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How do I know if my cat is dehydrated?

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Janet Johns
How do I know if my cat is dehydrated?

An important part of cat ownership is recognising the signs of dehydration in your pet.

Given their origin to derive adequate water from eating live prey, cats have a low thirst drive and can be subject to dehydration.

If your ‘kitty’ is refusing to eat, panting and listless it may be suffering from cat dehydration.

What causes dehydration in cats?

Cat dehydration occurs when fluid levels drop to less than normal due to reduced water intake or increased fluid loss.

Fluid loss in a cat occurs through increased activity, overheating in hot weather or a bout of vomiting or diarrhoea.

The body of a cat needs to maintain at least sixty percent of its composition in water and electrolytes such as chloride, sodium and potassium to function properly.

Simply put, if excess water is lost and there are not enough fluids entering the body to replace it, cat dehydration begins to occur.

Water makes up eighty percent of a cat’s body and a daily fluid intake is essential to keep ‘kitty’ healthy.

Signs of dehydration in cats?

Initial cat dehydration symptoms may be mild but as water loss increases more will begin to show.

All signs of dehydration require medical attention to stabilise the cat and you can find pet insurance services to help cover this.

Symptoms of feline dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargic
  • Constipation
  • Polyuria
  • Increase in heart rate

Kitten dehydration symptoms

When we discuss cat dehydration, we must also look at the effect dehydration has on new-born and young kittens.

Young kittens have a high risk of dehydration as their bodies have a high-water content and they are much less able to regulate water loss compared to adults.

They tend to lose water readily through their kidneys, lungs and skin.

New-born kittens are vulnerable as mechanisms which regulate temperature-control have not been fully developed and they also have an immature immune system.

Following cat pregnancy a dehydrated kitten will tend to be more restless, not keen to suck and cry frequently.

How can I treat cat dehydration?

If your cat is showing signs of dehydration, it is imperative to provide he/she immediately with fresh water.

It may be a case that ‘kitty’ is overheated and losing energy so placing your cat in a cool, quiet place to drink the water will also help.

A good test for cat dehydration is ‘skin tenting’, to do this, take a pinch of skin around your cat’s shoulders and gently pull it up.

If ‘kitty’ is adequately hydrated the skin should ping straight back otherwise the skin will return slowly back into position, meaning your cat is dehydrated.

If the skin stays pulled up in a tent shape once you’ve let go, this is a dangerous sign of dehydration in cats and you should seek immediate professional help.  

Your vet will perform detailed diagnosis in such cases which will involve blood tests, x-rays and ultra-scans.

Based on the cause and the severity of the dehydration, your vet may provide your cat with fluids under the skin, this is the standard cat dehydration treatment. 

In more serious situations your cat may be required to be hospitalised and given fluids intravenously for one to two days.

Your vet may also start treatment for the underlying cause of the cat dehydration.

Cat dehydration prevention

To prevent dehydration here are some simple steps to follow:

  • Always provide fresh, clean water and make sure your cat’s water bowels are cleaned daily. 
  • If the weather is warm always place your cat in a shaded area.
  • Many cats tend to like running water, so a fountain may be a good idea if your cat is refusing water. A cat’s whiskers are quite sensitive so a wider bowl might work also.
  • To encourage drinking you can also add meat juices to the cat’s water.

By following these preventative steps, you will keep your cat hydrated and healthy.