Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dehydration in Cats

Brown cat laying down
Dehydration occurs when there is a lack of water and electrolytes in the body.  Water makes up 80% of a cat's body and is essential for proper functioning, including digestion, circulation, and waste removal processes.  When a cat becomes dehydrated, he can suffer serious consequences if the problem isn't treated in time.


A cat typically loses water through respiration, sweating, and waste removal.  Normally, when a cat eats and drinks, she replaces the water she's lost through these activities and remains hydrated.  However, there are several situations in which cats are unable to replace lost fluids, which results in dehydration.

A sick cat who isn't eating or drinking enough may become dehydrated, for instance.  Excessive vomiting, diarrhea, panting, and fever may also lead to cat dehydration.  Heatstroke, shock, and blood loss are other conditions that can lead to an issue.  Additionally, kitties who have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and renal failure are at risk of becoming dehydrated.  


A close-up of a black and white catLoss of skin elasticity, lethargy, loss of appetite, sunken eyes, increased heart rate, depression, dry, tacky gums, panting, and dry mouth are all signs of cat dehydration.  There are also a couple of easy tests you can do at home to determine if your cat is dehydrated.

Skin Elasticity Test: This test is very simple, and one I used with Jewel everyday to ensure she didn't become dehydrated during her struggle with chronic renal failure.

Normally, a cat's skin is springy, but when he becomes dehydrated, his skin loses elasticity.  Gently pull up on your kitty's skin near his scruff, the way a mother cat would when she wants to carry her kitten.  Let go of the skin, and count the number of seconds it takes for the skin to lay flat again.  When your furry friend is hydrated, the skin will return to normal within two seconds of release.  If it takes longer than two seconds for the skin to lay flat again, it is an indication that your kitty is dehydrated.  The longer it takes for the skin to return to normal, the worse the dehydration is.  If your kitty's skin remains in a tent when you let go of it and does not return to normal, you should consult a veterinarian immediately as this is a sign of severe dehydration.

A gray cat laying on a blanket
Capillary Refill Time: Felines experiencing dehydration, shock, or heart failure will have slower blood movement than healthy cats.  Gently press your finger against your cat's gums under her upper lip.  When you release the pressure, you will see a white spot where your finger was.  Count the seconds it takes for the gums to return to their usual color.  The gums of a healthy cat should return to their normal color within one to two seconds.  If it takes longer than two seconds for your kitty's gums to return to their normal color, this is an indication that there could be an issue.  


In most cases, dehydration in cats is due to another condition.  Thus, if you suspect that your companion is dehydrated, you should take him to a veterinarian.  The veterinarian will give your kitty subcutaneous (under the skin) or intravenous fluids to hydrate him.  If necessary, the vet will also run tests on your companion to determine the underlying cause of the dehydration.  Once the underlying cause has been determined, your vet will start treatment for that condition as well.


A brown cat laying in a sink
Photo Credit: Linda Tanner via Flickr.

Ensure that your companion always has a supply of fresh, clean water to drink.  Feeding wet food in addition to, or instead of, dry food will also help your cat stay hydrated.  While dry food contains less than 20% moisture, wet food contains at least 65%.  

Cats need to drink one ounce of water per pound she weighs daily to stay properly hydrated.  That means if your kitty weighs 10 pounds, she needs to drink 10 ounces of water daily to stay hydrated.  Please check out our article, "Eight Ways to Get Your Cat to Drink More Water," for helpful tips on keeping your companion hydrated.  

There's still time to enter for your chance to win a PetSafe Drinkwell Pagoda fountain!  You can enter the giveaway here.  



  1. Excellent post-water is so important. Thanks for sharing the test on the back of the neck. I only learned of that a couple years ago and it is a great way to see if they need fluids.

  2. My human learned the trick about checking a kitty's scruff for dehydration when her boyfriend was working at the pet clinic. We have a fountain which we love and only eat canned food for our regular meals and so far we're good!

  3. Thank you so much for your top notch info on dehydration.

  4. Thank you so much for your top notch info on dehydration.

  5. Thank you so much for your top notch info on dehydration.

  6. Pawsum posty. Hydwation is so very purrtant. And peeps don't weally fink 'bout it so it's good to bwing their tention to it. We can't wait to see who wins da fountain. Weez checked and all our furiends dat didn't win ours have entered.

    Luv ya'

    Dezi and Lexi

  7. That was great info but I don't think Sister Gracie or I could drink that much in a day (we're the heavy weights).

  8. Very informative post ! Thank you for the tip of testing the back of the neck. Purrs

  9. This is a good informative post. I knew about the scruff test and check Flynn regularly.

  10. This was so informative and I know I need to keep better track of whether my cats are drinking or not. I know they play in the water all the time!

  11. Dehydration in cats is much bigger problem than in dogs. Dogs drink, cats are much less likely to actually go to their water bowl, because naturally they get their water from their food. Living on kibble makes it a big issue with cats.

  12. wet food and a fountain has really helped us!

  13. Great post! I didn't know about the skin elasticity test. I will have to try that on my kitties and see where we stand. I suspect that the test result would be normal, but you never know! Thanks for the info! :)

  14. Very important information. I have to keep our fountains filled because the Magical-Dawg thinks drinking from the cats' stuff tastes better.

  15. Really pawesome post - thank you for sharing your knowledge! You've got great tips and made all of da info easy to follow and incorporate! I'm sharing dis wif my Twitter followers!

  16. Keeping our cats hydrated is so important especially during the hot summer months in Australia! I let our guys play 'ice hockey' in the kitchen with ice cubes when it's really hot!

  17. We know the importance of drinking water and that's why Mom Paula has watering holes in several places around our house.

  18. Such an important topic and one that all pet owners need to be aware of!

  19. Symptoms and signs of dehydration can be minor, such as increased thirst, or severe and life-threatening, depending on the extent of the dehydration. Along with thirst, initial symptoms of dehydration include reduced urine output and darkening of the urine as it becomes more concentrated. If the condition progresses, other symptoms develop, including dry mouth, decreased perspiration, lightheadedness, muscle cramps, weakness, palpitations, and absent tear production by the eyes. The skin may feel cool and clammy. Confusion, organ failure, and coma leading to death eventually occur if dehydration is not corrected.

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