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Learn Why Not Getting Enough Water Can Kill Your Cat

Our Story: First, I want to address my huge passion behind this article. I’ve run an animal rescue for over 11 years and successfully rehome approximately 200 cats and kittens a year. This article was written after hearing about too many of our adopted felines developing problems and dying from kidney-related issues and urinary blockages – even cats as young as 2 years of age! All these incidents had one thing in common: these cats were NEVER given wet food in their daily diets! Incorporating canned wet food into your cat’s diet is an absolute must. I hope that this article will help you understand why wet food is so important and encourage you to change the way you feed your own cat, as I know this change will save lives.

Unlike humans and dogs,  cats have a low thirst drive, so making sure your feline consumes plenty of water cannot be emphasized enough. When eating an all-dry kibble diet, a cat’s water intake easily falls under what is actually needed. This causes dehydration, which can lead to an array of health problems.  According to a study conducted by VetCompass, kidney failure is the most common cause of illness and death in cats over 5 years old. Wet food in a cat’s diet is essential and provides additional water, a crucial and necessary nutrient for a healthy life, to your cat’s diet. Simply put, wet food now, fewer problems later!

Let’s dig deeper and learn more about your cat’s water needs, feeding your cat wet versus dry food, costs involved with adding wet food, and a recommended action plan to get your cat to consume more water and have a longer, healthier life.

1.Cats Have A Low Thirst Drive:

The reason cats have a low thirst drive dates back centuries. The ancestors of our domesticated felines were desert wild cats who had to adapt to having few water sources. Being carnivores, their diet was mainly of animal prey containing a moisture content of about 75%. This satisfied their daily water needs. Although today’s domesticated cats have access to plenty of fresh water in their homes, they drink very little. Their natural instinct is to get their daily fluid needs from their food. The problem is that kibble or dry food, doesn’t provide the water their bodies need. 

3. Water Content of Dry Vs. Wet Cat Food:

According to Dr. Lynn Wilson, a Volusia County-based veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, an average healthy 10 lb. cat needs at least 15 tablespoons of water a day to maintain healthy hydration.
Dry cat food is at most 10% water and provides only about 1/2 a tablespoon of water. Wet food is approximately 78% water and provides 6 to 9 tablespoons of water. Wet food is closer to a cat’s “natural diet” as it is high in both animal-based protein and provides the water they need.
As you can see, feeding wet food will get your cat closer to or at the recommended amount of water that is actually needed.

3. Cats Need Animal Proteins:

Today’s cats are primarily carnivores and need meat to survive. They require little or no carbohydrates in their diet, yet this is what our commercially-processed dry foods are loaded with. Dry foods are also much higher in plant-based versus animal or meat-based proteins and all proteins are NOT created equal! The plant-based protein in dry food, is not equal in quality to the meat-based protein in canned wet food. Plant-based proteins are cheaper, which is why most pet food companies use them primarily as fillers in their dry foods. They have a fairly low nutritional value and can actually create medical issues in some cats. Soy protein can impede digestion and create thyroid and immune system issues. Corn protein has to be highly processed to make it digestible for cats and actually provides little nutritional value. The same is true for potato protein. Pea protein has become very popular and while it is a higher quality filler than most other plant proteins, most of its protein cannot be absorbed by cats. It also contains lectin, or “sticky” proteins, which can cause obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems in cats.

4. Dehydration:

Cats on dry food diets can become chronically dehydrated. This contributes to many health problems such as urinary tract infections and blockages (yes – even in female cats),  kidney stones, and a higher chance of diabetes. “Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of feline health issues that were most likely caused by feeding dry food exclusively,” Dr. Wilson says. “They could have potentially been avoided had they been given wet food in their daily diet. An all wet food (or raw) diet is even better, but I know that’s not always economically possible. In our practice, we believe that wet food in the diet gives cats the best chance to attain a healthy 15 to 20 year life-span.”

5. Other Hazards Of A Dry Food Only Diet:

You won’t find a cat chasing down a potato, yet our cats’ dry foods are loaded with these carbohydrates. Dry foods are almost 3 times higher in sugar and carbohydrates than wet food. High sugars and carbs are big factors in feline obesity, as well as in the development of diabetes. Just as with humans, obesity in cats can lead to heart disease and early death. Dry food is also heavily processed which includes being subjected to high temperatures for a long time, resulting in the alteration and destruction of needed nutrients. 

6. Avoiding the Litter Box:

Diet can contribute to litter box issues and I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Cats on a primarily dry food diet become dehydrated and at a much higher risk for urinary tract blockages and infections. When a cat goes inside the litter box to urinate, only to find pain while doing so due to an urinary infection, he may begin to associate that litter box as a spot that causes him pain. This may begin the trend of peeing in inappropriate places around your home. Peeing on cold surfaces, such as a sink or tub, is also common as the cold surface is soothing to a cat in pain. If your cat is experiencing any of these issues, don’t delay the trip to the vet.  

6. Myth Behind Dry Food Helping With:

It’s a common belief that dry food promotes good dental hygiene in cats because it scrapes tartar off the teeth. Research has proven this to be a myth! Cats don’t chew dry food – they swallow it whole. To put it simply, dry food doesn’t clean a cat’s teeth any better than eating pretzels cleans ours! Additionally, dry food actually leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque. For information on the importance of brushing your cat’s teeth, Click here. My two cats and dog enjoy this special “treat” and it’s easier than you may think.

