Dehydration in Cats

Grey and white cat

Cats don’t tend to drink a lot of water on their own, which can lead to a wide range of health problems, particularly in their senior years (such as severe kidney damage). 

In today’s article, we’re discussing how dehydration in cats looks, what are the signs that you should notice, how it is treated, and how you can better ensure that your feline friend gets to drink enough water. 

Why is water so important?

Cats should drink at least four ounces of water per 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of body weight per day. This ensures that their body is able to function correctly. Water is essential for all organs, but it is particularly so for your pet’s kidneys, their heart, and for various processes such as making sure that the animal maintains their temperature. 

Furthermore, a normal intake of water ensures that cats don’t end up suffering from digestive imbalances, mainly constipation. In the absence of enough fluids in their bodies, some cats might develop imbalances where the bacteria that they have in their gut dies. 

When cats lose too much water from their bodies, this not only makes them dehydrated but can also lead to mineral imbalances, mainly those involving sodium, potassium, or chloride. 

What causes dehydration in cats?

Dehydration can be caused by several different factors. Some of them are to be expected, such as when your pet has a fever or has been sitting in the sun for too long (and yes, just like dogs, cats can suffer from heatstroke, too). 

But there are also health conditions that can lead to a pet being dehydrated. For example, if the cat is undergoing a digestive issue that makes them vomit or experience diarrhea, they will be losing precious fluids in this way. 

Chronic kidney disease, along with hormonal imbalances such as hyperthyroidism and metabolic conditions like diabetes, can also lead to the animal becoming dehydrated. In diabetes, no matter how much the cat might drink, they might develop dehydration. Water is not absorbed properly into their bodies in this situation. 

Signs your cat is dehydrated

It can be challenging to tell if your feline companion has become dehydrated, but some of the tell-tale signs that you can expect in this case would be lethargy or weakness, an absence of appetite, and sunken eyes. 

Other symptoms are listed below:

  • Dry skin
  • Sticky or dry gums 
  • Thick saliva
  • Your cat might not have defecated in more than 48 hours
  • Increased heart rate
  • Panting

There is a simple test that you can perform in the comfort of your home, and that can tell you whether your pet is dehydrated or not. It is often called ‘skin tenting’ (or skin turgor test), and it involves you grabbing the scruff of your cat’s neck and seeing how long it takes for the skin to regain its original form. 

In animals that are well hydrated, it will take a fraction of a second for the skin to come back to its location. In dehydrated cats, the skin will remain in a tent position for several seconds or more. 

Besides this test, vets can use several extra ones to tell if your cat is dehydrated, such as performing blood chemistry or a complete blood count. Testing your cat’s urine can also be helpful because it becomes concentrated, and as such, it has a different smell and a different color. 

Treating dehydration in cats

The treatment of this health complication largely depends on what has caused it in the first place. If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, they will receive insulin as per a schedule created by your veterinarian. 

If your cat suffers from some type of kidney damage, you will be shown how you can administer subcutaneous fluids to your cat. Depending on how much water they already drink, this could be something you might have to do once every 2-3 days or once a week. 

Should your cat be severely dehydrated, they might have to be hospitalized for a few days until their blood tests begin to look normal. Administering fluids intravenously is much more effective than doing so subcutaneously, but that is something that you will not be able to do at home. 

Preventing your cat from becoming dehydrated 

If your cat has never experienced dehydration, making sure that they drink enough fluids every day is probably the best solution you have at your disposal. If you are already aware that your cat has a health issue that involves dehydration, you will probably have to administer fluids subcutaneously. 

More often than not, switching from dry food to wet food can be a good way of ensuring that your pet is hydrated enough. 

If you own several cats, making sure that each has a separate station with food and water can make it more likely for them to drink water. Finally, cats hate stale water, and since they already don’t tend to drink a lot on their own, investing in a good-quality pet fountain can keep the water fresh and make your cat drink more. 

Adding chicken broth or giving your cat slightly warm bone broth can convince them to have a drink. 

Dehydration is considered an emergency in cats mostly because they tend to quickly develop other complications if they do not receive treatment as soon as possible. Do not hesitate to take your pet to the animal hospital if you suspect they are dehydrated. 

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