Dehydration in Cats

A cat suffering from dehydration drinks water from the faucet.A cat suffering from dehydration drinks water from the faucet.
A cat suffering from dehydration drinks water from the faucet.A cat suffering from dehydration drinks water from the faucet.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much fluid—primarily, water and electrolytes. When the body doesn’t have enough water, fluid is removed from the cells to compensate, leaving the cells deficient in necessary water. The severity of the dehydration depends on how much water shifts from the cells, but this condition can lead to serious problems.

Both humans and their pets can suffer from dehydration. Our feline friends are especially susceptible to dehydration because they don’t have an instinctive urge to drink when they’re thirsty. Dehydration may seem like a simple enough fix to us—we may have even experienced it ourselves—but in cats it can lead to severe health issues if left untreated. An important part of cat ownership is being able to recognize the signs of dehydration in your feline.

Signs of Dehydration in Your Cat

Look out for symptoms that include:

  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Slow capillary refill time

There is no single test that can accurately determine the presence or severity of dehydration; instead, it’s generally based on history, physical examination findings, and laboratory tests.

Here are some physical examinations that may help you come to a conclusion:

Check Their Skin

Checking your cat’s skin elasticity is a quick and easy test you can perform at home. Lift your cat’s skin along their back. In a hydrated animal, the skin should immediately return to position. However, if your cat’s skin doesn’t quickly return, consult your veterinarian.

Get a Blood Test

The most important tests are a packed cell volume and total blood protein test for diagnosing dehydration.

Check Their Urine

Determine how frequently your cat is urinating. A healthy feline will typically go around 2 – 4 times a day.

When calling your veterinarian, make sure you’re prepared to answer questions pertaining to your cat’s recent history, including:

  • Your cat’s eating and drinking habits
  • Recent or current vomiting or diarrhea
  • How often your cat urinates
  • The presence of excessive drooling
  • How long signs have been present

Causes of Dehydration in Cats

When determining a cause for the dehydration, your answer can be found within one of two categories: your cat isn’t consuming enough fluids or your cat is losing too many fluids.

Reduced Fluid Intake

Cats rely on a steady intake of fluids to maintain hydration. If your pet is not eating or drinking adequately because of disease or illness, dehydration is likely to occur. Make sure they always have access to fresh drinking water.

Increased Fluid Losses

In other cases, your cat may have a disease or illness causing them to lose more fluids than normal. This can happen because of a variety of issues—such as overheating, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, fever, large wounds/burns, and severe prolonged drooling.

Treatment of Dehydration in Cats

Most times, you can’t treat your cat’s dehydration by simply giving them more water. If you suspect that your cat is dehydrated, visit a veterinarian as soon as possible, because hospitalization will most likely be required. Typically, your cat will receive fluids through an intravenous catheter in order for the body to compensate and slowly replenish tissues starved of fluids.
Once your cat is diagnosed with dehydration, the amount of fluid needed must be determined. A pet health professional will base that on the percentage of dehydration and the animal’s body weight.

Follow-up Care for Your Dehydrated Cat

After rehydration, the underlying cause of your cat’s dehydration should be addressed. Additional testing and examinations may be required to help prevent your feline friend from getting dehydrated again.

Make sure your cat eats and drinks normally. The best way to prevent dehydration is to have your pet examined and treated early if an illness occurs. Learn to listen to your feline friend and you can live a happy life together!

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