7. “My Cat Doesn’t Like Wet Food”:

Talking with previous adopters, I have often asked about their cat’s eating habits. One main reason they gave for sticking to a dry food only diet was that their cat “hated wet food.” In reality, it isn’t a matter of them “hating” it, but rather them being accustomed to a particular texture and taste. Cats are creatures of habit and the food they normally consume becomes their preference. Many cats will resist switching to a new food unless they are hungry enough. Begin by limiting the amount of dry food you give him during the day and feed him only wet food, or a dry/wet mixture at night. Experiment with different flavors and textures of wet food to find some that your cat prefers.

  • Try adding other liquids: Since cats are very sensitive to smells, you can also add a small amount of the liquid from canned tuna, salmon or mackerel to the wet food, as these are flavors that most cats love. This has the added benefit of adding even more liquid to their diet.
  • Be patient-as this transition can take time: Getting a cat accustomed to daily helpings of wet cat food can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, but this change is important enough, so don’t give up; however, never allow your cat to go without food for more than 24 hours. With a change in food, diarrhea & vomiting can occur, so remember to introduce the new food slowly. Wet food or a wet/dry combination should not be left out for longer than 4 to 6 hours in a cool environment.

8. The Cost Of Wet Cat Food:

If cost is a consideration, you’ll be happy to know that adding wet food to your cat’s diet costs only pennies a day, far less than the vet bills if your cat develops diabetes or some form of bladder or kidney issues. The average 5.5 ounce can of supermarket wet cat food costs around 50 cents. Feeding your cat a half a can a night only comes to about $7.50 a month – a small price to pay for your cat’s health!

  • Brand: We have found pet owners who go out and buy the more expensive brands of  wet food end up giving less to their cats. This is not what you want. The more wet food you can incorporate into your cat’s diet, the better. Regardless of the brand, wet food is higher in moisture than dry food, lower in carbohydrates, and has more animal-based proteins. Have your cat fill up on wet food, NOT dry kibble.

9. What We Recommend:

We would love cat owners to view wet food as their cat’s main diet, with dry food being their snack. We highly encourage one full 5.5 oz. can (or two 3 oz.  cans) of wet food a day per cat. At the very minimum, half of a 5.5 oz. can (or one 3 oz. can) a day is a great start. You can continue feeding your cat dry food as usual if this is the routine your cat is used to, but you may want to limit the amount of dry food your cat consumes, especially if you find he isn’t finishing all of his wet food or is becoming over-weight.

  • Adding water: We know cats have a low thirst drive so why not add water or other liquids to the wet food every single time? We recommend 1 to 3 tablespoons of water for each helping. This can be a slow transition, adding a 1/2 tablespoon of water at first and increasing every few weeks, but most cats will not notice the added water, so why not? Just be consistent with the added water and add the same amount every time and not just some of the time. Try adding warm water as it can enhance the flavor even more.
  • Pate vs. gravies: Wet food pate is generally better than wet foods in gravies or shreds because it doesn’t contain as many carbohydrate-rich thickeners. A great goal is to keep pate wet food under 10% carbohydrates, but don’t go crazy trying to find this information on the label as it won’t be there. Luckily, there are wet food calculators to figure out your brand’s carbohydrate amount. Go here to calculate it yourself.
  • Meats: Stick with more land-based wet foods (chicken, turkey, rabbit, beef) for the bulk of your cat’s diet. Food containing fish can be high in mercury, phosphorus and magnesium, not to mention being highly addictive. 
  • Multiple cats: We recognize that feeding multiple cats can become pricey when using wet food. Our good friend, Linda Brooks, rescues cats and can have as many as 12 to 15 at one time. She is on a tight budget and feeds her cats a mixture consisting of half pate wet food and half dry kibble with 3 tablespoons of water mixed in with each individual food dish. A couple times a week, she adds a can of mackerel to the mixture, which provides even more liquid to their diet. They also have access to dry food and fresh water during the day.
  • Feeding my own two cats: My two cats, Solo and Obi-Wan,  get a full 5.5 oz. can in the morning (split between them) and another full can in the evening with 2 tablespoons of water added each time. They never leave a drop of water behind. I do give dry food, but only after they finish their wet food and even then, they get 1/4 a cup a day or less, between the both of them. Obi-Wan now views his dry food as a special treat since he doesn’t get much of it. Solo rarely touches any dry food at all. We also purchased a cat water fountain to help encourage them to drink even more as cats love moving water. To learn some tricks to get more liquids into your cat’s diet, Click here.

Summing It Up: Wet food is clearly the best choice for a cat’s diet as they need much more water and more animal-based proteins than a dry food diet provides. Very few cats drink enough water on their own, even with those fancy pet fountains. A lack of sufficient water causes dehydration, which can lead to painful and sometimes fatal urinary tract and kidney disease, obesity, heart problems and diabetes. We all want our pets to live longer and healthier lives (with fewer vet bills), so make the change for them. Give your cat wet food now – for fewer problems later!