When one has determined that a cat is drinking too little water, how can one stimulate him to drink more?

I don't mean medical or other immediate cases, so syringe is out of the question, I mean to get him to drink on his own on a regular basis?

I've seen a suggestion to add a little bit of cow milk to water, but it seemed rather wrong, and, again, very short-term, as

  • adult cats may be intolerant to dairy products;
  • vet said combination with some food can cause diarrhoea.
  • then add lactose free milk... Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 11:32
  • @ratchetfreak Is lactose-free milk fine for cats isn't incompatible with fish-based food? Maybe you should make this comment an answer then.
    – coverback
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 11:36
  • 3
    @ratchetfreak lactose-free milk still needs to be refrigerated so I wouldn't recommend leaving it out for hours in a water bowl.
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:45

3 Answers 3


Cats don't have much of a natural thirst drive and instead have evolved to get much of the moisture that they need instead from their prey. I focus my efforts on making sure that the cat's entire diet has enough moisture rather than just worrying about plain water intake.

So, first, make every effort to feed wet food instead of dry food. According to Lisa A. Pierson, DVM:

A cat's normal prey is ~70% water. Canned food is ~78% water. Dry food is ~5-10% water. Cats have a low thirst drive and they do not make up the deficit at the water bowl. They are designed to get water with their food.

Cats on canned food have been shown to consume at least double the amount of total water when compared to dry food-fed cats when all sources of water (food and water bowl) are considered.

There's also a supporting study - Effect of dietary water intake on urinary output, specific gravity and relative supersaturation for calcium oxalate and struvite in the cat. Catherine M. F. Buckley, Amanda Hawthorne, Alison Colyer and Abigail E. Stevenson. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 106 / Supplement S1 / October 2011, pp S128-S130

Other environment enrichment activities (such as the addition of water fountains) can be considered after changing the cat's diet. From observation I've noticed that my cats have very different preferences for what type of water they like to drink. Some of my cats like falling water, some like water that is rising up (from a pump), while others like to drink from a flat surface of water. Since I have a multi-cat home I have fountains that provide all of these different types of water environments.

Cats definitely prefer clean water, so cleaning the water bowls/fountains regularly must be part of the household routine. I choose fountains made of ceramic or stainless steel since plastic can harbor bacteria. I also make sure that they are dishwasher safe so they can be sanitized easily.

  • +1 - I have a cat with mega-colon and one of the management techniques is to keep his stool soft by use of increased moisture coupled with lactulose to draw that moisture to the intestines. He doesn't drink from the fountains, so we actually add water to his food dish (we feed wet foods), as that's his only moisture source, to up his hydration levels.
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 18:22
  • We have a cat with chronic bladder infections and her symptoms have gotten MUCH worse the few times we're run out of wet food and fed dry for a few days (we have one that we're still trying to transition to wet, so feed both types of food). We don't let ourselves run out of wet food anymore. Dilution is the solution!
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 18:26
  • Yes, this -- do more through food, and especially make sure to clean the water bowls (or fountains or whatever) regularly. Just changing the water isn't enough; you've got to wash out the bowl too. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 18:49
  • Would like to add that sometimes just changing the type of water dish can help. Try for example s/steel, ceramic, glass, see-through glass, plastic (new) etc. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 9:19

An expensive solution is a water fountain which will provide the cats with flowing water (which the cat will regard as fresher). If that isn't feasible, then providing the cat with multiple water bowls which are refreshed frequently and not with the food will help.

My answer to this question also have some bearing on your question.

  • This must work, as the same is seen with a running tap. Most cats just can't resist drinking from it. youtube.com/watch?v=XKtlkmAN37c Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 13:56
  • If you have a Petco/Petsmart nearby they have off-brand fountains for $20
    – Spidercat
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 14:52
  • 1
    or just a $5 aquarium water pump will be enough Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 17:05

Try placing the waterbowl not next to the feeding dish but maybe in another room or at least some meters away. Works fine with our two cats!


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