The quick and simple answer is: not long. Generally, a healthy cat in normal conditions can only survive about three days without water.
But like many aspects of feline health and behavior, there’s more nuance to this answer.
In this post, we cover everything you need to know about cats and essential hydration: from daily recommended amounts to determining a cat’s ability to survive without water, reasons behind why a cat may not drinking, and even what to do to encourage more drinking.
I have experience here because my cat was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease, and excessive thirst is a common occurrence for the condition. So there are days she drinks a lot, but there are definitely times where she does not seem thirsty or respond to water for way long stretches.
My aim is to equip you with the knowledge to help you be your cat’s hydration homie. Let’s start.
How Long Can Cats Really Go Without Without Water?
Like we said above, 3 days or 72 hours is about the longest cats can go without water in a dire situation like serious illness, being locked in shed, or trapped somewhere.
But in everyday life, you definitely don’t want to let your cat go 24-48 hours without drinking water. Always have water bowls or cat water fountains available! A cat may not even know they’re thirsty or dehydrated, so a little encouragement can go a long way.
How Much Water Do Cats Need?
As a general rule, a cat should drink 4 ounces of water per five pounds of lean body weight per day.
If that seems like a lot, realize that daily consumption can fluctuate, and cats who eat wet cat food may be getting most of their water from that. Cats on a dry food only diet are more likely to drink this amount of water.
Cats have an inherently low thirst drive because they evolved from desert-dwelling animals.
This trait was a survival adaptation to arid environments where water was scarce. A cat’s ancestors received most of their hydration from the prey they consumed, instead of relying on consuming water
Now, this doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t need water – it’s quite the opposite. Water is absolutely essential for their survival, trumping even food. Cats can go about 7 days without eating, but only 3 days without water.
What Determines How Long a Cat Can Survive Without Water?
Many factors can affect how long cats can go without drinking water. This survival timeline isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario – it’s highly dependent on individual circumstances and the cat’s overall health at the time.
To begin with, the cat’s age is a significant determinant. A kitten’s ability to go without food or water is not as robust as an adult cat’s, and senior cats also their own needs for how many hours they can survive without water.
In a kittens early weeks, they do not need to drink much water per se, as mother milk or formula makes up a significant part of their diet. It’s not an issue for older kittens if they go overnight without drinking anything. But going without for more than 24 hours is a significant and requires attention.
The overall health status of the cat is another essential factor. A healthy house cat may tolerate deprivation for longer than a sick cat, especially those with existing kidney or urinary tract problems.
Cats dealing with vomiting, diarrhea, or other diseases have additional hydration needs and may become dehydrated faster. If the cat has recently received vaccinations, it may also affect their resilience.
Temperature and Environment
Environmental factors, such as temperature and shelter availability, play a role too. Cats in heat or those locked in a shed without access to water may succumb to dehydration more quickly.
The cat’s last water intake—when and how much—will also influence their survival time. My cat has, at times, gone for about 2 days with no water. But it’s because she lapped up cups the previous day.
Why Isn’t My Cat Drinking Water?
The type of diet your cat is on influences water consumption. Cats who primarily eat wet food often drink less water because they already get a significant amount of moisture from their meals.
On the other hand, those on a dry food diet typically need to drink more water.
The temperature of the water offered can play a role as well. Some cats may prefer room temperature water, while others might enjoy a colder drink.
The weather and your cat’s activity level can also affect how much they drink. During hotter days, your cat may drink more to cool down and stay hydrated. Similarly, a more active cat may require more water compared to a cat with a lower activity level.
Finally, age can influence a cat’s water consumption. Older cats may need more water but might not drink enough due to various age-related factors. So it’s important to monitor their water intake closely.
Underlying Health Issues
Health issues can significantly impact your cat’s drinking habits. For example, conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism might cause an increase in water intake.
Oral issues or dental problems might make it painful for your cat to drink, leading to less water intake. If you observe sudden changes in your cat’s drinking behavior, it’s always wise to consult your vet promptly.
What Happens If My Cat Does Not Drink Water
Not drinking enough water, it can lead to some serious health concerns for any cat.
Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance
The most immediate risk is dehydration. Cats, like all animals, need water to survive and maintain healthy bodily functions. Without adequate water, they can quickly become dehydrated, which can lead to complications.
Signs of dehydration include dry mucous membranes, poor appetite, lethargy, weakness, reduced skin elasticity, and more.
Dehydration in cats can lead to electrolyte imbalances. These imbalances can disrupt many critical bodily functions and lead to complications like lethargy, loss of appetite, and constipation. Severe electrolyte imbalances can even lead to more dire conditions such as seizures.
Over time, consistent lack of water intake can result in organ damage, particularly to the kidneys. The kidneys need water to effectively flush out toxins from the body. If they don’t get enough, toxins can build up, leading to kidney disease or kidney failure.
Other potential issues include urinary tract problems. Without enough water, your cat’s urine can become too concentrated, which can lead to urinary tract infections or the formation of urinary crystals or stones.
Lastly, inadequate water intake can negatively affect your cat’s digestion. Water aids in the digestion process and helps absorb nutrients from food. Without enough water, your cat might experience digestive issues, such as constipation.
How To Get Your Cat To Drink More Water
Here are some strategies you can try to encourage your cat to drink more water.
Change Up the Water Bowl
Details on your cat’s water bowl or dish matter. Try elevating the bowl for easier access, utilizing a wider one to reduce whisker contact, or using a cat water fountain with running water and filters. Cats (like you) have a preference for running water, as it denotes freshness!
The material of your cat’s water bowl can also influence their drinking habits. I recommend switching from a plastic bowl to a glass, stainless steel, or ceramic one. They are more sanitary and do not harbor bacteria or odors.
More Opportunities for Drinking
You can also add extra water bowls or fountains around your home or increase the frequency of meals, which could naturally lead to them consuming more water.
Switch the Water Type
The type of water you offer may affect your cat’s drinking habits. If tap water is not cutting it, consider filtered or bottled water.
Incorporate Wet Cat Food
Let your cat’s diet do the heavy lifting and lean on more wet food. Switch from dry to wet food or add more wet food into their diet. Wet cat food is at least 80% moisture!
Another method is to add a small quantity of water to their regular food to subtly augment their water intake.
Water and Water Bowl Hygiene
You are changing their water and cleaning their water bowl or dish daily right? This another effective tactic to ensure the water remains fresh and enticing. Your cat’s keen senses of taste and smell will totally appreciate this.
Offer Water Alternatives
Consider exploring creative water alternatives, like offering tuna juice or bone broth. These flavorful liquids not only provide hydration but also cater to their inner carnivore.
How Long Can Cats Go Without Water? – Conclusion
Every cat is unique, but they all need essential water.
Everyday water needs can change based on factors like health, diet, age, and environment, but it’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s water consumption, as both excessive drinking and reduced water intake could indicate underlying health issues.
When in doubt, a vet consultation is always the best route. Along side that, remember to take a proactive approach with our practical strategies to get them to drink more!
I’m Gary Hu, a proud cat dad to a 15 lb Maine Coon. Have taken care of outdoor and indoor cats for over 10 years, and learned tons on behavior, habits, health, and products. I help new Maine Coon (or any other cat) parents with common questions and issues based on real, practical experience.