Dehydration In Cats: Causes, Symptoms, And 5 Ways To Prevent It

Does your cat suffer from dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when your cat loses significant amounts of fluids from its body. However, it’s not just about the loss of water. Electrolytes like chloride, potassium, and sodium may also become imbalanced as a result of dehydration.

Dehydration may lead to other severe issues for the pet including possible organ damage. It’s, therefore, important to keep an eye on your pet to ensure it doesn’t suffer this fate.

Read on to learn more about the causes of dehydration in cats and why it’s dangerous.

What is the Main Cause of Dehydration in Cats?

To put it in simple terms, dehydration will occur when fluid levels in the cat’s body drop to dangerous levels.

This can be caused by a number of things but usually, lack of enough water intake or rapid fluid loss are the main causes.

A lot of cat owners don’t always get to see their pets drink water. This may lead to the misconceived assumption that cats don’t actually drink a lot of water.

Just because you don’t see them drink doesn’t mean they don’t. As a matter of fact, cats drink lots of water. Generally, cats will look to rehydrate after they have lost at least 8% of their bodily fluid.

If you have an active cat that likes to jump around or perhaps the weather is relatively hotter than normal, you may want to make sure there’s easy access to water.

The water also needs to be fresh. As a rule of thumb, it’s advisable to change the water in the cat’s drinking bowl once every day.

My Cat Isn’t Drinking! Do Cats Need a Lot of Water?

The amount of water the cat drinks on a day to day basis will depend on a number of factors.

For example, cats that consume more calories and produce more metabolic waste will need more water each day.

Cat licking water from roof

In general, the amount of water that a cat drinks is directly proportional to the food that it eats. In essence, the feline will need the same amount of water as the number of kilocalories consumed in a day.

The type of diet also matters. Cats that eat dried food may need more water as well. The reason for this is actually straight forward. For instance, typical dried cat foods will contain between 7 percent and 12 percent of water. Canned foods, on the other hand, come loaded with lots of fluids. They contain up to 80% of water.

Consequently, cats that eat lots of canned food will have less water intake compared to those that gouge on dry food. In case you prefer dried foods over canned ones, you’ll need to make extra effort to ensure there’s enough water around to supplement it.

How to Know If Your Cat is Dehydrated

Dehydration can degenerate very quickly into a life-threating condition for your cat if it’s not addressed fast. This is why it’s important to always lookout for any signs of it while you still can.

Here are a few signs that may suggest that your cat is dehydrated:

Check the Skin

Fluids are supposed to keep the cat’s skin supple and elastic.

In case you fear the cat has become dehydrated, pinch the skin between its shoulder blades gently. The skin should snap back into place fast if the cat has enough fluids in its body. If it doesn’t, then it’s probably time to get it some water.

Do an Eye Test

Cats that have sunken and dull eyes may be suffering from dehydration as well. Although eyes may also be used to diagnose other health-related issues for pets, they are a good place to start when checking for dehydration.

Check the Gums

The gums, just like the eyes, are also ideal places to inspect the overall health of your cat. Cat gums should always be pink and well moist. If they are sticky and dry, then something is wrong.

Gently press the cat’s gums. A small white spot will be formed. However, it should turn pink almost instantly. If it takes longer than two seconds to do so, then it may mean the cat needs more water.

See What’s in the Litter Box

Constipation is a very common thing in dehydrated cats. If your cat has been using the bathroom less frequently than normal, it could be a sign that it’s dehydrated. Check the poop as well. If you’re seeing hard pellet-like feces, it’s time to get the kitty some water.

There are also a few other factors you should look out for. For example, if your cat has been looking lethargic of late or it feels like it has an elevated or lower heart rate, then you should consider dehydration as a possible cause.

What Should You Do with Your Dehydrated Cat?

There are treatments for dehydration. But they need to be administered fast in order for them to work.

If dehydration is detected early, dealing with it is easier. A bowl of clean and fresh water will definitely work. However, in some cases, dehydration may go unnoticed for a long time. This is where things start to get problematic.

Cat bath. Wet cat. Cat washed in the shower

Extended periods of dehydration may induce other physical stresses on the cat. You may start to see the pet vomiting uncontrollably or getting seizures. This would be the perfect time to go see a vet.

It’s also important to keep in mind that lack of water is not the only cause of dehydration in cats. In fact, the issue can also be triggered by gastrointestinal viruses.

In severe dehydration cases, cats can only be rehydrated using medical interventions. An IV may be subcutaneously used to hydrate the cat with important fluids.

Dehydration should always be considered an emergency issue. Even if you are not able to get in touch with your vet, don’t wait until they are available to have your cat checked. Just take it to the nearest emergency vet you can find as soon as you can.

