young kitten drinking from a bowl

My Kitten Won’t Drink Water – Should I Be Worried?

Is it a problem if my kitten won’t drink water? Should I be worried? Maybe, is the answer to that! Kittens need moisture intake to avoid becoming dehydrated. It does not have to come from water. It can come from milk or food, so if your kitten doesn’t drink water it might not be as much of a problem as you might initially think!

Read on to learn more and find out what to expect and what you can do if your kitten is not drinking as much water as you would like.

Why Won’t My Kitten Drink Water?

Kittens get all the moisture and nourishment they need from their mothers in the first four weeks of life. During this period they drink their mother’s milk. By week four their size is such that realistically mother’s milk cannot supply all their ongoing nutritional needs and at this stage, the mother tends to start to refuse access to milk. At this stage, the kitten is developing teeth and claws and is equipped to begin eating real food. This transition is termed weaning. And they are weaned when they come off their mother’s milk.

Before they are weaned they will not drink water. After they are weaned they need moisture like any other cat. At this stage, from week 4, they may not know they need to drink water, have the skills, or be feeling thirsty.

Kittens tend to learn by watching their mother and other cats. If kittens haven’t seen their mother drinking they will not become curious and learn to drink. 

If they are old enough and you have seen them drink before but they have stopped drinking then it may be for the same reasons that any cat decided to stop drinking suddenly. They simply may not feel thirsty or there may be issues with the water or its presentation.

tabby kitten drinking water from a bowl

Is It A Problem If My Kitten Won’t Drink Water?

If your cat is not fully weaned then not drinking water is not an issue as their mother will be supplying them with moisture through her milk.

If your kitten is eating wet food and is older than four weeks of age then a lack of water intake is likely not something to worry about as most wet foods are made up of 80% moisture and cats would normally get the majority of their moisture needs satisfied by wet food anyway!

If your kitten is happy drinking kitten formula milk, then again, a lack of water intake is unlikely to be an issue.

If your kitten is weaned but is eating a dry food diet and is not drinking water or a milk formula then this would be a potential problem that certainly needs to be scrutinized. 

Is My Kitten Getting Enough Water?

So you suspect your kitten is not getting enough moisture – maybe they are weaned and on a dry diet and you never get to see them drinking water. Rightly, you are concerned. 

The main issue with this scenario is that they may become dehydrated. Most cats can only last three days without water and for kittens, the problem is even more severe.

Dehydration is a killer for kittens and cats. Unweaned kittens can easily become dehydrated through a bout of diarrhea, inappropriate temperature caused by heat pads or inexperienced mothering, or simple minor infections. In unweaned cats, dehydration is one of the leading causes of kitten fading (death).

In weaned kittens older than four weeks, dehydration can also be a potentially major problem. So how do you know if your kitten is getting enough water? Check for signs of dehydration. 

Check to see if the skin behind their shoulder blades “tents” when pinched. If it does they may be dehydrated! Does your kitten have low energy, low appetite, sunken eyes, dry and sticky gums, or exhibit panting? All these are symptoms of dehydration. If your kitten is dehydrated they need to see a vet right away. Generally, there are no homemade solutions to rescue a dehydrated kitten – they need specialist intervention – think drips under the skin!

unweaned kitten being bottle fed

What Do You Do If Your Kitten Won’t Drink Water?

Perhaps your kitten is not showing any outward signs of dehydration but all the same, you’re concerned they are not drinking water. Is there anything you can do? Well, there is. Forget water, think moisture. You need to ensure they have plenty of moisture in their diet.

There are a number of ways that you can improve the moisture level in your kitten’s diet.

The main thing you can do is put them on a wet food diet. A wet food diet will ensure they are getting a very handsome supply of moisture. They may not even need to top up with drinking water if they eat well enough! Cats, unlike ourselves, are evolved to source most of their moisture requirements from the food they hunt. So use evolution to your advantage and feed them a wet food diet.

If they are on a dry food diet and are not interested in a wet food diet you should moisten their food with water. Adding water to dry cat food will make the food easier to eat, probably taste better, and ensure they are getting more moisture.

If they are on a wet food diet already but you are really concerned and the lack of drinking is worrying you, then add a teaspoon of water to the wet food and generate a gravy. Your kitten will probably enjoy their food even more and you will know they are definitely getting more water!

Try them on store-bought kitten milk. It must be proper, lactose-free, kitten milk. If you use cow’s milk then the lactose in bovine milk may cause diarrhea which may increase the odds of dehydration. Kitten milk formulations are widely available and usually consist of at least 80% water as well as proteins and other useful constituents.

Kitten milk costs too much – water it down with water. Even watered-down kitten milk can be more appetizing to a kitten than plain water – and cheaper until you get them on the water! The idea here is to gradually change the amount of milk in the water until after a week or so they are drinking straight water.

kittens feeding with mother nursing

What Age Should Kittens Drink Water?

For reference, your kitten should start to drink water from roughly week 4 onwards. Some will be quicker on the uptake than others and will have weaned fully (weaning can occur from week 4 – 6). Kittens will learn by observing their mother’s activity and by their own curiosity so try to provide their mother with a water dish near the litter’s bedding area so they can monitor their mother’s behavior.  

Why Do Kittens Not Like To Drink Water?

Initially, kittens may not like to drink water because it may not closely resemble their mother’s milk – the water may be too cold and lack flavor. But over time, they will learn to drink water from their mother and observation of other cats or purely through their own curiosity and instinct. 

Like many cats, kittens may go off water, sometimes quite suddenly. They may not like to drink water due to the way it is presented or due to subtle flavors. Check out why cats suddenly stop drinking water here.

Final Thoughts

If your kitten won’t drink water try not to worry. Instead, focus on upping their moisture intake – wet food or adding water to food are effective ways to boost water intake and avoid dehydration which is the real problem. If you need to pull out the big guns go for kitten milk formula or even a little tuna juice! If you suspect your kitten is dehydrated don’t waste time trying to resolve the situation at home – kittens fade quickly and need medical attention in these situations.