My Cat Stares At The Water Bowl Without Drinking (The Water Bowl Mystery)

cat staring at water bowl not drinking

It might come as a surprise to many cat owners but one thing that you always need to ensure is that your cat is well hydrated. Water is essential for your cat’s survival, even more so than food at times.

Coming from a cat owner whose cat was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease five years ago, I take my cat’s hydration very seriously.

Has your cat spent hours staring at its water bowl but not drinking water? When a cat just stares at its water without having the urge to drink, it can signify health issues like chronic kidney disease, diabetes or arthritis. Some cats might not want to drink from their water dish if they do not like the dish.

We need to further understand the issues that can stop your cat from drinking water. It usually requires a visit to the vet and should not be sat on.

Why Is Water Important For Cats?

cat drinking water

A cat’s body consists of 60%-70% of water which is very similar to us humans. Having sufficient water for your cat is very important because it helps with the following:

  • Nutrient transportation
  • Proper functioning of organs
  • Maintaining balance of electrolytes
  • Supports healthy feline kidneys

A cat can survive up to 2 weeks without food but will die without water in 3-4 days.

The problem with cats is that they don’t have a strong level of thirst.

Having evolved from being desert creatures, they can survive on very little water. They are able to concentrate their urine which makes it really smelly.

Their main source of hydration comes from the prey that they catch and eat.

Many cats these days are not even getting the bare minimum of hydration to be healthy. This is mainly due to a bad diet like dry food and a lack of a proper drinking source.

Let us take a look at some of the possible reasons that can cause your cat to stop drinking water.

Chronic Kidney Disease

cat on IV drip

Truth be told, there are many health problems that can cause a cat to stop drinking.

But why I’m putting kidney disease at the top because it is the number one health problem that cats die from and not drinking water can be one of the symptoms of late-stage chronic renal failure.

As I mentioned earlier, cats are able to concentrate their urine with little water.

However, when a cat is suffering from kidney disease, it will lose the ability to do so. It will end up having to pee more and in larger amounts.

In order to compensate for more water loss in the body, the cat will need more water.

One tell-tale sign when my cat was first diagnosed with kidney problems was the sudden increase in thirst.

I noticed that my cat was drinking water 4-5 times a day compared to just once or twice.

Furthermore, he is on a raw meat diet which has a lot of natural hydration and I do add water to his food too.

Some other symptoms that your cat can show are:

  • Increased in peeing frequency and volume
  • Lack of appetite (Important sign)
  • Hiding and sleeping a lot more than usual
  • Lack of energy

Even though cats with kidney problems tend to drink more, they will lose the desire to drink as the disease progress in severity.

Older cats tend to be at a higher risk of getting kidney issues. It is good practice to get a blood test done once a year for cats who are 7 years and older.

The earlier you can detect a problem with your cat’s kidney, the better the chances of managing it.

Feline Diabetes

fat cat with diabetes

Do you know that close to 60% of cats in America are overweight? That is a very alarming number and these cats are at risk of getting feline diabetes.

Cats who consume too much sugar or unhealthy food will reach a point where their bodies can no longer produce enough insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels.

A blood sugar level that is too high can become life-threatening if left untreated.

Some symptoms to look out for:

Feline diabetes that is left untreated can lead to ketoacidosis. This is a condition whereby your cat’s body will start utilizing fat as its main energy source instead of protein.

In some ways, this is similar to your cat being on a ketone diet. However, such a diet might be fine for humans but definitely not for a cat.

This will result in severe complications and dehydration in your cat. Cats that are suffering from ketoacidosis would have lost their desire to drink or eat.

Joint Pain

As cats get older, they tend to develop pain and inflexibility in their joints. This can also apply to cats who have been involved in an accident that has left them with chronic limb pain.

If you suspect that your cat isn’t as mobile and flexible as it once was, try raising the water level so that it doesn’t have to bend so low and lower its head to drink.

Putting the water bowl a couple of inches off the ground can also make it a lot easier for your cat to drink.

Your Cat Doesn’t Like Its Water Source

tux cat lying next to its water bowl

Besides having food problems, a cat’s lack of desire to drink can also stem from its own fussiness and personal preference. Your cat’s bowl can also influence its drinking habits.

Material Of Water Bowl

Walk into any pet store and you can find a wide range of water bowls made from many different materials.

The most common ones are usually made from ceramic, stainless steel and plastic.

I have to admit that ceramic and plastic bowls tend to come in cuter colors and designs. But they aren’t so good for cats.

Don’t use a plastic bowl as many cats are allergic to them. I found that using a plastic drinking water bowl gave my cat chin acne.

Plastic bowls tend to be easily scratched and these scratches make perfect breeding grounds for bacteria.

A bacterial infection in your cat’s mouth can cause your cat’s lower lip to swell up.

Ceramics are one step above plastic bowls but I find that they can break and chip too easily which can injure your cat.

If you do wish to use a ceramic bowl for your cat, make sure that it is coated with a lead-free glaze to prevent lead poisoning.

I find stainless steel bowls the best in terms of safety and maintenance.

Sure, they look rather sterile and boring but your cat’s health comes first. My cat’s chin acne cleared up once I made the switch to stainless steel food and water bowls.

If you find your cat sitting and staring at its plastic or ceramic bowl, try using a stainless steel bowl instead.

