Did you know that cats are descended from desert dwellers? Like little furry cacti, cats have evolved to be able to survive with very low water intake. While this evolutionary ability served desert-dwelling felines who were able to get most of their moisture from the prey that they hunted, pet cats who eat primarily dry food are not as well-served. Domesticated cats have retained their ancestor’s aversion to proper hydration, leading to a higher likelihood of chronic dehydration.
Cats who spend time chasing prey outdoors or lounging in a catio are especially at risk, but there are ways to protect them from the heat. Let’s talk about the signs to look out for and the five easy steps you can take to keep your cats hydrated year-round.
Heatstroke and Dehydration in Cats
Cats are mesopredators, meaning they are both predator and prey animals. While cats are instinctively compelled to stalk prey, they’re also driven to habitually hide signs of pain to avoid appearing vulnerable to predators.
Dehydration and heatstroke are both significant risks to outdoor cats, especially during the summer months, but cats’ instinct to hide pain can make the signs hard to spot. Left untreated, both can become serious, and even fatal, medical emergencies, so it’s important to be vigilant.
Signs of Dehydration in Cats
Dehydration can be caused by not consuming enough water or by excessive water loss from vomiting, diarrhea, diabetes, or other health issues. This can cause physical signs that include:
Loss of appetite
Loss of skin elasticity
Increased or decreased urination
Signs of Heatstroke in Cats
Heatstroke is a medical emergency that occurs when a cat’s body temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It produces signs that include:
If you notice signs of either dehydration or heatstroke, it’s important that you call a vet immediately and take steps to rehydrate and/or decrease your cat’s body temperature.
5 Steps to Keep Cats Hydrated
The average cat needs about 1 oz of water per pound of body weight daily. The exact amount might vary based on a variety of factors, like a cat’s activity level, the temperature, and unique health needs, but an average 8 lb cat should be consuming roughly 8 oz of water per day.
During the hot summer months, your cats will likely need even more than the estimate given above. Let’s talk about how to get your cat drinking more to avoid heatstroke and dehydration.
1. Have Multiple Water Sources
Cats are naturally curious and drawn to novelty. Offering water in various different locations throughout your home will ensure that your cats have plenty of water available, and occasionally moving these water sources around the house will keep your cats curious and engaged. Just make sure that water bowls are cleaned and changed regularly to avoid bacteria buildup.
2. Make Water More Appealing
Cats have an instinctive aversion to still water. Still water is more likely to breed bacteria, so wild cats will only drink from moving water, as it’s less likely to get them sick. Pet cats have this same desire, so providing constantly flowing water from a faucet and/or water fountain is one of the best ways to get your cat to drink more.
Pet water fountains include water filters to keep the water clean, and they offer a more eco-friendly (and wallet friendly) flow of fresh drinking water than simply dripping a faucet. Just be sure to clean the bowl, change out the water, and replace the filter on a regular basis, and keep water separate from cat food and litter boxes.
3. Incorporate Hydration into Your Cat’s Diet
Dry food only has 10% moisture. In contrast, wet food has at least 75% water, which is why switching from a dry to a wet diet is one of the easiest ways to increase your cat’s water intake. You can also improve dry food or elevate canned food by adding water or broth to increase moisture.
4. Keep on Top of Grooming
Excess fur tends to trap heat, so be sure to groom your cats daily. Aiding with shedding can decrease the risk of dehydration and heatstroke.
5. Limit Outdoor Time
Our last blog post discusses the pros and cons of keeping cats outdoors, and that debate is especially relevant when it comes to the dangers of the summer months. If you have an outdoor cat, consider limiting outdoor time during the hottest times of the day, only letting your cats out during the morning and evening and supplementing with indoor enrichment during the day.
When you do let your cat outside, make sure there are sources of shade for them to cool off in, provide lots of water, and utilize cooling mats for extra comfort. If you have an indoor cat who often enjoys a cool breeze from an open window, be cautious. Cats frequently fall from open windows, which can cause serious injury. Turn and tilt windows and window screens are a great alternative that allows air circulation without offering access to the outdoors.
CLA Can Help to Keep Your Cats Healthy
Keeping cats safe, healthy, and fulfilled can be a challenge. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone. Jessica Bartlett, UW-Certified Animal Behaviorist and founder of Cat Lovers’ Academy, is available to help you to meet your cats’ needs, all from the comfort of your home.
Drawing on her certification in advanced feline training, Jessica offers virtual behavior consultation services to give you hands-on support from anywhere. Check out Cat Lovers’ Academy to learn more about Jessica, meet her kitty family, take a look at her free purr-fessional resources, and access her cat behavior consulting services.