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Signs of Dehydration in Cats

Your cat’s body is made up of 70-80% water or three-quarters of your cat’s body weight is water, so it’s critical that your cat gets enough fluids daily to maintain good health and prevent dehydration. Water is essential for cat’s urinary and kidney health, circulation, digestion, and waste removal. With hot summer days now upon us, it’s even more important that your cat has access to and drinks enough water, as dehydration can lead to a number of serious medical problems and even death. Here are the signs of dehydration in cats and why it’s so important to treat dehydration immediately.

Why Hydration is So Important

Dehydration happens when your cat loses body fluids faster than he can replace them, and it can happen when your cat is either not drinking enough water or is losing too many fluids. Fluids lost through daily urination, elimination and respiration all need to be replaced to normal levels everyday. But if your cat hasn’t been drinking enough water; has been vomiting or has diarrhea; or has been ill or had a fever; or your cat is old, then rehydration is even more critical as all of these can leave your cat severely dehydrated.

In summer months, hydration is especially important because cats can get overheated due to the hot weather and they can lose their ability to maintain their normal body temperature—leading to possible heat stroke, respiratory (panting and difficulty breathing) problems, heart problems, kidney issues, lethargy, depression and loss of appetite. If you see any of these signs in your cat, take them immediately to your vet for treatment. Time can be critical. Dehydration is serious and treatment needs to be immediate or your cat’s health can quickly become compromised.

Signs Your Cat is Dehydrated

The easiest test to see if your cat is dehydrated is to check their skin. Simply take a good pinch of skin on the back of their lower neck or above the shoulders and gently pull it up, then release it and watch how quickly it snaps back into place. If it goes back to normal quickly, your cat is well hydrated, but if it falls back slowly or stays raised at all, your cat is severely dehydrated and needs hydration treatment. This is called skin “tenting” named after the tent-like shape of the skin when it’s pulled up. If your cat is dehydrated, visit your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Here’s an easy way to check for dehydration in your cat.

Causes and Preventing Dehydration

First you want to understand why your cat is dehydrated and if there’s an underlying medical issue causing the dehydration, so you may need to take your cat to the vet for diagnosis. Often cats with certain illnesses such as hyperthyroidism, cancer and kidney disease are more prone to getting dehydrated. Senior cats can be at risk as well, and diabetic cats that are not well monitored can be at risk too.

If your cat is otherwise healthy, consider helping your cat get more water with some of the following ideas. Do you have enough water bowls with fresh, cold water available? Does your cat have easy access to water in several locations throughout your home? If you only have one bowl of water out, add 1-2 more bowls in different locations. Also, some cats like the sound of water running, so getting a water fountain (available at pet stores) can help, but they require regular cleaning.

Are your water bowls refreshed regularly? Water gets stale in a couple of days, so be sure to replace standing water daily or every other day. The type of water bowl can make a difference to your cat too—try to use glass (like Pyrex) or stainless steel, and avoid using plastic since the chemicals plastic is made of leach into the water. Also avoid using dark colors for your water bowls.

If you’re in a chorine-treated water area for your tap water, some cats do not like the taste of chlorine, so you may want to buy bottled water or use filtered water or a combination to reduce the chlorine levels.

If your cat is severely dehydrated, you will need to see your veterinarian for treatment. Your vet will give your cat either subcutaneous fluids (under the skin) or intravenous fluids with electrolytes, and it may be necessary to give them for 1-2 days to hydrate them sufficiently. In addition, they will likely need to do a blood and urine test to further determine why your cat was so dehydrated, then treat the medical issue.

Other Ways to Get Your Cat to Drink More Water & Increase Hydration
  • Feed your cat wet food daily and go further by adding some water to the wet food
  • Avoid using dry food or giving a dry food-only diet, as it contains only about 8-10% water as opposed to 80% water in wet food. Cats who eat dry food-only diets, need much more water daily due to eating a low liquid diet than they would by eating a higher liquid diet of wet food. Plus studies have shown that cats on a dry food diet have great difficulty catching up with needed water intake to compensate for the dry food diet.
  • Flavor your water – you can do this with some wet cat food tuna juice (like Trader Joe’s tuna for cats) or chicken broth juice—you could do this in one water bowl, then be sure to thrown out in one day (it turns bad quickly)
  • Increase the number of water bowls in your home, put a water bowl in each room that your cat spends time in
  • Wash water bowls daily or every other day to prevent bacteria from building up
  • Consider adding a water fountain that is made for cats and dogs and put it in a quiet, safe place to encourage them to use it
  • Keep your cat cool during hot summer months to keep him from overheating—keep blinds pulled down; increase ventilation with fans; allow them to be in a dark place or create one for them; wet a towel for them to lie on; wrap ice up in a towel and put in a pan placing beside them to cool them.
  • Syringe water into your cat’s mouth (only if she is moderately dehydrated) carefully, a little at a time, and only in the side of the mouth—don’t directly or forcefully squirt the water to the back of the mouth. Cats can choke when water is forced into their mouths and even aspirate.
  • Give subcutaneous fluids using lactated ringers based on how dehydrated your cat is, and according to their weight. You can learn how to do this from your veterinarian, and keep extra lactated ringer bags on hand. Usually you can give between 100-200 ccs of fluid one time per day, but always consult your vet for exact instructions. A great source for lactated ringers is COSTCO, with a veterinary prescription.

Signs of Dehydration in Cats