Dehydration in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

Dehydration in cats can be a result of both serious and less serious causes. Here’s how to recognize dehydration in your cat and what to do about it.

Feb 26, 2024byMonika Dimitrovska
dehydration in cats everything you need to know

Like people, cats can experience dehydration. In fact, it’s a common problem in felines, especially those that aren’t feeling their best.

Moreover, very young and very old cats have a higher chance of excessive fluid loss, as they’re not as resilient to the effects of mild dehydration as middle-aged felines.

So, if you have a very young or senior cat or suspect your furry companion has a health issue that affects their water intake, this article is for you.

We’ll discuss the symptoms of dehydration in cats, as well as possible causes, and common solutions!

What Causes Dehydration in Cats?

cat drinking water
Image credit: Carolien van Oijen from Unsplash.

Dehydration in cats, like dehydration in people, is typically caused by not consuming enough water or by excessive water loss. Felines can also lose water by sweating small amounts through their unique paw pads, but this isn’t the main cause of dehydration.

Common reasons for drastic water loss in felines include diarrhea, diabetes, vomiting, heatstroke, fever, hot weather/overheating, and trauma. If your cat doesn’t have health issues, you can help them maintain healthy hydration by providing fresh water.

Refill your cat’s water bowl daily, especially when leaving them alone at home.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Conversely, increased thirst, along with other symptoms, might signify feline hyperthyroidism.

5 Signs to Tell if a Cat is Dehydrated

cat sitting next to a window
Image credit: Transly Translation Agency from Unsplash.

Hydration matters a lot for the overall well-being of our pets (and ourselves). It involves maintaining a proper balance of water in the body for temperature regulation, digestion, electrolyte balance, joint lubrication, and supplying the organs with nutrients.

Additionally, the body’s water level depends on consumption through liquids and foods, minus the water lost through sweat, urine, feces, bile, and exhaled breath. Cats should ideally consume about 4 ounces of water per 5 pounds of lean body weight daily.

Now, dehydration in cats (and people) occurs when water consumption decreases or water loss increases, resulting in health issues like body temperature control problems, decreased circulation, neurological dysfunction, and cardiac irregularities.

You can tell if your cat is dehydrated by reading their body language and the following signs:

1. Loss of Skin Elasticity

This is one of the most common signs of dehydration in cats. You can test your feline’s skin elasticity yourself.

Here’s how: Grab the flap of skin at your cat’s shoulder blades and pull it straight up gently. If the skin snaps back into place immediately, then your cat isn’t dehydrated. If it takes a while to settle back where it’s supposed to be, this signifies a lack of elasticity.

2. Tacky or Sticky Gums

If your furry companion has tacky gums or gums that feel sticky to the touch, they’re likely dehydrated. Additionally, if your feline’s saliva is kind of thick and sticky, this may also signify dehydration.

cat yawning
Image credit: Wren Meinberg from Unsplash

3. Pale Gums and Tongue

Open your cat’s mouth and look closely at their gums. If they’re pale, your feline is likely dehydrated. However, keep in mind that paleness in gums and tongue may signify other health issues, too.

4. Sunken Eyes

Although sunken eyes may signify various health issues and conditions in cats, it’s also a common sign of dehydration.

So, if your feline’s eyes look abnormal, schedule a vet appointment immediately, as this could be a sign of severe dehydration.

tired cat laying on a bed
Image credit: Milada Vigerova from Unsplash

5. Lethargy

Many health issues can result in lethargy in these solitary animals. However, if other symptoms of dehydration accompany your feline’s weakness, they’re likely dehydrated and should see a professional.

How Do You Rehydrate a Cat?

black and white cat drinking water
Image credit: engin akyurt from Unsplash

If you suspect your cat is dehydrated, visit the local vet clinic immediately because it can be hard to determine how severe the dehydration is. They will be able to tell if your cat is mildly or severely dehydrated and discover the underlying cause of dehydration.

Moreover, you shouldn’t force your furry friend to drink water or administer water using a dropper. This can result in severe pneumonia if you administer fluids into the lungs.

Instead, try creative ways to encourage drinking. For instance, you can offer your feline fresh water, tuna made for people, canned food, and Pedialyte.

Additionally, you can pour tuna juice or chicken broth into their water or place ice cubes in their water bowl. This can also help prevent hairballs in cats.

If your cat refuses all of these fluids, don’t worry and wait until you get to the vet clinic. Treatment for dehydration will vary, depending on the severity of the condition. For instance, mild dehydration is typically treated with fluids administered under the skin (subcutaneous fluids), which doesn’t require staying at the hospital overnight.

On the other hand, severe dehydration requires hospitalization and is treated by placing IV catheters so that the fluids can be administered directly within the bloodstream.

How Do You Hydrate a Cat That Won’t Drink Water?

cat water bowl
Image credit: rihaij from Pixabay

In some cases, cats don’t drink still water because they see it as toxic. Studies suggest that cats prefer moving water, so try incorporating water fountains into their setup. Also, give your cat wet food to keep them hydrated, and balance it with dry food.

Other possible solutions include adding plain broth to dry or wet food, using cat “soup” supplements from pet stores, IV fluids for severe cases, and working with your vet for a more permanent solution.

Closing Thoughts

curious cat playing with water
Image credit: Ermal Tahiri from Pixabay

Whatever the cause, dehydration can result in serious health problems if left untreated. It can even become lethal in cats because cats don’t have nine lives. So, if you suspect your feline is dehydrated, visit your nearest vet clinic immediately.

Your vet can successfully rehydrate your furry companion using different methods while conducting tests to determine the underlying cause of the dehydration.

Monika Dimitrovska
byMonika Dimitrovska

Monika is a pet enthusiast and seasoned copywriter with a tech degree. She loves writing, but her heart belongs to her two mixed dogs, Buba and Bono, a mother-son duo. Bono’s siblings found loving homes, sparking Monika’s advocacy for neutering and deepening her curiosity about animal care.\n\nBut Monika’s pet family doesn’t end there. She also has two cockatiels and two rescue cats, proving her home is a haven for creatures big and small.