Are Some Cats More Vulnerable to Dehydration?

Yes, some cats may be more prone to dehydration than others but this has nothing to do with the breed.

Felines that suffer from various ailments including kidney disorders, hyperthyroidism and cancer may face a bigger risk of dehydration compared to healthy cats.

In addition to this, nursing cats, diabetic and elderly ones are also prone to dehydration.

Treatment Options

The foundation of any treatment for dehydration is reintroducing fluids back into the cat’s system.

If the pet isn’t vomiting, this can be done orally. In cases where oral administration is not an option, there are other ways that can be used to get the job done as well. An IV may be injected in the vein or the fluids delivered through the GI tract.

Nonetheless, all these methods have to be done under the supervision of a vet. Once the cat has been fully rehydrated, it’s very important to take measures that will prevent such a situation from occurring in the future.

Getting to the bottom of the issue is an important start. In case the dehydration was caused by overheating and lots of playtime, one way to make sure it doesn’t happen again is to ensure the cat has access to plenty of water next time they are out playing.

However, if the dehydration is caused by vomiting or diarrhea, specialized treatment will be administered by your vet.

In some cases, though, cats may be suffering from chronic underlying issues including kidney diseases that put them at risk of dehydration. Long term care will be needed in such a scenario.

You will be required to assess the hydration levels of your cat on a regular basis and replace lost fluids as well.

How to Prevent Dehydration In Your Cat

There are a few simple things you can do at home to prevent dehydration in cats.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure your cat has access to clean water at all times. Change the drinking bowl at least once a day to ensure the water is as fresh as possible.
  • Observe your cat’s drinking behavior as well. You will notice that some cats may actually prefer to drink from fountains and running taps as opposed to a dormant bowl. The preferred mode of drinking must always be available for the pet.
  • In case your pet is suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, start them off with an ice cube and let them leak it before giving them small amounts of water at regular intervals.
  • For people that travel with cats, special precautions also need to be taken to prevent dehydration. Cats can get quite stressed on the road and are prone to vomiting. Make sure you bring an extra bottle of water for the journey.
  • Finally, know your cat’s water intake. If you notice the kitty is taking less water than normal, have it checked by a vet just to be on the safe side.

How to Encourage Your Cat to Drink More

There are a few things you can do as a pet owner to encourage your feline friend to drink more water.

cat drinking water in bathroom

Consider the Type of Water

A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that water is just water when it comes to pets. Well, not for all pets. If anything, cats are very choosy when it comes to the kind of water they’ll drink.

Try to put out several bowls of water in different locations and see which ones your cat prefers.

Find a Suitable Bowl

The type of bowl may also have a huge impact on how often your cat drinks. Ceramic and stainless-steel bowls are very popular with kitties. But some may prefer other types of bowls.

The goal should be to easily identify the type of bowl that your cat loves and stick to it.

Make Sure the Water is Clean

Cats don’t enjoy dirty water. Make sure that the water bowls are cleaned on a regular basis and the water changed every day.

If you will never drink from a dirty glass, why would you expect any less from your cat?

Choose a Good Location for the Water

Cats will also prefer to drink at certain locations than others.

For example, most cats will traditionally avoid drinking from bowls closer to their litter to avoid any contamination. A good rule would be to have the drinking bowls placed in different parts of the home and see which ones the kitty prefers the most.

Have Multiple Drinking Options

In case you have more than one cat at home, you’ll need to make drinking arrangements for each and every one of them. Cats can be territorial. If they smell another cat in a drinking bowl they may decide to pass and find a bowl they can own. Having multiple drinking options should address this.

Use a Food Additive

Sometimes getting your cat to drink more water from the bowl may not work and even if it does, it may take more time than expected. You can supplement this by using food additives to incentivize the kitty to hydrate. Flavoring the water with some chicken broth or tuna juice can help get the cat to the bowl more often than normal.

Consider a Drinking Fountain

Having a drinking fountain could also be a great way to get your cat to drink. It’s a very easy way to make sure the cat has a constant supply of freshwater even when you’re not at home.

Cat fountains are available in many different models. In case you have more than one cat at home, you may want to choose large and more durable designs or opt for two or more fountains.

Cats are more likely to drink from a water fountain compared to bowls so it should be a worthwhile investment.


We’ve seen a lot of cases out there where cats have died from severe dehydration. This is often a slow and painful death that you wouldn’t wish on any kitty.

The great thing is that keeping your cat hydrated is not that hard. With the same techniques highlighted above, it should be easy to keep your cat healthy through proper hydration.

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