Signs of Dehydration in Cats and What to Do


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You likely know hydration is critical to your cat's health, so you keep their water bowl full. But maybe you noticed your cat is drinking less, or you're simply not sure if they're drinking as much as they should.

The signs of dehydration in cats can be tough to recognize if you don't have the proper information. So, here's how to tell if your cat is dehydrated, common causes of dehydration in cats and how to support healthy hydration.

Why Hydration Matters

Your cat's hydration status equals how much water they're taking in through food and water in relation to how much they're losing. Cats lose fluid through urinating, defecating, vomiting, sweating and even breathing.

Your veterinarian typically assesses your cat's hydration status during a physical exam, as checking for signs of dehydration in cats is a critical piece of information about their overall health. Adequate hydration is important to supporting your cat's:

  • Electrolyte balance

  • Temperature regulation

  • Healthy blood flow and circulation

  • Blood pressure

  • Digestion

  • Joint lubrication

  • Nutrient absorption

  • Toxin removal

These are just a few of the ways staying hydrated helps your cat. Adequate hydration is essential to every bodily function, including eating, sleeping and breathing.

gray cat under a faucet

Causes of Dehydration in Cats

So, what causes dehydration in cats to begin with? You've probably heard it time and again: Always make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water. If you follow this advice, you may reasonably think your cat isn't at risk for dehydration. But did you know that not drinking enough water isn't the most common cause of dehydration in cats?

According to Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common causes of dehydration in cats are diseases that increase fluid loss. These health conditions include:

Of course, cats can also become dehydrated by simply not drinking enough water. This can happen for several reasons, from undesirable water bowl location or stale water to stress or existing illness, which can both lead to decreased appetite and thirst.

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Dehydrated

Understanding how to spot signs of dehydration can help you get your cat the care they need as soon as possible. Here's how.

Perform a Skin Tent Test

Gently pull or pinch a small tent of your cat's skin, such as between the shoulder blades or along the spine, and let go. The skin should quickly return to its normal position. If there's a delay (longer than two to three seconds), your cat's skin tissue doesn't have enough water and they may be dehydrated. Older cats or cats who have recently lost weight may have a longer skin tent, and this can be normal. If you're concerned or unsure about your cat's skin tent, have them evaluated by a veterinarian.

cat resting peacefully

Understand Other Signs of Dehydration in Cats

Other signs of dehydration in cats can be more subtle. Your cat might hide, seem lethargic or experience changes in vital signs, such as temperature and heart rate. You might also notice fewer urine clumps in the litter box or changes in your cat's water consumption or litter box habits (e.g., going less frequently).

If you notice any of these signs of dehydration, schedule an evaluation with your veterinarian. While you may be able to gauge your cat's hydration status at home, it's important to let them address any concerns. Your veterinarian can help determine the cause of dehydration and the best treatment to restore your cat's health.

Encouraging Healthy Hydration in Your Cat

You can't treat dehydration at home, but you can help encourage your cat to take in more water and maintain healthy hydration. Here are some steps you can try:

  • Offer wet or moist food, or add water to dry kibble.

  • Place water bowls in multiple locations, especially if you have another pet who intimidates your cat or is territorial about food and water dishes.

  • Use a water fountain for cats. Many cats prefer fresh, recirculating water, and some cat parents find this makes a drastic difference in how much water their cat drinks.

  • Add a small amount of tuna juice or chicken broth to their water to provide aroma and flavor. Be sure to change this water out daily to avoid spoilage.

Similar to offering your cat a healthy, balanced food, maintaining healthy hydration is essential to your cat's health in both the short and long term. By familiarizing yourself with the signs of dehydration in cats and seeking veterinary care when in doubt, you're taking an active role in ensuring your cat has a healthy, comfortable life. What better way to show your love?

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible, is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.