Automatic water fountain: Here’s how to choose one for your senior cat

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(And why it is important)

Water fountain for senior cat
The Papifeed Automatic Water Fountain

You might have seen or heard about automatic water fountains for cats. Why does your senior cat need a water fountain? Why isn’t a plain old water bowl enough? What benefits do these water fountains bring to your cat? And how to choose the right water fountain for your cat? Turns out, a water fountain is a much better drinking source for your cat and can help to keep her healthy and fight FLUTD. Wait up! What’s FLUTD, you ask? Read on to find out.

Is your older cat routinely making trips to the litter box? Does she or he have a habit of spraying outside the litter box? Do you notice trails of urine when you move the litter box for cleaning?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, your cat could be suffering from Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD and having a water fountain can help her. FLUTD is not one specific disease but could signal different underlying problems related to urinary malfunction in cats. We still don’t know what the exact causes of FLUTD are, but veterinarians have identified some triggers.

It could be related to stress. One way to make sure your senior cat isn’t stressed, is to provision a spot where she can retreat and be on her own. It could also be due to a low water intake, especially if the cat does not drink enough and/or is on a dry food diet. Other risk factors are increased magnesium and calcium content in the diet.

Keep a constant supply of water

So, what is the solution? Veterinarians agree that senior cats prone to chronic spells of urinary tract infection can benefit from having a constant source of clean water available at all times. A good water fountain equipped with an ion-exchange charcoal filter can filter out elements like magnesium and calcium from your cat’s drinking water.

To be clear, if the symptoms persist, it is of course best to take your pet to a vet, but some good measures can soothe your pet and also reduce the chances he gets sick again.

Why an automatic water fountain is the best choice for your pet

Proper hydration is extremely important especially for senior cats. Every year about 0.6 percent of the cat population suffers from urinary infection and about 10 percent of cats visiting veterinary clinics have the disease. If a cat doesn’t drink enough, his urine tends to have a high concentration of minerals, putting him at an increased risk of infection.

Cats are finicky drinkers

Cats are notoriously bad at drinking adequately. Most cats tend to avoid water like the plague. They are also impossibly finicky about having the right kind of drinking source at their disposal.

Some cats do not like it when the water bowl is too close to their food bowl because from their experience in the wild such water is likely dirty from the food they just ate. If one thing can be said about cats in general, they tend to not go for standing water, and prefer running water for their hydration needs.

In the wild, stagnant water is quite likely to be contaminated. Even though we call them the “domestic cat”, they are still a little wild at heart (or pretend to think so).

For these reasons some cats seem to like to drink directly from the tap. If your cat is used to drink directly from the faucet, you know how impractical this can be – for you and for the cat. He usually has to wait around until you happen to get near a tap, or he wont stop meowing till you get the message. Sometimes, when you’re out, you even might worry he may have managed to get the tap open after a long unsuccessful wait, and have to come home to a flooded apartment.

4 reasons to replace drinking bowls or tap water with a water fountain

So why am I suddenly interested in water fountains? My cat Mimi recently became prone to chronic urinary infections. She just turned 11, and after many trips to the vet’s and several courses of antibiotics, my veterinarian advised me to get her a water fountain. For the reasons I mentioned above, most cats prefer them to water bowls around the house. So, why should you replace your cat’s drinking bowls with a water fountain? Here are four reasons.

  • Hygiene: Most water fountains are equipped with filters that cleanse the drinking water of debris and micro particles. The water is ran through the filtering system several times while the fountain is turned on, and so, it is less likely to accumulate dust and other pollutants from its surroundings.
  • Convenience: You don’t have to remember to check if the water is clean every day. One pesky problem I often had with bowls is that within a day the water gets spoiled by dust and sometimes even bugs (in summertime we get lots of bugs here). And so I had to change them several times a week.
  • More adapted to cats: For many reasons, cats prefer to drink running water. The moving water in a fountain attracts cats. As a result, they are likely to drink more often than they tend to do with water bowls.
  • Prevents FLUTD: One important cause for FLUTD is the presence of magnesium and calcium that can clog up a cat’s urethra. A good ion-exchange filter can cleanse the water supply of these heavy ions and keep your kitty healthy.

So, how to choose the best water fountain?

By now I have probably convinced you why a cat water fountain is the best way to provision drinking water for your house cat. If your cat takes to a good water fountain, then you will see within days she won’t even pay attention to the bowl. But choosing the best water fountain is not as easy as it sounds. Especially because there are so many choices at many price points.

So what are some things you need to look out for while on the market for a water fountain? While buying a cat fountain, we need to take many things into account like the age of the cat, her habits etc.

Water fountains can be made of BPA free plastic, stainless steel or ceramic. They also require a constant power supply for the water pump to function.

So what are the key criteria to keep in mind while looking for a good water fountain?

Design and construction

Water fountains come in surprisingly many shapes and designs.

Flower-type design

By a flower type design, I mean a water fountain that consists of a bowl with a circular mouth and a water outlet at the top. Most common water fountains are of this type. Water flows in all directions, goes down the filter and is pumped back again. A very popular example is the Catit water fountain.

I tested the Catit Water Fountain

This is the first water fountain I bought for my cat. It was quite easy to set up. Like most other fountains with a similar design it has a large BPA-free plastic bowl to hold up to 68 oz (2 liters) of water. The 1 W immersion pump was already inside the bowl and had suction cups to hold it in place. The rest of the fountain was quite easy to set up and the pump just had to be connected to a power supply with the USB cable that came in the package.

