While most people don't consider water a nutrient, it is without a doubt the most important one. Our pet's body, just like our own, is made up of mostly water. Water accounts for 60 to 70 percent of an adult pet's body weight. An animal can survive after losing most of it's fat or protein, but a 10% decrease in body water can cause serious illness, a 15% loss results in death!
Body water serves several useful functions. First, water is used for body heat regulation. Second, water is used for transportation of body nutrients from the food into the cells for energy production, cellular metabolism, and making hormones. Third, water allows the body to transport waste material from the cells to the outside of the body (in the form of urine and feces). Finally, water assists in lubricating the various body surfaces such as joints, intestines and organs of the chest and abdomen.
Most people forget how important water is to a pet's diet. Too much or too little water can be fatal. While your pet's food can supply a little or a lot of your pet's daily water needs, (dry food contains up to 10% moisture and canned foods have up to 78% moisture) water is the one thing to which your pet should have unlimited access. Animals know when they're thirsty and they should have free access to clean containers of pure, healthy water.
Because tap water contains chlorine and fluoride (among other things), it's best to provide your pet with filtered water, just as it is for us. Many holistic pet owners prefer structured water -- the best water there is, for themselves and their pets. All animals love structured water and benefit from it (as do we!).
Never give animals distilled water. Distilled water is void of any minerals (which is why it is used in appliances such as steam irons, decorative water fountains and aromatherapy diffusers) and has a detoxing effect on the body. Distilled water will actually pull minerals from the body resulting in mineral deficiencies over time. Even humans are advised to only drink distilled water for short periods of time when attempting to detox the body.
Water should be increased in times of illness, when a fever is present, when the environmental temperature increases, if your pet pants excessively, or when your pet is taking certain medications (such as steroids or diuretics) that result in an increased urinary output.
We have both cats and dogs who have free access to the backyard, so I keep a couple big bowls of water on the back patio, two bowls in the kitchen and a couple more smaller bowls in locations that only the cats can get to. I also have a water fountain like the one pictured above that the cats like drinking out of. (Cats -- or dogs for that matter -- that like to drink running water out of the faucets, really like the water fountains! It aerates the water and keeps the water fresher than water that just sits in the bowl.) I use bottled or filtered water in the fountain.
(Update 2017): Upon learning that electricity makes water hard, I no longer use pet water fountains for this reason. Instead, I give our pets structured water -- water that is naturally soft and instantly available at the intracellular level. Since 2013, I have also been providing our animal clients with structured water while under our care -- an extra health benefit just by using our service -- not offered anywhere else! This is a unique benefit offered only by Cozy Critters Pet Sitters of Bellaire. (Learn more about this amazing water by clicking on the structured water tab on our website!)
Cats can be picky about their water. Some like to drink out of certain things such as a coffee cup or a tall glass or the faucet. We had a cat that was very particular about her water, especially in her later years. She would meow (very loudly and non-stop) if the water was not fresh and filled to the very top of the bowl! You may want to offer your cats various types of water containers in multiple places around the house as cats are not naturally big drinkers and encouragement to drink more water is always helpful.
The best kind of bowls to use are stainless steel, glass or ceramic. (Ceramic and glass bowls can crack, so keep an eye out for that.) Plastic bowls can contain a number of carcinogenic substances and they can be chewed and scratched (which can harbor bacteria). Some pets are allergic to plastic, causing acne around the face and chin. (We had a cat that was allergic to plastic bowls.) Be sure to clean out the water bowls daily. If you do use water fountains be sure to buy extra filters and change them out regularly.
Sometimes it's the simple, basic things in life that make a big difference.
Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, S. Messonnier, DVM, 2001
The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, C.J. Puotinen, 1998
Water Codes - The Science of Health, Consciousness and Enlightenment, Dr. Carly Nuday, PhD., 2014
Dancing with Water, The New Science of Water, MJ Pangman, MS and Melanie Evans, 2011
The Water Puzzle and the Hexagonal Key, Dr. Mu Shik Jhon, 2004
The Hidden Messages in Water, Masaru Emoto, 2001
Your Body's Many Cries for Water, F. Batmanghelidj, M.D., 1992
Structured Water teleclasses by Clayton Nolte, Natural Action Technologies, 2013 - 2017
(Note: This article was updated on 2/20/17.)