What Do Cats Drink – Water or Milk?

At a glance

Water makes up 70% of a cat’s body and is vital for survival. Water is essential for many roles which include flushing wastes
from the body, lubricating and cushioning the joints, aiding digestion, keeps eyes, mouth and nose moist, prevents constipation, dissolves minerals to make them accessible to the body, carries oxygen and nutrients to the cells.

What do cats drink?

  • Clean, fresh water for cats and kittens who
    have weaned.
  • Young kittens need milk, either from their
    mother or if orphaned/rejected, a milk supplement (if a foster mother can’t
    be found).

Cats from 5 weeks can drink water although most kittens are still nursing from their mother at this stage, some young kittens have a drink of water too.


 Encouraging your cat to drink water

Cats in the wild receive most of their water intake via their food (a wild rodent or bird). Many people today are feeding their cats dry food, which is easy and convenient. However, it only contains 10% water. Therefore cats need to make up this shortfall by drinking more water.

On hot days, I will sometimes put ice cubes into the water bowl to cool it down further. Or you can rinse out a balloon, half fill it with water and tie a knot in the top. Freeze overnight and then place on a baking tray for your cat to enjoy during the day. Don’t forget, if your cat has access to an outdoor cat enclosure, it is a good idea to provide a second water bowl out there for him to take a drink when he is playing, exploring etc. If you have multiple cats, it is a good idea to have several water dishes.

A sturdy, pottery water dish is the best type of bowl for cats as it is difficult to knock over. These type of dishes keep the water cooler for longer, which is important in the warmer months. The water bowl should be wide enough so that the cat can comfortably drink without the sides touching his whiskers.

  • Some cats don’t like water that is sitting in a bowl. If you have a cat who seems to like drinking from a running tap, a solution that works for many is a cat water fountain. These are electronic devices in which the water re-circulates, oxygenating it and reducing standing time, which leads to stagnation. Some water fountains will also filter the water at the same time. There are several popular brands of water fountains on the market.
  • Move the water bowl. Some cats don’t like their water bowl too close to the food bowl, so try moving it a little further away. Also, make sure it isn’t too close to the litter tray. Cats do not like to eat and drink near where they go to the toilet. They also don’t like their water bowl extremely close to their food bowl.

What shouldn’t cats drink

Most cats have an intolerance to the lactose in cow’s milk and it can cause digestive problems. If you do want to give your cat milk, you can buy specially formulated cat milk from most supermarkets or pet shops. This should be a treat only, and not a part of your cat’s daily fluid intake.

It goes without saying that cats should not be given anything to drink other than water or the appropriate type of milk. Fizzy drinks, alcohol, juice, tea, coffee etc., should never be given to your cat.

If you have a fish tank, cover it up. The chemicals in the water are not good for your cat.

Don’t let your cat drink from the toilet bowl. Not only is it at risk of falling in and drowning, but the chemicals and bacteria will make your cat sick.


Fresh, clean water is the only drink a cat over 8 weeks of age requires. If you choose to give your cat milk, it is still important to provide him with fresh water in addition to the milk and only give milk as an occasional treat. Discard any remaining milk after 30-60 minutes. Leave water out at all times.


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio

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