Dirty Water Bowls

I have to admit I was once guilty of this. I only changed out my cat’s water bowl once every 2-3 days at the start.

I started changing out my cat’s water bowl daily when I discovered that the bottom tends to get slimy and grimy after a day.

Your cat might be thirsty but not too keen on drinking the content of its water bowl.

These days, I will change out the water every morning and sometimes even twice a day depending on the weather.

Try drinking a cup of water once it has been left out for a few hours and you can tell the difference in ‘freshness’ as compared to a new glass.

While changing out the water, make sure to also give the bowl a good scrub and rinse off the soap well.

Once a week, I will make it a point to disinfect my cat’s bowls with vinegar. Just pour some white vinegar into the bowl, let it sit for 30 mins and rinse well.

Your Cat’s Water Bowl Is Too Small

If you are still using the same water bowl ever since it was a kitten, it is time to upgrade to a bigger bowl.

Another reason that is causing your cat to not drink from its current water bowl is whisker fatigue.

Your cat’s whiskers are very long and sensitive to help it move around and sense danger.

If your cat is drinking from a water bowl that is too narrow for its whiskers to pass through, the constant rubbing of the whiskers against the sides of the bowl will agitate your cat.

Imagine someone pulling your cheeks and digging your nose every time you take a drink of water.

Not a nice feeling at all.

I’m using a rather wide and deep water bowl for my cat. This allows enough room for his whiskers and can hold enough water to last a day.

Running Vs Stagnant Water

cat drinking from fountain

Having to drink from a stagnant water source might not be the best option for some cats.

In the wild, cats tend to ignore stagnant water as it poses a higher risk of contamination.

Being able to drink from a moving water source can mean a lot to some cats. For cats that are attracted to water, buying a cat fountain can definitely encourage your cat to drink more.

When I first got one for my cat, it didn’t really spark his interest though. He still preferred his old water bowl.

Then again, my cat avoids taking showers like his life depends on it.

You might have more success with your cat.

How To Make My Cat Drink More Water?

Even if your cat is drinking water, it might not be drinking enough.

There isn’t an official guideline as to how much water a cat should be drinking. It also depends on its diet and age.

But as a general guideline, between 5 to 10 fluid ounces will be good for most cats.

If your cat is drinking but isn’t drinking enough, there are some ways that you can try to increase its water intake.

Change Your Cats Diet

If you are feeding your cat dry food or kibbles, please stop. Feeding your cat such a diet robs them of all the important hydration that they need.

Dry food contains no water and can cause many health problems down the road.

Transition your cat to a canned food diet or raw meat diet. These diets are more natural for cats and contain a lot more water.

Add Some Broth

Adding homemade broth to your cat’s food is a great way to help increase your cat’s appetite and water intake.

I find this works very well for sick cats who might not have much of an appetite.

There are commercially made bone broths that are meant for pets. But I prefer to make mine at home by just simmering animal or fish bones in water for an hour.

I will let the mixture cool before feeding some to my cat. Please do not feed your cat the cooked bones as they can splinter and injure your cat’s mouth and throat.

Syringe Your Cat

Not the best way to increase your cat’s water intake but desperate times require desperate measures.

Not many cat owners enjoy doing this because it is stressful for both the cat and human.

However, if your cat is used to being syringed since young, then this method will be a breeze for you.

If your cat isn’t drinking water or isn’t drinking enough, syringing your cat is the best way to force-feed your cat with more water.

I would consult the vet before doing so just to be sure of the amount of water to be giving your cat.

How To Check If My Cat Is Dehydrated?

The best way to tell if your cat is adequately hydrated or dehydrated is to do a skin test at home.

Pinch the skin between your cat’s shoulder blades and lift it up a couple of inches. Release the skin and observe how it falls back in place.

The skin of a well-hydrated cat will have good elasticity and quickly snap back to its original position. If your cat is dehydrated, the skill will take a couple of seconds to settle back.

There are also tests that require observing your cat’s gums or eyes. But I personally find the skin test to be sufficient.

From this test, you will know if your cat needs to be taking in more water or not.

Why Does My Cat Hang Its Head Over The Water Bowl?

Interestingly enough, I was told by some of my readers who had cats that hang their heads over the water bowl without drinking.

Apparently, it was caused by viral diseases in cats called Calicivirus and Parvovirus.

What is Feline Calicivirus?

This virus can cause respiratory infection and oral disease in cats. It is highly contagious and spreads easily in pet shelters and cat colonies.

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Nasal and eye discharge
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Oral ulcers
  • Lack of appetite

Cats with calicivirus can be so fatigued to the point of being too tired to drink even when they are hanging over the water bowl.

Thankfully, most cats can make a full recovery from this with proper care and medication.

What Is Feline Panleukopenia?

Feline panleukopenia is more dangerous than the calicivirus as it attacks cells that are able to divide in the cat’s body like the bone marrow, intestines and fetus.

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Sitting in front of the water bowl but not drinking
  • Nasal discharge

There isn’t a known cure for this viral infection but cats can recover with proper intensive supportive care.


Don’t wait to take your cat to the vet if you noticed that it has not been drinking based on its usual drinking habits.

Cats have mastered the art of hiding their sickness and things can get out of hand but the time they start to show symptoms.

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