cat in sinkDehydration is an imbalance of water and minerals (electrolytes) in the body, and can cause serious complications for pets and people alike.  Water is essential to cats as they depend on proper daily fluid intake to maintain appropriate health and replace fluids that are routinely lost through urine, feces and respiration.  Water makes up 80% of your cat’s body and is necessary for all his biological processes including circulation, digestion and waste removal.

What causes dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when fluid levels drop to less than normal.  This is due to either reduced water intake or increased fluid loss.  Overheating in hot weather, increased activity, vomiting or diarrhea can all result in fluid loss in cats.  Often times, owners do not notice whether their cat is drinking enough water until they have lost much of their body’s water content.  That is why it is very important to give your cat access to fresh water at all times to maintain proper hydration.

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Dehydration is usually manifested by dull, sunken eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, dry mouth, panting, decreased skin elasticity and constipation.  You may be able to tell if your cat is dehydrated at home by gently lifting the skin on the back of your cat’s neck or between the shoulder blades.  In a normal cat, his skin should return to normal position.  If he is lacking in fluids, the lifted skin may not quickly return to normal.  Also, you can lift your cat’s lips and gently press your finger to his gums for a few seconds.  If the gum returns to pink color within 1 to 2 seconds, the cat is not dehydrated.  If the gum remains pale or white this is a sign of likely dehydration.

Dehydration may indicate a serious underlying problem.  If you suspect that your cat is dehydrated, take him to the veterinarian immediately.  A veterinarian will administer intravenous or subcutaneous fluids and may run additional tests if necessary to determine the underlying cause of the condition.

How can I prevent dehydration?

Provide clean water for your cat at all times, and change it frequently to ensure freshness.  Also, wash your cat’s water bowl every day to prevent bacteria from forming.

Observe your cat to determine his preference for obtaining water.  Some cats prefer certain bowls, while others like either tap or bottled water.  Other cats prefer water fountains that can be found at may pet stores.  Try placing multiple bowls of water around the house for easier access.  If your cat is recovering from diarrhea or vomiting, give him an ice cube to lick initially and provide small amounts of water at regular intervals to avoid over-hydrating too quickly.