Dehydration occurs when there is an excessive loss of fluid from the cat’s body. It is not just water that is lost, but also electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chloride, which are important for normal body function.
Dehydration is usually a symptom of another disease -- one which makes the disease that much worse. Rehydration (replacing water and electrolytes) thus becomes an important part of many treatment plans.
What to Watch For
The classic sign for dehydration is skin tenting. If you take a pinch of skin over the cat's shoulders and pull up gently, the skin should snap back into place when released. As the cat gets more dehydrated, the skin goes back in place more and more slowly. If the pinch of skin stays up (the "tent"), it is a sign of severe dehydration. The cat should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Other signs that may be noted include:
- Dry, tacky gums
- Refusal to eat
- Symptoms related to the underlying health problem
Inadequate water intake or excessive water loss results in dehydration. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever, trauma, heatstroke, diabetes, and other illnesses can all lead to dehydration.
Since most cases of dehydration are the result of another problem, that issue should be attended to directly. If the cat is able to drink, put him in a cool, quiet place with fresh cool water. Cats can be encouraged to drink by using a water fountain for cats, putting juice from canned tuna or salmon in the water, or using a meat flavored water and electrolyte supplement available at some pet stores.
If you are familiar with the technique of giving fluids subcutaneously (under the skin) and have the right supplies, you can give your average adult cat up to 300 ml of lactated ringers solution under the skin. Do not do this in burn or trauma cases. If you are unsure about the correct type of fluid to use or or the amount which to give, contact your veterinarian.
Your cat’s history, skin tenting, and dry, tacky gums are the parameters first used by your veterinarian to determine dehydration. Blood tests may be done to confirm dehydration in some cases. Your vet will also do such tests as necessary to determine what medical problem may have led to dehydration.
Depending on the cause and the severity of the dehydration, your veterinarian may give fluids under the skin, which only takes a few minutes, or hospitalize your cat and give fluids intravenously for 1 to 2 days. Your veterinarian will also start treatment for the underlying problem that caused your cat to become dehydrated.
Dissatisfaction with the water or the water bowl may keep your cat from drinking. Accidental confinement in a place with no access to water can also eventually result in dehydration.
Make sure your cat has easy access to plenty of fresh water. Some cats have a preference for running water. Therefore, investing in a water fountain designed for cats may be worthwhile. Some cats have sensitive whiskers and will prefer to drink from a wide, relatively shallow bowl that doesn’t rub his whiskers.