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Shown here, a cat receives subcutaneous fluids

The essentials

  • Cats were once desert animals that got most of their water from their prey — In our homes, they get water mostly from their water bowl, canned food, and a water fountain.
  • Cats can become dehydrated more easily than dogs — The average adult cat drinks far less than the average dog, so it’s quite easy for cats to become dehydrated.
  • There are preventative measures you can take to keep your cat healthy — You can start by monitoring your kitty’s daily water intake and looking out for signs of dehydration.

Once upon a time, cats in the wild got all the water they needed through their prey. But today, it’s up to us owners to ensure our cats stay well-hydrated. Below are a few of the most common causes of dehydration in cats as well as some tactics to try to ensure your pet gets the water they need.

Common causes of dehydration in cats

Cats can become dehydrated for a number of reasons. Below are a few of the most common:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Heatstroke
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Fever
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • No access to water

One of the easiest ways to determine if your cat is dehydrated is by performing what’s called a skin turgor or skin tenting test. To do this, pinch a section of your cat’s skin on the back of their neck between your thumb and forefinger. If the section of skin stays raised without immediately returning to normal, the cat is moderately to severely dehydrated. 

Signs of dehydration

In addition to failing the skin tenting test, cats that are dehydrated may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry gums
  • Loss of energy
  • Straining to defecate
  • Rock hard bowel movements
  • Refusing to eat

What to do if you suspect your cat’s dehydrated

It’s important to be tuned in to the signs of dehydration in cats and act quickly when your cat is ill to prevent them from becoming dehydrated. Along with water loss, cats also lose sodium, potassium, and chloride when they’re dehydrated, making it a very serious and even potentially fatal issue.

If your cat shows signs of dehydration, you’ll need to seek out medical attention right away.

How to treat dehydrated kitties

First, your vet will examine your cat, perform any necessary tests, and ask about their medical history. As well as diagnosing the underlying cause of the problem, your vet will determine if your cat needs fluid therapy. Fluid therapy involves giving your cat fluids and electrolytes, which can be done intravenously or subcutaneously with an injection underneath the skin.

Hydrating cat with IV

Shown here, a cat receives subcutaneous fluids.

Recovery will depend on how severely your cat was dehydrated, how early it was treated, and the underlying cause. If they only needed IV fluids, they may recover within a day. If your cat’s internal organs were affected, they will have a lengthy recovery ahead and may not fully regain their organ function.

Preventing dehydration in your cat

Since cats are considered poor drinkers, it’s up to us to help encourage them to drink up. Below are some methods to try at home:

Experiment with water bowls — If your kitty isn’t a big fan of drinking from their bowl, experiment with stainless, ceramic, or plastic bowls to see if they prefer one kind over another. You can even place a few water bowls around the house. And make sure to clean their water bowls daily, as invisible, slimy bacteria can cause an unpleasant odor and taste.

👉 Outdoor cats may be more prone to dehydration than indoor cats since clean water is harder to come by. If your cat spends a lot of time outdoors, make sure they always have access to fresh water.

Try canned food — If your cat currently eats only dry food, talk to your vet about introducing your pet to canned food, which is a terrific source of water. For picky eaters, you can even try mixing a little wet food into their fav dry kibble to sneak added moisture into their meals.

Purchase a kitty water fountain — Most cats are big fans of flowing water, so getting your pet a water fountain could help encourage them to drink. These fountains (and most water bowls) can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so just be sure to change the filter regularly.

Turn on the faucet — While it may be environmentally wasteful, some cats love to drink from the faucet. Though it’s probably not something you’d want to do all the time, a few sips from the faucet each day could go a long way in terms of increasing your cat’s daily water intake.

Frequently asked questions

What are the symptoms of dehydration in cats?

When cats are dehydrated, they can have sunken eyes and dry gums. They can also experience lethargy and may fail a skin turgor test.

Can cats recover from dehydration?

Yes, dehydrated cats can make a full recovery. Treatment typically involves fluid therapy, which helps to replenish fluid loss when an animal is dehydrated. In severe cases, dehydration can be fatal, so it’s important to take your pet to the vet straight away if you suspect they might be at risk.

Will a dehydrated cat still urinate?

Cats who are dehydrated urinate less frequently or hardly at all. They’ll need proper hydration or fluid therapy before their bathroom habits return to normal.

Does dry food make cats dehydrated?

Dry food doesn’t cause cats to become dehydrated, but it doesn’t do as much to prevent it as wet food. Since canned wet food contains more water, cats that eat it tend to be more hydrated than cats that don’t.