Cat drinking water from square bowl

Key takeaway

Dehydration in cats can be caused by many factors, including underlying health issues, medication, and accessibility issues. If your cat is presenting signs of dehydration, such as lack of skin elasticity, dry mouth and gums, panting, or lethargy, it’s vital to seek medical attention. This can prevent further complications and keep your feline hydrated.

Water is essential for all living and breathing mammals, including felines. From helping cats eliminate waste to supporting temperature regulation, drinking water and staying hydrated has a myriad of benefits. However, some cats don’t receive enough water. Whether this is because they’re picky drinkers or have an underlying condition that’s causing water loss, not receiving enough water can be harmful to their overall health. 

Fortunately, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know about dehydration in cats, so you can keep your feline well-hydrated and healthy. Read on to learn about the signs of dehydration, common causes, treatment options, and tips for preventing it. Alternatively, you can use the links below to navigate the post. 

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration in cats occurs when a significant amount of water is released from the cat’s body and not enough liquids are ingested to make up for lost water. This can cause many adverse side effects, including cardiac arrhythmias, decreased circulation, and neurologic dysfunction.1 In addition to water loss, dehydration can also cause a decrease in key nutrients your feline requires for everyday biological needs. 

Symptoms of Dehydration in Cats2

So, how can you tell if a cat is dehydrated? Many cats are great at masking their illnesses until they can’t any longer, so catching dehydration early on requires you to physically examine them to evaluate their skin and gums. This is because two significant symptoms of dehydration include dry or tacky membranes and decreased elasticity in the skin. Here’s how you can check their gums and skin:

Two symptoms of dehydration in cats

  • Skin turgor: Skin turgor, or elasticity, can be assessed by gently pinching the skin above the cat’s shoulders. If the skin stays peaked or slowly retracts back into place, your cat can be experiencing dehydration. In healthy, hydrated cats, the skin should quickly return to its original position. However, older cats can have less elastic skin even though they’re adequately hydrated. 
  • Dry or tacky membranes: Grab your feline and carefully open their mouth to evaluate their gums. Then, lightly press your finger against their gums. If your cat is dehydrated, your cat’s gums will remain white, taking longer to return to their normal pink color. The capillary refill should be almost immediate in well-hydrated cats.

Additional signs of dehydration in cats to look for include:

  • Weakness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dry gums and mouth
  • Panting

In severe cases of dehydration, cats can have sunken eyes.

If you believe your cat is experiencing dehydration, don’t hesitate to visit your vet. Dehydration can potentially be fatal if left untreated, so it’s important to take immediate action. Taking your cat to receive medical attention before severe symptoms occur can increase the likelihood of recovery.

Common Causes of Dehydration in Cats

There are several reasons why your cat is presenting symptoms of dehydration. Overall, any condition in which water intake is decreased, water loss is increased, or some combination of these two, can predispose to dehydration, with which total body water is decreased.

Dehydration as a result of increased water loss3:

Dehydration as a result of decreased water intake4:

  • Weakness and lethargy as a result of other medical conditions
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dental problems that cause hesitation to drink
  • Lack of access to water bowls (sometimes due to territorial issues between multiple cats in a single household or owner not providing enough water)

Cat looking at a water fountain bowl

While there are many causes of dehydration, there are also various steps you can take to maintain a well-hydrated feline. Easy ways to prevent dehydration in cats5 include:

  • Always ensure your cat has a bowl full of fresh, clean water that’s free of any debris.
  • If your cat is not drinking enough water, consider using a water fountain that can provide running water all the time.
  • Place water bowls throughout the house to encourage drinking in restless cats.
  • Add flavor by introducing liquids from a can of tuna or chicken broth (make sure it’s free of additives, such as salt).
  • Gradually make these changes since cat’s don’t appreciate a sudden shift in their food or water.

Diagnosis of Dehydration in Cats

Once symptoms begin to appear in your cat, it’s essential to visit a veterinarian for further diagnosis and ensure they get the necessary treatment. A veterinarian may conduct a similar physical exam to the one you did yourself at home to confirm they’re dehydrated before running a series of tests. This can include blood work, packed cell volume (PCR) test, and urinalysis. 

