Feline Diminished Thirst Reflex

Feline Diminished Thirst Reflex

Dr Jane Bicks
The French veterinarian Ferand Mery famously said, “God made the cat in order that man might have the pleasure of caressing a tiger”. While the domestic cat cannot claim the venerable tiger as an ancestor, it is true that our cuddly feline companions are believed to have descended from felis sylvestris lybica, the African wildcat. Also known as “the desert cat”, this feline is a desert-dwelling species that inhabits harsh environments notable for their lack of food and even less water. To survive, the African wildcat can shed nearly all of her reserves of fat and protein, up to 40% of her weight! But even this highly adapted animal is much less tolerant to dehydration. And yet, it continues to thrive in desert climates without easy access to water.

Water is the single most vital component necessary to sustain the normal functioning of all living cells. Water has many functions: it eliminates waste, lubricates tissues, regulates body temperature, cushions joints and internal organs, aids in digestion, and much more.

In the wild, cats tend to eat small game characterized as high-protein and high-moisture content, such as rabbits, birds and rodents (even some juicy insects). Prey animals like these contain about 70% water, providing most of the moisture that wild cats need. Unsurprisingly, wild cats have failed to evolve a strong "thirst reflex" like that of dogs and humans. A thirst reflex involves complex interactions between the kidney and the brain. When we are dehydrated, the kidney releases chemicals that communicate with the brain, which in turn makes us consciously aware that we are thirsty and need to drink.

Like her desert dwelling ancestors, today’s domestic cat also has a diminished thirst reflex and must derive most of her water requirement from the moisture in her food. When a cat eats only dry food, she may not take in as much hydration as canned-food-only cats. Cats do increase the amount they drink when fed strictly dry food, but according to a recent study, not nearly enough to fully compensate. Studies have shown that cats consuming a diet containing 10% moisture with free access to drinking water had an average daily urine volume of 63 milliliters (ml). Urine volume increased to 112 ml per day when fed a canned diet with 75% moisture content. Additionally, urine was also more concentrated in cats fed the 10% moisture food. Veterinary scientists generally believe that decreased urine volume and increased urine concentration may be risk factors for the development of urinary tract disease in cats, including issues such as bladder stones, feline urologic syndrome and kidney disease.

Compared to dogs, cats make less precise and rapid adjustments to the amount that they drink in response to temperature changes. When the temperature rises, dogs compensate by drinking more water. Cat’s brains don’t register the need to drink more in response to temperature changes as quickly, which can lead to dehydration.

Fortunately, you can help support your cat’s urinary health and ensure that your cat is receiving increased hydration simply by supplementing your cat’s diet with a high quality canned food. Life’s Abundance’s Instinctive Choice premium canned cat food contains high-quality proteins from organic chicken, turkey, chicken liver and shrimp along with taurine, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Equally important, Instinctive Choice is 76% moisture, which is mainly derived from the nutrient-rich chicken broth. This allows your cat to obtain moisture closer to the way a cat in the wild would ingest it. By supplementing your cat’s diet with Instinctive Choice, you can help provide the nutrition and hydration your cat needs for a long and healthy life.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Dr. Jane Bicks


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Seefeldt SL, Chapman TE. Body water content and turnover in cats fed dry and canned rations. American Journal of Veterinary Research 1979 Feb; 40(2): 183-185.

Lawler DE, Sjolin DW, Collins JE. Incidence rates of feline lower urinary tract disease in cats in the US. Feline Practice 15: 13-16.

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Comments (9) -

  • polly

    7/26/2011 7:07:02 PM |


    What are your comments re. the raw diets which are very 'wet' versus the combo dry/ wet diet?  Also, what about the theory put forth by raw feeders that kibble shouldn't be mixed with wet foods (different rates of consumption)?

    Thank you for your thoughts,

  • Rich and Lisa Jelinek

    7/29/2011 2:27:07 AM |

    Thanks for the great article Dr Jane! Keeping cats hydrated is so important and many people don't realize their cat may not be drinking enough water. Instinctive Choice is wonderful!

  • Myra

    7/30/2011 6:51:30 PM |

    Very interesting.  I had not realized the importance of cats drinking more water.  I will certainly keep a closer eye on my 5 cats to see if they are drinking more.  Maybe I will get a fountain to encourage them.

    Very good article.

    Thank you, Dr. Jane

  • Sue Villareal

    7/30/2011 7:24:19 PM |

    Wonderful article on keeping cats hydrated.  Would it be alright with you if I placed this article on my cat website? Many people go to my site just for the CAT CARE information I offer. This may help all of those that have had urinary tract issues with their cats. When I question those that have had problems , it has been those who feed dry diets only. In 30 yrs of breeding cats , I have never had a cat with urinary problems , or kidney stones. Your explanation as to why cats don't drink is something I never thought of or gave any time too. But I always recommend wet food , so the cats take in more water. Great, great information.

  • Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz

    7/31/2011 5:47:30 PM |

    Excellent, easy to read and understand article! My cats love Instinctive Choice and I swear, I could put it on a cracker and it it myself, lol. Honestly, it is one less worry for me to not have to worry about the quality and sources of your excellent diets!

  • Al Van Dyken

    8/1/2011 8:30:59 AM |

    Interesting article on the cat's origins and aversion to water. My mother grew up with cats and I don't ever remeber seeing a bowl of water next to our cat's food dish, but there was always a dish of milk for her. Isn't milk a good substitute for water and nourishing also?

    Regards,    Al

  • Rebecca J Forrest

    8/10/2011 9:06:06 AM |

    Excellent article. Lots of information there that I didn't know. I'm going to share that article far and wide!

    Rebecca Forrest (and kitty Lucy)

  • Lenna Oshiro

    5/6/2012 5:49:27 AM |

    Hello. Great job. I did not know this. This is a splendid story. Thanks!

  • Augustine Stonehouse

    11/19/2012 4:57:26 AM |

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

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