water, cats should be able to eliminate those toxins.

  • It Keeps Their Brain Active

When our cats start darting around like crazy, destroying literally everything in sight, we think about how nice it would all be if our cat simply learned to “chill.” Still, when they are not very active, it still saddens us – and we would practically do anything to keep them active again.

Considering that the primary component of the brain is water, it also needs water to stay active and healthy. This way, our cats can go to their natural state of craziness – which we have to admit, we rather got used to.

  • It Supports Their Organs

Why do we drink water? Not only out of thirst – if we don’t drink water, our bodies would gradually begin to shut down. Our liver and kidneys won’t be able to process, our bowels would no longer be able to eliminate, and our heart would eventually give out after all the pressure.

Cats go through the same process. Without water, their organs would not be able to function at their full power – and after some time, they might certainly die. This is why you need to ensure that they get the right amounts of water every day.

  • It Improves Digestion

Since you are the one cleaning their poop every day, you probably got used with every type of poop that they can muster. You got the pellety, less smelly poop – and you got the creamy type of poop that you can smell from a mile away. Normally, you would think that the latter is the one that is very bad – but it’s actually the first that’s the worst for your cat. It’s hard to get out, so to speak and it generally shows that your pet doesn’t drink enough water.

This is why they need a correct amount of water every day – to ensure that their poop and peeing process is much smoother.

  • It Helps Improve Their Metabolism

Not only will they be able to poop much smoother, but their metabolism will also improve as well. Your cat needs water in order to poop properly – so by drinking water, the food that they eat will be digested much quicker. This way, they should be able to eliminate it much more quickly.

We know, cleaning more cat poop might not be on your list of most favorite things to do – but a cat that poops enough times a day is a cat that has a healthy metabolism. Ergo, a cat that has a healthy metabolism won’t become a big ball of fat that barely moves and looks lazily at you. We all love Garfield – but we need our cats to be lean and active.

How Can You Tell If a Cat Is Dehydrated?

It can be relatively difficult to tell whether your cat is dehydrated or not – at least by looking at the water intake that they get every day. If you want to know for sure if your cat is dehydrated or not, you may want to look for these signs:

  • Its skin is rather loose

Water gives more elasticity to the skin – and if it is dehydrated, your cat’s skin won’t be able to return immediately to its original state. As a result, let’s say that you “tent” (pull up) gently for a bit on the skin over your cat’s shoulders. Ideally, it should return to its place immediately after being released.

However, if your cat is dehydrated, their skin will eventually return to normal – but much more slowly. Granted, this “tent test” will depend a lot on the fat level and muscle tissue of your cat – as well as their age – which is why you need to look for other signs as well.

  • Its gums are sticky and dry

Gums that are tacky and dry can be a sign that your cat is dehydrated. Therefore, when checking whether your cat is not getting enough water, see if the gums are nice and moist. If that’s the case, then your cat is likely well-hydrated. If not, and its gums are sticky and dry, then it means it is dehydrated.

  • It is lethargic and depressed

Does it seem like your cat is never in the mood for anything? Is it sleeping and lazying around all day long – even more than usual? Is it less playful, or less excited to see you home after you’ve been away for the entire day? These changes in behavior might suggest that your cat is actually dehydrated – which is why you might want to pay close attention to them.

  • It lost its appetite

A loss of appetite in your cat should be an alarm at all times – not only for dehydration. Sometimes, dehydration can cause the digestion of your cat to go haywire – which will make them turn down food. If your cat refuses to eat anything for a few days, you might want to go straight to the vet.

  • It has sunken eyes

A cat that is dehydrated might seem like it’s drowsy or sullen – with sunken eyes that appear rather dull or lifeless. If that is the case, then you might want to make sure your cat gets more water or that it receives hydration treatment.

  • It has diarrhea or is vomiting

Vomiting or diarrhea might not actually be a prior sign of dehydration – but bear in mind that if they do go through that, they will eventually become dehydrated. After all, they are forcefully eliminating liquids – and they will certainly become dehydrated after that.

  • It is panting

We see dogs panting a lot – but cats do not really do it as often. If a cat is panting, then it must be because they feel overheated – which often goes hand in hand with a case of dehydration.

  • It has an elevated heart rate

Now, not many cat owners might be able to tell if their whiskered friend has an elevated heart rate or not – which is why you might want to do some digging. Take a first aid course for pets or ask the doctor next time you see them. They should be able to help you check out your cat’s heart rate – and if it’s oddly high, then it might be a chance that it is dehydrated.

  • It’s urinating less frequently

This should be a dead giveaway sign that your cat is dehydrated. Obviously, since it is not getting enough water, it seems clear that it wouldn’t have any water to eliminate either. So, if you check the litter box and see less pee than usual, then your cat might be dehydrated.

You might want to differentiate between peeing a little and not peeing at all. If a cat is not peeing, it might be because it simply can’t. This can be a sign of a urethral obstruction, which can turn out lethal for cats if not discovered in time.

How Much Water Should a Cat Drink Daily?

The amount of water that your cat drinks every day should be directly proportional to their own weight. For every 5 pounds of their body weight, they should drink about 3.5 to 4.5 ounces of water. As a result, if you have a 10-pound cat, they should consume about 7 to 9 ounces of water every day. This is the equivalent of half an average water bottle. 

The keyword here is “consume,” as not all of the water needs to be taken from the water bowl. For instance, considering that a can of wet cat food is about 70% to 80% water, the pet will take a lot of that water intake from it. Therefore, if your cat consumes wet food (which is actually highly recommended), it can get about 4 ounces of water just from one 5.5-ounce can. 