Most often, dehydration is easy to spot. What your vet will attempt to determine is if there’s an underlying condition that’s causing the cat’s lack of water intake. For example, a urinalysis can reveal if a cat’s kidneys are working properly. 

Before taking your cat to the vet, make sure to keep track of all of their symptoms, when symptoms began, and their current condition. This can be beneficial for your vet and speed up the diagnosing process. 

Treatment of Dehydration in Cats

Visiting a veterinarian professional will ensure your cat’s dehydration is properly addressed. Treatments can include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy: When an IV is placed under the cat’s skin and into the vein to administer fluids.
  • Subcutaneous (SQ) fluid therapy6: When a needle attached to a fluid bag is positioned under the skin so it can be slowly absorbed into the blood. SQ fluids can be administered at the vet’s office or at home.
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    If an underlying illness is to blame for your cat’s dehydration, your vet will also provide specialized guidance and treatment.

    Recovery of Dehydration in Cats

    Once you’ve received a diagnosis from a veterinarian professional and treatment options and your cat has been discharged, the recovery process will continue at home. Recovery will take some time, but by replenishing their water supply and allowing easy access to it, recovery for your dehydrated cat will be much easier and comfortable. Keep in mind that the longer the cat has been dehydrated, the longer it will take to recuperate.

    At home, make sure to continue watching for signs of dehydration to prevent your cat from becoming dehydrated again. It’s a good idea to also schedule a follow-up appointment with your veterinarian to ensure they’re healing correctly.

    Cat drinking water from the faucet

    Dehydration in Cats: Frequently Asked Questions 

    If you’ve ever been parched, you know how uncomfortable the experience can be. We’ve answered some common frequently asked questions about dehydration in cats to help you minizine the possibility of this happening to your feline friend.  

    How Much Water Does My Cat Need?7

    While the specific amount of water cats need to drink will vary slightly from feline to feline, cats generally need to consume four ounces of water for every five pounds every day. For instance, if your cat weighs 10 pounds, they should drink at least eight ounces of water daily.

    Cats generally need to consume 4 ounces of water for every 5 pounds they weigh

    Cats that eat wet food, which can have up to 80% water, may drink less. On the other hand, cats that consume dry food will have to drink more fluids to remain hydrated. Consider adding some water to your cat’s kibble so that they can stay hydrated through the day.

    Are Certain Cats Prone to Dehydration?

    Yes, some cats are more prone to dehydration than others. However, this has nothing to do with their breed. Instead, underlying illnesses, such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disorders, diabetes in cats, and cancer can cause cats to present signs of dehydration. Cats that are taking certain medications can also become dehydrated.

    How Can I Prevent Dehydration In My Cat?

    Preventing dehydration within the home is an easy fix for your cat. Access to multiple water bowls around the home can give your cat more options and continually replenishing bowls is key. Some cats prefer running water, so upgrading to a water fountain or even allowing your cat to drink from the faucet can increase their water intake. You can also encourage your cat to drink more water by feeding canned food; it provides more water content than dry kibble.

    Final Notes

    There’s no denying the importance of water for the health of your feline. However, dehydration inhibits your cat’s ability to take advantage of the benefits water provides. It’s important to recognize the warning signs of dehydration, including lack of skin elasticity and dry gums and mouth, to stop dehydration from taking a toll on your cat’s body. Keep in mind that certain health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes, can cause water loss, so it’s essential to get your cat diagnosed by a professional. 


    At Dutch, we aim to provide high-quality telemedicine for pets to ensure that your cat can live the best life possible. If your cat cannot drink water due to being a traumatized cat or due to a cat panic attack, we can help. Many of our Dutch-affiliated vets are experts in behavioral issues and can provide your cat with a specialized treatment plan to meet their unique needs. Get started today and see the difference Dutch can make.

    References

    1. “Hydration.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 8 July 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hydration

    2. “Hydration.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

    3. “How to Encourage Your Cat to Drink.” International Cat Care, 2 Dec. 2019, https://icatcare.org/advice/how-to-encourage-your-cat-to-drink/.

    4. “How to Give Subcutaneous Fluids to Your Cat.” International Cat Care, 2 July 2021, https://icatcare.org/advice/how-to-give-subcutaneous-fluids-to-your-cat/.