Water Water Everywhere, but What’s a Cat to Drink?

Everyone is familiar with the 3 basic nutrient categories: protein, fat and carbohydrate. But there is a 4th nutrient that’s just as important (or more!), yet it is usually overlooked by most guardians and even veterinarians—water! Our bodies (our cats’ too!) are 2/3 water, but You may know that two-thirds of an animal’s body is water, but in molecular terms, it actually consists of over 99% water molecules!fou

The kind of water your cat drinks can have a major impact on her health, because all water is not created equal. The basic types are: municipal tap water, well water, distilled water, and spring water. (Any water source can be filtered to make it healthier for your cat.)

Cats in sink

Flynn, Puzzle, and Mitty waiting for me to perform the magic trick that makes the water flow. Good thing one of us has opposable thumbs!

I realized the power of water years ago when I had to go out of town for a few days. My cat Marcus, who had Addison’s disease, stayed at the clinic while I was gone. He ate only the raw diet I provided, but he drank Denver tap water there, which he never did at home—we had a faucet-mounted filter. Marcus developed severe vomiting and diarrhea while at the clinic, both of which cleared up immediately when I got him home and back on his own water. Since then I have seen many significant health improvements when cats stop drinking tap water.

The quality of tap water varies tremendously from one municipality to another. Municipal water generally contains chlorine by-products, fluoride, and harmful contaminants such as bacteria, arsenic, toxic pesticide residues, heavy metals, and even rocket fuel. Some cities’ water tastes bad; but taste is not a reliable indicator of what’s really in there. In fact, some of the yuckier tasting waters are among the better ones. From a more holistic perspective, the late Dr. Masaru Emoto of Japan developed a technique for photographing water crystals that clearly demonstrates the poor quality—perhaps even danger—of water from many major cities. His book, Hidden Messages in Water, contains many photos showing this, and much more. (For more on Dr. Emoto’s work, which was featured in the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” visit Dr. Emoto’s official website.)

If you must use tap water, it must be filtered before your cat can safely drink it. Even a simple Brita filter will remove chlorine, lead, arsenic, bacteria, and some chemicals. Faucet-mount filters are a step up; under-sink or whole-house filters are best. There are many brands and a huge variation in price, but in general, you do get what you pay for. There is lots of info on the Internet about which filters do what. If your city water is seriously nasty, get the best filter you can afford. Multi-Pure is the most effective and safest system we have found.

Well water is sometimes wonderful, sometimes really bad. The only way to be sure is to have the water tested. Again, filtration may be the best option if you are on well water.

Distilled water has been purified so that it does not contain any particles at all. While  purity may sound good, you really should not use distilled water for drinking. The reason lies in the fundamental nature of water. Water and solutes (molecules and particles) move by osmosis and diffusion, respectively. You might remember these from high school chemistry class! Basically, water moves by osmosis from where there is more of it, to where there is less of it; and solutes diffuse from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. Distilled water contains zero solutes, so when it enters the intestines, diffusion will actually pull solutes out of the body. Drinking only distilled water can ultimately cause deficiencies in sodium, potassium, and important trace minerals. Distilled water also becomes acidic when exposed to air. It may contain higher levels of volatile compounds such as benzenes, trihalomethanes, and trichloroethylene, as well as highly toxic “disinfection by-products.”  In people, exclusive consumption of distilled water is associated with high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias. While distilled water can be valuable when used for a short-term process of detoxification, it’s not safe for long-term consumption.

Spring water, if it’s really from a natural spring, and if the spring itself is good quality, is the best choice for cats (and the rest of the family, too!). According to an NRDC report, 25% of bottled water is simply bottled tap water that may or may not have been further treated. In general, generic and grocery store brands should be avoided; many of them tested positive for bacteria and chemical contaminants. Designer imports Perrier and Evian tested relatively clean. Calistoga is a natural spring in northern California; most of its samples were okay. Arrowhead Springs is a real spring just outside San Bernardino; but based on test results–and having personally seen the condition of the open pond from which the water is pumped–I’d recommend avoiding it. The water we use for Spirit Essence remedies, Eldorado Springs, comes from a natural artesian spring just south of Boulder, Colorado. We believe that this source of pure water is best for our remedies.

