How long can a cat survite without water?

Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie:
My cousins who live on Vinalhaven recently had their cat, Tomasina disappear for 9 days. They think that she might have been trapped in a fish house. When she got back, my aunt fed her but she choked on the dry food so she gave her tuna fish. Tomasina wasn't very thirsty when she got home, so there must have been some water where she was ... but my cousins were wondering, how long a cat can go without water?


Sinéad: Well, there are a few factors that come into play here. First of all, cats as a species originated in desert climates, so our bodies are designed to live on a lot less water than other mammals such as humans or dogs.

Siouxsie: Also, a cat's natural diet--that is, what a cat would eat if it lived in the wild--consists almost entirely of other smaller animals, such as rodents, fish, or birds. Animals' bodies are up to 70% water, so cats in the wild get most of their water needs met through the food they eat.

Sinéad: If a cat eats a lot of canned cat food, which has about the same moisture content as natural prey, it won't drink as much water as a cat who eats dry food only.

Siouxsie: Dry cat food has only about 10% water, so when we eat dry food, we have to drink extra water with it.

Sinéad: We have heard stories of cats that have lived for up to 10 days without water, if they get trapped in buildings or something. Sometimes these cats will find food like mice or rats, that will not only feed them but provide the water they need.

Siouxsie: But in ordinary circumstances, cats do need water! We can get dehydrated and even die of thirst if there is no water anywhere. So we definitely do not encourage anyone to let their cats' water dishes go dry.

Sinéad: When clean water is not available, cats will drink water from puddles, rain barrels or other sources. Cats can get sick or even die from drinking water that is contaminated by road salt, creosote, oil, or other nasty stuff that can be found in these sources.

Siouxsie: We cats are also very picky about the smell of the water we drink. We don't like the odor of chlorine or other chemicals used to treat city water supplies.

Sinéad: Tap water with a lot of chemicals can also make us sick. Many vets think that chemically treated water contributes to urinary tract infections in cats. In fact, I got a UTI once, and the vet told Mama never to give Siouxsie and me unfiltered tap water because it's too "hard." And she hasn't since then. We drink the same water she drinks, from her pitcher filter, and we think it tastes a lot better!

Siouxsie: I like to drink out of Mama's water glass. I know it's the same water, but it just tastes better to me.

Sinéad: Yeah, and Mama was really happy when you stuck your head in the glass and knocked it over and water spilled all over her desk and computer keyboard. You're so clumsy sometimes....

Siouxsie: That wasn't me. That was you! You were sitting on the desk and someone looked at you the wrong way and you got scared and jumped and knocked the glass over. You're just a big scaredy-cat!

Sinéad: Am not!

Siouxsie: Are too!

JaneA: Ladies, please.

Sinéad: Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it's very important to make sure your cat friend has good-quality water. It will help in maintaining health in the long term and you'll avoid those unpleasant trips to the vet.

Siouxsie: You should put fresh water out for your cat every day. Cats don't like stale water any more than people do. And we prefer to eat and drink out of dishes that are not made of plastic!

Sinéad: Plastic has weird smells that we don't like. And Mama says you can get cheap glass or ceramic bowls at thrift stores. You don't have to buy nice custom-made ones like we have, with fishes painted in the bottom of them. Any dish will do, as long as it isn't plastic.

Siouxsie: If you refresh your cat's water supply every day, you can keep track of how much water he or she is drinking.

Sinéad: If your cat suddenly starts drinking a lot of water, this can be a sign of health problems like diabetes or thyroid or kidney disease. If you see that your cat is drinking a lot and peeing a lot, get him or her to the vet right away.

Siouxsie: So, Saphrona, how long a cat can go without water varies depending on the circumstances. Cats have been known to survive up to 10 days without water, though.

Sinéad: Nonetheless, cats (and other animals) should always have a supply of fresh, filtered, unchlorinated water available to drink.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.