What Do Cats Drink?

Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/30/20242-4 minutes
orange cat looking into the camera

We’re all familiar with the image of a cat contentedly lapping milk from a saucer. So familiar, in fact, that most of us never question whether that saucer of milk is something our cats should actually be drinking and enjoying. 

Do Cats Drink Milk or Water?   

If your cat is like most cats, they would likely happily lap up a creamy, high-fat saucer of cow’s milk. While it might be appealing to your cat, unfortunately it may cause health problems.  Adding extra fat will also certainly throw a well-balanced diet out of balance, and will add calories which may put them at risk for becoming overweight. 

It’s important for your cat to stay properly hydrated, however, especially if they have other health problems such as kidney disease. Milk can actually cause diarrhea in cats, which would increase their risk of becoming dehydrated. Water is the best choice for healthy hydration.

Can Cats Drink Milk? 

Most adult cats are lactose intolerant, and consuming dairy products can result in vomiting and/or diarrhea.   

Kittens are able to break down lactose from their mother’s milk, thanks to an enzyme in their intestines. But kittens slowly lose this enzyme as they mature to adult cats, and thus lose the ability to digest milk sugars. For this reason, the lactose in cow’s milk may cause an upset stomach when it begins to ferment. 

While there are some reduced lactose milk options available for cats, these should be used in moderation, and not as a replacement for water.

Do Cats Drink Water?  

Water is all an adult cat needs to drink as part of a healthy, balanced diet. The amount of water they need depends on: 

  • Age 

  • Size 

  • Health issues 

  • Whether they eat wet or dry food.  

What kind of water should cats drink is simple: Adult cats should have clean, fresh water readily available at all times.

What Can Cats Drink Besides Water? 

Water may be a healthy hydration choice, but some cats don’t find it to be an enticing one.  

If your cat won’t willingly drink fresh water, the first step to finding a solution is understanding what do cats taste. A cat’s taste sense can discern four of five basic tastes: sour, bitter, salty and umami. As obligate carnivores who need protein, they often find food high in animal ingredients most appealing.  

With this in mind, you can consider one of these options to help keep your cat hydrated: 

  1. Boil some plain chicken breast or white fish and tempt your cat with the cooking liquid. Make sure it doesn’t contain any salt or oil and has cooled down enough before offering it. You may need to remove the fat from the top as it cools. 

  2. Add a couple teaspoons of tuna juice to your cat’s meals. 

  3. Add a cat broth, such as one of the broths created for cats by Purina, as a hydration-adding complement to your cat’s meals.  

  4. Talk to your veterinarian about Hydra Care Feline Hydration Supplement from Purina. This nutrient-enriched water promotes healthy hydration in cats. 

  5. If your cat is eating dry food only, add some wet cat food to their diet. Canned food contains up to 75% water. 

  6. Ask your veterinarian about oral rehydration fluids, which are often meaty flavored and might be preferred to plain water.

What Should Kittens Drink? 

Until they are weaned, mother’s milk provides the hydration young kittens need. Fresh water should be made available to their mothers, and the kittens may start to take interest in drinking this, too, as they develop.

When to Give Kittens Water 

For kittens, weaning generally begins at around three to four weeks of age. When solid food is introduced, it’s also time to provide them with fresh, clean water in a shallow bowl, to encourage them to drink more water as they transition from mother’s milk.

Knowing What Cats Drink is Key to Your Cat’s Hydration 

From the time a cat is weaned, water should be an essential part of your cat’s well-balanced diet. Keeping a bowl of fresh water available is a start. If it isn’t enough though, an understanding of what appeals to your cat’s taste can provide the enticement to bring your cat to the water bowl.  

For more expert tips on feeding your cat, explore our other cat feeding articles 

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