Cat’s may have nine lives but when a cat becomes dehydrated the outlook doesn’t look too good.
Prompt treatment is vital to keep the cat hydrated as much as possible and prevent him/her from deteriorating. Should your cat appear dehydrated there are various things you may do, however, it is best to have your vet determine and assess the underlying cause.
Signs of Dehydration
Cat dehydration can be easy to identify. First of all, the coat would not look in top shape but rather would have lost it’s lust and appear rough and neglected. If you would pull the cat’s skin between the shoulder blades forming a tent, the skin will not snap back into place quickly. Rather it will take a few extra seconds or worse remain lifted. The skin on the cat’s back is also a great place to do the test. However, this test may not be too accurate especially in obese cats where the fat layers under the skin make it challenging to identify it’s level of elasticity.
Another way to test for dehydration is to touch the cat’s gums. In a normal cat they should be slick, wet and glistening, in a dehydrated cat they feel tacky and dry.
Capillary refill time may be slow. This can be tested by pressing on the gums with a finger. The pressed gum will turn whitish and once you release pressure the gum should return quickly pink. When the gum remains whitish or takes longer than normal to return to it’s normal color then the cat is dehydrated. Saliva as well can be an indicator of dehydration as it may appear thick and in late stages the eyes may also appear sunken.
A dehydrated cat may also become lethargic, and it’s heart rate may increase while pulse becomes weak. These are the signs of a progressed stage of dehydration, however, a cat can still be dehydrated but at it’s initial stages.
The level of dehydration will determine if the cat can be treated at home by giving oral fluids or if the cat will need subcutaneous or intravenous fluids given by the vet.
In severe cases, the cat may not be able to hold the fluids given by mouth or the cat may have gone past the stage where oral fluids would be of any help. This is why having a vet visit the cat would be essential.
A dehydrated cat lacks essential elements such as electrolytes, sodium, potassium and of course, water. This lack of fluids leaves vital body cells deprived of water ultimately causing organ failure and death. A veterinarian can check the level of dehydration by checking the cat’s blood protein level and packed cell volume. When both of these tests return with elevated numbers, they often indicate that dehydration is present.
Another test is done by checking the urine concentration. The more concentrated and yellow the urine, the more dehydrated the cat.
Levels of Dehydration
The veterinarian may then come up with a percentage indicating the cat’s level of dehydration. Cats generally contain about 60% water. Generally, 5% is a very manegeable level of dehydration, while 15% is the highest level of dehydration, beyond this number chances of survival are very slim.
Below is a closer look into these levels according to Petplace.com:
- 5% or below; at this level the dehydration is easy to control. When the skin is lifted it will spring back swiftly. Usually this level of dehydration goes undetected.
- 5%: the skin will have only a slight delay, not perceptible to the untrained eye.
- 6%-9%: This dehydration level is more serious, the skin test is delayed, gums are dry and the eyeballs may appear sunken.
- 10-12%: The skin remains lifted and does not return back into position when lifted. The cat is lethargic, the pulse is weak and it’s heart rate will be faster. Gums will be significantly dry and eyes will appear definetly sunken.
- 12%-15%: The cat is in a life threatening situation. Organ failure may occur swiftly. The cat may be in shock by then and only quick aggressive veterinary treatment may help if possible.
Causes of dehydration:
The veterinarian may ask various questions to determine the cause of dehydration, however, in case of a stray cat, it’s history is often undetermined, so the veterinarian may put the cat on Sub-q or IV fluids and run some other tests to identify the underlying cause of the dehydration.
Common causes of dehydration are as follows:
- Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
- Exposure to heat, heatstroke
- Lack of fluid intake
- Lack of moist foods
- Kidney problems
- Excessive drooling
- Large wounds or burns
- Increased urination
When the cause is found the vet will then start treatment once the cat is sufficiently hydrated. If the cat is found to have a low dehydration level and the cause is not related to illness then the vet may give fluids and provide instructions on how to further treat the cat at home.
Treating Minor Cases of Dehydration at Home
Low to slightly mild levels of dehydration can be managed at home. Consider that for a dehydrated cat, the very best option is rehydration through IV fluids, the next best option are fluids under the skin (subcutaneously) and then comes fluids given orally. Severe cases need prompt veterinary treatment so he cat can receive IV fluids, so please do not delay vet treatment if this is the case. If you plan to treat at home, talk to your vet first if your cat is diabetic. These tips are for cats who will not drink on their own, before using a dropper to give your cat fluids, you can try to see if you cat will lap up fluids on his own.
To treat at home:
You will need:
- 1 bottle of unflavored Pedialyte
- 1 cc size dropper
- Canned food/ meat baby food with no onion/garlic
- Gatorade (only for cases not related to digestive issues)
- Ice chips
If your cat won’t drink on his own, you can give small amounts of Pedialyte by mouth every 10 minutes slowly for an hour. Make sure your cat does not suffocate or inhale it in its lungs. Then, if your dog kept down the fluids, you can dilute some meat-based baby food (without onion or garlic) or cat canned food with warm water and dropper feed slowly about every 2 to 3 hours for 12 hours. Alternate the Pedialyte droppers and the diluted food droppers throughout the day until cat appears less dehydrated and interested on eating on it’s own.
Once cat appears interested in drinking on its own, you can fill half bowl with Gatorade and half bowl with water. This can help your cat continue to receive electrolytes, however veterinarian Dr. Kara warns that Gatorade has lots of sugar which can exacerbate intestinal problems.
If cat vomits up food or refuses to be dropper fed, offer ice chips to lick. Cats that are nauseous will refuse food and water but may be interested in licking ice chips. You can also freeze unflavored Pedialyte and offer the ice to lick. Veterinarian Dr Scarlett suggests to prepare “tuna cubes” by getting a can of water-packed tuna and blending with water. Then freezing in the ice cube tray and offering a couple a day for the cat to lick them.
Please consider that if you are dealing with small kittens affected by vomiting or diarrhea they can dehydrate very quickly so a vet’s attention is important. There are several over the counter supplements for malnourished cats to help in providing nutrients and hydration.
There are various things that can be done to prevent dehydration from occurring if the dehydration is not illness related. Here are a few good tips to get your cat to get fluids:
- Always offer lots of fresh water
- Invest in a cat water fountain
- Offer canned food mixed with warm water
- Offer baby food with no onion or garlic
- Moisten dry food
- Add Pedialyte or Gatorade to water bowl
- Offer ice chips
- Off the water from canned tuna
- Dilute clam juice with water and offer it
- Try mixing warm water with some chicken broth with no onion or garlic
- Have cat seen by vet as soon as you suspect dehydration
*Disclaimer: All remedies suggested are not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your pet is sick please refer to your veterinarian for a hands on examination. If your pet is exhibiting behavior problems please refer to a professional pet behaviorist.