To get your cat to drink more water, try a pet fountain. The best one we’ve ever found is Glacier Point Cat Fountain, which is made of high quality ceramic instead of plastic. This excellent fountain doesn’t have those annoying nooks and crannies that are so hard to clean; it keeps the water cool; and it doesn’t leach harmful chemicals such as BPA into the water like plastic fountains do. It’s a great investment that will last a lifetime.

The bottom line is that you can provide the best food and great supplements for your cat, but if the water is poor quality, optimal health will remain out of reach. Pure, good quality water is an essential ingredient of your cat’s wellness program!



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5 comments for “Water Water Everywhere, but What’s a Cat to Drink?

  1. Josephine
    July 22, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Thanks. I have got one faucet-mount filter from the store. Hope my cats like the filtered water.

  2. jhofve77
    July 14, 2011 at 11:22 am

    No. Boiling is used mainly to kill bacteria (which are very rare in tap water); if you had to drink pond water, you’d definitely want to boil it. However, boiling would actually concentrate minerals and other impurities in the water, since the water steams away but leaves all the solids. (That’s actually how water is distilled…it’s boiled and the steam is channeled away and cooled back into water, leaving the solids back in the original container.) A faucet-mount filter is probably the most cost-effective, but if all else fails, at least use a Brita–I’ve seen them at the thrift stores for practically nothing, you’d just have to buy the filters.

  3. Josephine
    July 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Dr Hofve,

    Thank you for bringing up this issue.

    Tap water seems to be not good for the cats. we used to think distilled water is safe and in fact, we have tried to give our CRF cat distilled water. Now I think we need to re-consider.

    Do you think boiling the tap water before giving it to cat a good idea?

  4. jhofve77
    June 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Yes, I’ve seen that study, which was a bit surprising. In practical experience, I and many others have noticed an *apparent* increase in water drinking, though I have not formally quantified it. Before switching entirely to any fountain, it is common sense that you must be sure *all* cats in the house are drinking from it. When I saw my shyest cat drinking from the Glacier Point fountain I knew the battle was won! In my experience cats do get used to a new fountain though it may take several weeks. Cats eating wet food naturally do not drink much water, but they still need to have it fresh and available at all times…especially days like today, which in Denver was very HOT as well as very dry.

  5. Chris H.
    June 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Great info!

    I also agree with your idea that cats need to get off kibble & eat a canned or a balanced homemade diet (“Why Cats Need Canned Food”, http://www.littlebigcat.com/health/why-cats-need-canned-food-2/) for all the reasons you state.

    Except for our cat with kidney disease, I found that our cats no longer needed to drink any water at all after we switched to grain-free canned food. I still add a bit of filtered water to their dish of food, around the food, not too much mixed gets mixed into it.

    One foster cat is a more recent convert. It took a couple of months to transition him from kibble, but we felt it was worth it. (We’ve had cats with cystitis and urinary crystals in the past; we want to prevent those problems as well as urinary blockages and other health problems that go along with kibble.) He’s a neutered cat that urinates high in his litter box where we could smell the urine every time he used the litter box. We could actually notice when the urine became less smelly as it became more diluted when we gradually fed him less kibble and more canned food. We don’t feed him any kibble now and we can’t smell when he urinates.

    I toyed with the idea of getting a water fountain for our cats. I looked at some reviews of water fountains as well as the prices of replacement filters. I also read the summary of the water fountain study*. Based on the results, I think it’s possible that cat owners could be under a false impression that cats will drink more if they have a fountain and decide to keep feeding kibble to their cats. One finding was that measuring the amount of water left in the fountain was not an accurate way to tell how much water a cat actually consumed.

    I think the study also indicated that a fountain should not be the only source of water in case a cat was afraid to drink from it.

    Even though I see the proof in the litter box, I would like to see other studies that demonstrate how much more diluted cat urine is when they switch to canned or homemade food and how much extra water, if any, we should be adding. It seems like a logical study to do that could have huge health benefits, but I know there is little incentive when the pet food industry makes huge profits off dry food. The blog (below) only had this one study listed with the tag “water intake”.

    *Information about a water fountain study published in 2010, http://winnfelinehealth.blogspot.com/2010/09/water-fountains-for-cats.html

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