Moisture is the key component of your cat’s diet that promotes improved bodily function
What type of food does your cat eat? Dry (kibble) or moist? Commercially-available or home-prepared? Human-grade or feed-grade? Regardless, the type of food your cat eats greatly impacts health.
During my years of veterinary practice, I’ve witnessed a variety of health concerns associated with eating foods that are insufficiently moist. Vomiting, diarrhea, gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV or “bloat”), obesity, metabolic diseases (diabetes mellitus, etc.), urinary tract problems (crystals, stones, etc.) and other conditions affecting dogs and cats all have correlations with kibble-based diets. As a result, I’m constantly striving to educate my clients and readers on the importance of food-based hydration for our canine and feline companions.
This article will focus on our feline friends, as eating diets that feature ingredients in their closest form to nature, generally leads to healthier cats.
How important to our pet’s health is hydration?
Water constitutes nearly 70-80% of a cat’s body mass, so it’s absolutely an essential nutrient for a normally functioning body. Losing only 10% of the body’s total fluids can lead to serious illness.
Water is vital in the process of tissue growth, healing, and recovery from activity. Lack of liquid consumption and loss of body fluid reduces overall blood volume and leads to dehydration.
When deficient fluid is unable to adequately move blood through the arteries and veins and lymph in the lymphatic vessels, all body parts suffer. Thick blood and lymphatic fluid inadequately perfuses and drains body tissue and leads to reduced oxygenation, nutrient delivery, and immune system activity in all organ systems. Dehydration permits retention of toxic substances (metabolic wastes, consumed or applied toxins, etc.) in tissues, which contributes to an ongoing state or the development of disease.
How much water should my cat consume each day?
Healthy adult cats should consume about the same quantity of water (in milliliters= mL) as the number of calories needed to maintain their body weight over a 24 hour period.
Caretakers must consider the cat’s body weight (pounds), life stage, status for being sexually intact or neutered, and level of activity. This Calorie Requirements for Cats chart can help owners make the determination of feline-hydration needs.
For example, if the average, 10 pound, neutered or spayed, adult cat must consume 262 calories, then at least 262 mL of water must be ingested to maintain a healthy state.
Do some cats have health problems requiring additional hydration?
Yes, some cats need extra attention paid to the amount of hydration they receive on a daily basis.
Generally, healthy kittens or mature cats that are pregnant or lactating, geriatric, living in in warmer or dryer climates need to consume more water on a day-to-day basis.
Additionally, cats that are affected by a variety of ailments, including kidney and liver disease, urinary tract problems, digestive tract upset (gastroenteritis, colitis, pancreatitis, etc.), cancer (especially to flush chemotherapy from the body), and those affected by diseases of inflammation (auto-immune) and infection (bacterial, viral, etc.) have a greater need for hydration above the basic requirements to sustain life.
Kidney and urinary tract diseases are extremely common in cats. Renal (kidney) failure occurs as a result of genetics, degeneration of normal kidney function, infection, exposure to toxins, and other causes. As the kidneys are responsible for filtering toxins from the body, feline bodies afflicted by renal failure need additional moisture to clear retained metabolic wastes and other toxic substances.
Kidney and bladder crystals and stones, infections (bacterial), and other ailments require increased levels of hydration to dilute urine to a degree that crystals and stones don’t form and bacteria are less-able to set up residence in the urinary tract.
Can eating dry or canned food influence a cat’s daily water requirements?
Yes, the style of food consumed by your cat can directly alter your cat’s daily water requirements.
Most dry cat foods contain 7-12% water, so supplemental moisture is needed to promote digestion. Additionally, as many cats don’t sufficiently chew their food, kibble ends up whole in the stomach and swells upon contact with digestive juices or consumed water. Swollen, whole pieces of kibble don’t readily move out of the stomach and are prone to being vomited.
Canned, moist, and fresh foods have around 80% water, so less additional moisture must be consumed to meet daily hydration requirements.
As a traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) practitioner, I consider the energetic qualities of food when suggesting options for my patients. Kibble is very Yang (heating), as most of the moisture has been cooked out to create a food format that can conveniently sit in a bag or bowl weeks to months. Excess Yang energy can contribute to diseases associated with inflammation, like allergic skin disease (“allergies”), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), neurologic problems (seizures, hyperactivity, etc.), immune mediated disease (IMHA, IMTP, etc.), and even cancer.
Moist diets are inherently Yin (cooling) and whole-food versions having sufficient protein levels from real meat (not meat “meals and by-products”) are generally better tolerated by the feline body and are less likely to contribute to illnesses associated with heat excess.
Here are my top recommendations to improve hydration for our feline friends:
Feed your cat moist, freshly prepared foods made with human-grade ingredients (such as The Honest Kitchen cat foods) instead of kibble or any diet made with feed-grade ingredients, which have higher allowable levels of toxins.
Always provide clean and fresh water for your cat. Only offer water that you are willing to drink.
Use a water dispenser that circulates to promote your cat’s curious interest in drinking.
Have multiple water bowls available so your cat has access regardless of the room in which she should seek a nap or solace from household stressors.
Healthfully coerce your cat into consuming more liquids in a healthy manner by adding low sodium broth (chicken, beef, etc.) to food. Start with one to two tablespoons per feeding, then gradually increase the number of tablespoons if no digestive tract signs (vomit, diarrhea, food refusal, etc.) occur.
Offer treats of frozen tuna water cubes. They are simple to create by blending a can of water-packed, low-sodium, solid tuna with fresh water, freezing the concoction in ice-cube trays, then offer as individual cubes. Probiotics, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, joint support products, and other dietary supplements can be added before freezing. It’s best your cat eats these tasty treats in a location where fabrics and surfaces won’t be ruined by the cube melting or coming apart.
Minimize exposure to warmer environments. Spending less time being exposed to sun and extremes of heat will reduce evaporative body water lost through the lungs, mouth, nose, and paw pads.
Prevent your cat’s access to water sources potentially containing illness-inducing microorganisms or toxins. Such locations include communal water bowls, Christmas tree containers, toilet bowls, puddles, still bodies of water, and others.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).