Some cats prefer dry food, so it might be rather difficult to get them to eat canned food – but you might want to try getting them accustomed to it. Not only is it very beneficial for your cat for various other reasons, but it will ensure that your cat is getting the water that it needs. Plus, if your cat is an “eater,” then you can rest assured that it will get the water that it needs even if you are not home to see it drink.

How Much Time Can a Cat Go Without Water?

There are various reasons why a cat might not be getting the water that it needs. They might be feeling ill – or they might be accidentally locked inside the house, along with your house key. Under normal circumstances, you might just call the locksmith – but that might take some time.

So, how long can a cat actually go without drinking adequate amounts of water? Will things go bad after a day, or can you still find your cat healthy a few days later – albeit very thirsty? Well, that’s a tricky question to answer.

Usually, the regular domestic cat can only survive a few days with no water. If there is a water source in your home, then there’s a chance that your cat might be able to survive. However, if there’s not, there is a very high chance that things might not turn out really well. The misconception that “cats can live without water for a month” may definitely get your cat killed.

Since water is more important than food, if the cat is left without any source of water, they can go on between 3 and 5 days (in exceptional cases). After that, its chances of survival are rather slim. This is why you must ensure that your cat always has a source of water nearby.

Why Is My Cat Not Drinking Water?

To avoid any complications caused by dehydration, you might want to know firsthand exactly why your cat is not drinking enough water. This will help you determine the course of action so that you can help it to drink more.

If your cat does not have any serious medical issues, you might want to start with the basics. Is its water clear of any debris such as hair, food, or dust? You wouldn’t be drinking gooey or slimy water – so why would you expect your cat to do so? This is why you need to wash their water bowl and change the water at least once every day. Ideally, you should replace it even more times.

It might sound odd, but cats are fussy by nature – so they might simply not like where you placed their water bowl. Some cats prefer their water to be close to the food bowl – whereas others prefer it to be in a different place. You might want to maneuver the water dish around the house – to check whether the problem lies in the location of the bowl or not.

If those are not the problems, then you might want to get your cat checked out by the vet. Its refusal to drink might be a sign of an underlying condition.

Can a Cat Die from Dehydration?

Yes, a cat can definitely die from dehydration if it drags on for too long. Humans also die from dehydration – so why assume that cats are safe from this fate.

Let’s say that your cat has a continuous water supply – but there isn’t any food around. In this scenario, the cat can easily survive up to a month. This is because they will burn through the fat that has already been stored in the body. However, this will not be the same if the situation is reversed.

While a cat can easily survive without food for a month (although they will certainly be hungry), they will die after 3-5 days if there is no water around. Water is the most essential for survival.

And it will not be an easy death. When dehydration is the cause, their death will be very slow and torturous. They will begin to lose from their muscle mass – and eventually, they will go into liver failure.

In fact, this death is so painful that there’s a high chance they’ll die of shock first – even before dehydration death occurs. If you leave a cat locked inside the house for more than a week, not only do you leave it knowing that it will suffer, but there is a very low chance that you will find it there alive.

What Are Some Other Ways to Make Sure My Cat Gets Enough Water?

If you want to prevent any unwanted scenarios – even if your cat is displaying no visible signs of dehydration – here are some tricks that you might want to try out:

  • Give it flavor: Take a water bowl, and add in it some clam or tuna juice. You can also try some chicken broth with low sodium (the one that contains no garlic or onion), and add it to their water bowl.
  • Switch up the food: If your cat eats mostly dry food, you may want to switch it up and go for wet food instead. This way, it should be able to get water from its food. You can even try to add more water to the canned food – but make sure that the result doesn’t end up being too… soupy.
  • Chill it out: This might sound odd to you, but many cats are actually fascinated by the sound made of bobbing ice cubes in their bowl. It’s a good way to make them interested enough to drink some water.
  • Get the water moving: Most cats do not like the idea of still water – so you might want to bring a source of running water in the house as well. Invest in a water fountain, preferably one that lets the water fall in a cascade. It will certainly encourage your cat to drink.
  • Spread more bowls around: This is particularly helpful if you have multiple cats in the house, but it can also be effective if the cat is picky about the placement of the bowl. This way, if it doesn’t like drinking from the water bowl in the kitchen, maybe they’ll like the one in the hall.
  • Clean the bowl regularly: Most cats do not like any unpleasant odors associated with their water. Sure, they might like a smell of fresh tuna coming from it – but if it’s a still, gooey odor stuck to the bowl, then you can be sure they won’t drink. This is why you should scrub the water bowl every day to remove any foul odors.
  • Change the water source: As much as it might seem that your cat is putting on airs… it really doesn’t care. Cats are finicky creatures, so if they do not like the water source, they just won’t drink from it. Therefore, if your cat is not a fan of tap water, you’ll have to dig in and go for bottled water or a water filter.

If you believe that your cat is dehydrated, you need to use the methods above and encourage them to drink more water. If the dehydration is relatively mild, then these “oral” attempts may be just enough to bring their body back on track. However, if their dehydration is severe, then you might want to take your cat for a visit to the vet. If oral intake is not enough, then they might have to be given electrolytes and intravenous fluids.

The Bottom Line

Cats may be strong – but they are not immortal creatures. If they are left without water for more than 5 days, then the chances of them surviving are relatively low. This is why you need to leave a water source available for your cat if you leave it home alone for a longer time.

Similarly, if the cat is dehydrated because of its diet and habits, you might want to “tweak” some water in its food as well. Its body will absorb that water – and the chance of it becoming dehydrated will lower significantly. Also, if you suspect that the dehydration is advanced, a visit to the vet should be in order.