Cats are really desert dwellers and are not programmed to drink large amounts. They also will not drink if their food is near the water bowl (no water near “the kill”) or if the water is near the litter box (don’t drink where you…). They don’t like “stale” water and prefer fresh water, which is why so many cats like drinking from a dripping faucet. They don’t like their whiskers to touch the edge of the bowl, so bowls should be wide and have low edges. Water bowls should be emptied, cleaned, and filled with fresh water at least twice a day.
Cats that don’t drink much and eat dry food will make very concentrated urine. The more concentrated the urine, the more likely they are to produce crystals in the urine which can cause irritation, pain, bleeding, and ultimately urinary obstruction and inability to urinate. This is a life-threatening emergency. Crystals form in the urine because the urine becomes super-saturated: think of the old science experiment where you add salt to a glass of water. It will dissolve until the solution becomes so saturated with salt that it cannot dissolve anymore and the salt falls to the bottom of the glass as crystals. The crystals are very sharp when looked at under a microscope and this causes irritation to the bladder wall. The bladder forms mucous in response, to try to protect the bladder wall. Unfortunately, the mucous, blood, and crystals all come together to form a plug that obstructs the urethra.
There are some things you can do to increase the moisture intake with your kitties:
1. Provide a pet drinking fountain – Cats like fresh water. (I always say they don’t like left overs, which is also why they won’t eat food that is not fresh.) They are extremely sensitive to the smell of bacteria and will not drink contaminated water. Be sure to clean the filters in the drinking fountain on a regular basis.
2. Serve them wet food – A high moisture diet will make a more dilute urine. If the urine is more dilute, there is a lower specific gravity and less likelihood of producing crystals in the urine that can lead to obstruction.
3. Turn on the faucet when your kitty is in the kitchen or bathroom. Many cats love to drink from a dripping faucet.
4. Cats are carnivores and should eat high meat diets. Dry kibble is never more than about 30% meat. The rest of the protein comes from grain or “grain-free” sources like peas, lentils, or other starches. Cats do not do well with diets high in carbohydrates, which lead to obesity, diabetes, and urinary problems. A proper species-appropriate, meat-based diet will decrease dental disease, while keeping the cat well hydrated.
It is estimated that 15,000 cats per year would not develop kidney disease if fed a high moisture diet instead of a dry food diet. If your cat develops struvite urinary crystals, cranberry supplements can be beneficial. Glucosamine products also soothe the bladder. If your cat has shown signs of kidney disease, amino acid supplements can help. Immune system support will help fight infections.