At some point in their life it’s likely your cat will become dehydrated, so recognising the symptoms and knowing what to do is important. It matters because dehydration puts a big strain on vital organs such as the kidney, which can cause lasting problems especially in older cats.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration is one of those “You are what you eat” type situations. In this case, if the cat drinks less water than he ‘spends’ each day, she becomes dehydrated.
Dehydration arises when the cat loses more water in terms of urine, faeces, or vomiting, than she takes in.
And if you think dehydration is just for older, sick cats, think again. Whilst it’s true the feline kidney has an amazing ability to recycle water (an advantage of evolving from desert dwelling species) it can only cope up to a point. When an outdoor cat’s water freezes over in winter or an indoor cat’s water bowl is knocked over during hot weather, this means a lack of drinking water which uncorrected quickly leads to dehydration.
Why is Dehydration Dangerous?
The bottom line with dehydration is it strains organs and causes naturally occurring toxins to build up in the blood stream. In turn, this makes the cat feel lousy, which makes her less likely to drink, and a nasty downward spiral develops.
Organs such as the kidney are vulnerable because they depend on a good circulation to do their work. The dehydrated cat has a reduced blood supply to the kidney, which means less filtering of waste products and a build-up of natural toxins. Think of this like running your car in a closed garage and being forced to rebreathe the exhaust. . . not advisable!
What Causes Dehydration?
Aside from the water bowl that gets knocked over in mid-summer, a number of medical problems can also cause dehydration. These include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea: These have a double whammy of causing fluid loss whilst making the cat feel less like drinking
- Kidney disease: Reduced kidney function means a lesser ability to filter and reclaim water back into the blood stream.
- Diabetes: The sugar overflow from the kidneys drags water with it into urine.
- Over active thyroid glands: Thyroid hormone is a diuretic, meaning it encourages urine production.
- Arthritis: A stiff sore cat is less likely to get up and go for a drink.
- Drugs: Medications such as diuretics, which are prescribed for heart problems, can cause excessive water loss.
How Can I Tell if my Cat is Dehydrated?
If you come home to find your cat’s water bowl is empty, then immediately top it up and let the cat drink. The chances are if it’s only been a few hours she’ll be fine, but even so, monitor how she’s doing with the “skin tent test”.
You may notice the vet doing at the clinic, when they pinch the cat’s scruff, lift it and then let it drop. What the vet is looking for is an instant springing of the skin back into position. This indicates the skin is fully hydrated.
When the skin is released and it takes a second or two to fall back (in other words you can watch it slide back down) this indicates dehydration. If in doubt, touch your cat’s gums: Do they feel dry or nice and moist? Dry gums and a dubious skin tent result indicate dehydration.
Your vet can also get a much better idea of how serious the dehydration is by running blood tests. These look at how concentrated the blood is (the higher the concentration the greater the dehydration) and check those pesky toxins levels.
What do I do if my Cat is Dehydrated?
What you do to correct dehydration depends on whether the cat has become suddenly ill or has a long term problem.
1. The Suddenly Sick Cat
If the cat is generally unwell, especially if she’s dehydrated, then seek veterinary assistance. Not only is it important to identify the underlying cause, but severely dehydrated cats need intravenous fluids to get them well again.
2. The Long Term Sick Cat
The cat with kidney disease needs to be encouraged to drink. Strategies include:
- flavour her drinking water with fish juice or catnip
- provide a cat drinking fountain
- place bowls of water around the house
- use water bowls with a large diameter (dog drinking bowls are ideal) as cats prefer to drink without their whiskers touching the rim.
- switch to canned food rather than kibble
- mix water in with the canned food.
Some kidney cats have a tendency to long term dehydration. In this case your vet may teach you how to safely inject fluid under the skin to boost her hydration.
3. The Not-Drinking Cat
If your cat refuses to drink then give her a helping paw. Gently syringe water into her mouth, but take care to let her swallow after every half ml or so. Never ever squirt water in forcibly as this is liable to enter her windpipe and could cause a serious pneumonia.
If, after giving a teaspoon of water every half hour for a few hours, she’s not picking up then it’s essential to contact your vet.
And finally, if you are worried about your cat’s hydration, then trust your instincts and contact the vet. It might be they can give you advice over the phone, but if an appointment is necessary then you’ve taken an important step to protecting your cat’s long term health.
Have you ever had a cat suffer from dehydration or who would hardly drink? What steps did you take to increase your cat’s water intake? Please share in the comments.