Pet Care

Dehydration

Grey cat sticking paw into water

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration is an imbalance of water and electrolytes (minerals) in the body, and can cause serious complications for pets and people alike. Water is essential to cats, who depend on proper daily fluid intake to maintain appropriate health and replace fluids that are routinely lost through urine, feces and respiration. Water makes up 80 percent of your cat’s body, and is necessary for all his biological processes, including circulation, digestion and waste removal.

What Causes Dehydration in Cats?

Dehydration occurs when fluid levels drop to less than normal. This is due to either reduced water intake or increased fluid loss. Overheating in hot weather, increased activity or a bout of vomiting or diarrhea can all result in fluid loss in cats. Many owners don’t see their cats drinking water and assume they are not sensitive to water loss, but they are—even though they may not drink fluids until they’ve lost as much as eight percent of their body’s water stores. That’s why it’s very important to give your cat access to fresh water at all times to maintain proper hydration.

How Much Water Does My Cat Need?

As your cat consumes more calories and produces more metabolic waste, he needs more water to maintain his body temperature. In general, an adult cat should drink roughly the same amount of water (in milliliters) as the number of kilocalories eaten per day. Dry cat food contains 7 percent to 12 percent water, while canned food can measure up to 80 percent water. Cats who eat only dry food don’t get as much water from their food as those who eat canned food, and should always have easy access to clean, drinking water to supplement their intake.

What Are the General Symptoms of Dehydration in Cats?

  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Depression
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Decreased skin elasticity
  • Panting

What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Is Dehydrated?

Dehydration may indicate a serious underlying problem. If you suspect that your cat is dehydrated, take him to a veterinarian immediately. You may be able to detect dehydration at home by gently lifting the skin on the back of your cat’s neck or between the shoulder blades—unless your cat is seriously overweight or very thin, his skin should immediately return to a normal position. If he is lacking in fluids, the lifted skin may not quickly return to normal. Often, however, the signs of dehydration are not as obvious, and only a veterinarian can provide proper diagnosis and treatment.

Are Certain Cats Prone to Dehydration?

Cats most at risk for dehydration are those who suffer from various illnesses such as kidney disorders, cancer and hyperthyroidism. Elderly and nursing cats may be prone to dehydration, as well as diabetic cats whose condition is not regularly monitored.

How Is Dehydration Treated?

A veterinarian will administer intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, and run additional tests, if necessary, to determine the underlying cause of the condition.

How Can I Prevent Dehydration?

  • Provide clean water for your cat at all times, and change it frequently to ensure freshness. Also, don’t forget to wash your pet’s water bowl every day to prevent bacteria from forming.
  • Observe your cat to determine his preference for obtaining water. Some cats prefer certain bowls, while others like either tap or bottled water. Other cats prefer water fountains that can be found at many pet stores. Try placing multiple bowls of water around the house for easier access.
  • If your cat is recovering from a bout of diarrhea or vomiting, give him an ice cube to lick initially and provide small amounts of water at regular intervals to avoid overhydrating too quickly.
  • On the road with your cat? In general, travel is stressful for cats. Be aware that although motion sickness can make some cats nauseated or vomit, they should have regular access to water, especially after flying. You may want to bring extra water along if you think access to water may be a problem.
  • Monitor your cat’s water intake. If you notice he is drinking more or less than usual, make an appointment to have a check-up with your veterinarian.