An unavoidable problem with automatic fountains is that the pump will make a noticeable buzz when it is working. But it is feeble enough that after some time you will get used to it. Do leave your cat sufficient time to get used to it. One other drawback of the Catit fountain was that it was a bit too big (about 18 cm tall) for my small cat. This may not be a problem for most other cats, however.

This fountain is an easy buy because it is relatively cheap. The various spare parts such as the pump and the filters can be easily found on Amazon. Catit sells replacement pumps and replacement filters for its water fountains on Amazon. I have also bought other pet products from Catit such as their ball track for cats and they are a very reliable company.

An advantage of the flower type water fountain is that since their pump is nicely tucked away, they produce less noise than other types of designs.

Faucet design

This design could be more suitable for cats that are used to drinking from a faucet. If you have a cat and a dog in the house, the faucet design might be better. An example is the isYoung water fountain, and we have to agree – the design looks pretty cool and original.

Another type of design is the tray type design. This can be ideal for small pets like kittens and cats smaller than or around 6.6 pounds.

Lesson learned: The right height is important!

For cats that are petite like mine, if the fountain is too high, it might be difficult for the cat to get used to. Ideally a fountain should reach below a cat’s shoulder. The Catit fountain was too big for Mimi. You should buy flower-type fountains that are up to 5 inches for small cats. A tray-type design is even better for small pets.

Noise level and type of motor

Most pumps range from 1W to 2W. Although this might be a small difference considering it is running all the time, going for a 1W solution might be better. Most makers claim their pump is ultra quiet but some cats are extra sensitive to noise. If your pump is so noisy for the cat that she won’t go near it, it would be a waste of money.

Material

Even though the plastic used in most fountains is certified BPA free, for some, having a more ecologic material might be a concern. For those that don’t like plastic for some reason, there are also fountains made of stainless steel and ceramic, among others.

Maintenance and Upkeep

How often should I change the water?

Constant maintenance is unavoidable with water fountains. The water needs to be changed regularly, filters need to be cleaned and the pump must be taken apart and cleaned.

Depending on the design of the fountain, it can be difficult to tell when the fountain needs to be refilled. Even if your pet doesn’t drink very often, water eventually evaporates away. This can happen quicker than you think.

You should also clean the water fountain at least once a week because debris accumulating inside can clog up the filter and the pump valves. A good time to refill your fountain is when the pump starts to make more noise than usual. Some water fountains come with a water level indicator that helps you monitor the water level in your fountain. An example is the Papifeed water fountain.

I tested Papifeed Water Fountain

Water fountain for senior cat
Papifeed fountain: It was easy to assemble and set up

The Papifeed water fountain is a nice little water fountain with a pleasing square shape with rounded corners. At an affordable price it comes with surprisingly many perks and features. I tested this product, and just like the Cat-it fountain, it was very easy to set up. The internals are similar, but there are some important differences.

A very useful feature in my opinion is the water level indicator that looks like a small thermometer with a red filament that can be inserted into the bowl. The height of the filament tells you if the water level is too low and it needs to be changed.

The water pump goes inside its own nice square compartment, with a cover that helps in keeping the noise levels down. When I hooked it up I was surprised how little noise it made. It is ideal for cats that are easily spooked, because of its low pump noise levels. I also found the trickling sound of the water running down the outlet quite pleasing.

PetSafe Fountain
  • Made of stainless steel: Safe for pets
  • Petsafe: Well-established brand for pets
  • Customisable streams
NPET Automatic Fountain
  • Made of safe resin material (not plastic)
  • Attractive transparent design
  • Water-level indicator
isYoung Fountain
  • Adapted for both cats and dogs
  • For pets used to drinking from the faucet
  • Easy design for pets to get used to
Rosecreate Ceramic
  • Made from safe ceramic material
  • Tray type design is ideal for small cats and kittens
  • Has a premium look and feel

Tip to lower power usage

For some, an obvious drawback of using a water fountain for your cats is that it can get pretty expensive in terms of electricity. The pump can also run out after a while and must be replaced, although most pumps have a long advertised lifetime.

In my experience, coupling a water fountain with a motion detector plug (like this one) will help you reduce the power usage, as well as keep the pump running along longer. You can place it in a corner near your cat’s food bowl so that the motion detector is triggered only when the cat gets near. Don’t forget to tune the sensitivity of the plug! It’s definitely a cheap addition that is well worth its price and more.

Drinking fountain that doesn’t need electricity

A electricity-free drinking fix for your cat

What about electricity-free water fountains? An example is “ Bubble water drinking dish” from Amazon. This drinking fountain is unlike the others that it doesn’t need electricity. You just need to fill the bubble shaped container with water and water will trickle into feeding compartment as it empties. It is a low-tech solution and well suited for those who are not comfortable with having a water fountain connected to the power supply at all times. We never know how our pets might act from time to time. Having a non-electricity powered fountain is a safe option in such cases.

The fountain is easy to set up and get to work. Remember it doesn’t have a filter, but this may be OK for those whose homes already have filtered water available at home. I find its bubble design quite unique and attractive. Another advantage of this filter is, since it doesn’t have the buzzing pump noise unlike an electric fountain, which some cats might find hard to get used to.

Cat drinking from non-electric water fountain
After weeks of trial-and-error Mimi finally took to a water fountain!

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