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What to do if your cat is dehydrated

Updated on February 8, 2016
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Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

Is your cat dehydrated? Has he been drinking enough?
Is your cat dehydrated? Has he been drinking enough? | Source

Encourage kitty to drink more! Cats love fountains!

Signs your Cat is Dehydrated

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 you find a dehydrated stray cat show up at your porch or if your cat becomes dehydrated, there are various things you may do, however, the best option would be to have a veterinarian examine the cat and determine what is causing the dehydration in the first place.

Signs of Dehydration

A dehydrated cat can be easy to identify. First of all, his coat would not look in top shape but rather would have lost its 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 the gums should be slick, wet and glistening, in a dehydrated cat they feel tacky and dry. The cat's saliva may be thick.

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 its normal color then the cat is dehydrated.

A dehydrated cat may also become lethargic, its eye may appear sunken and its 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.

Skin turgor test in cats

Diagnosing the Level 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 manageable 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

  • 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 definitively 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, its 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
  • Fever
  • Exposure to heat, heatstroke
  • Lack of fluid intake
  • Lack of moist foods
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney problems
  • Excessive drooling
  • Large wounds or burns
  • Constipation
  • Increased urination
  • Shock

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 Dehydration at Home

Low to slightly mild levels of dehydration can be managed at home. Severe cases need prompt veterinary treatment, 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.

To treat at home you will need:

  • 1 bottle of unflavored Pedialyte
  • 1 cc size dropper
  • Water
  • Canned food/ meat baby food with no onion/garlic (Beech Nut)
  • Gatorade
  • Ice chips

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 dilute some baby food/cat canned food with warm water and dropper feed slowly. Alternate the Pedialyte droppers and the diluted food droppers throughout the day until cat appears less dehydrated and interested on eating on its own.

Once cat appears interested in drinking on it's own, fill half bowl with Gatorade and half bowl with water.

If the 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 Pedialye and offer the ice to lick. 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 should be best.

More hydrating options for finicky drinkers:

  • Open a can of tuna in water and offer the cat the water to drink
  • Alternatively, offer some clam juice mixed with water
  • Try Whiskas milk that is lactose free and cats may find appealing.
  • Boil chicken breast and puree it with water to make a slurry/gruel to drink

Preventing Dehydration

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:

  • Always offer lots of fresh water
  • Invest in a cat water fountain
  • Offer canned food
  • Offer baby food with no onion or garlic
  • Moisten dry food
  • Add Pedialyte or Gatorade to water bowl
  • Offer ice chips
  • Have cat seen by vet as soon as you suspect dehydration

If your cat is dehydrated therefore, it is higlhy suggested to have him/her checked by the vet to rule out any diseases. Some cats may simply not drink enough, a water fountain can do wonders in these cases.

If on the other hand you have found a stray dehydrated cat, please try your best to re-home it or take it to a shelter. Stray cats do not have nine lives at all and live half the years a normal cat would live. If he/she has pulled the strings to your heart you may then consider adopting him yourself, if so congratulations and bless your heart for saving another stray cat from the road!

Disclaimer: if your cat is dehydrated please consult with your vet to determine the underlying cause and treat it accordingly. Do not attempt to treat cat dehydration at home if your cat is more than mildly dehydrated. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.

Vet explains how to give fluids


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      Cat Diarrhea 8 years ago

      Determine also if your cat is experiencing diarrhea. If it is, then make sure to give it something that would treat the diarrhea as well as the dehydration. Effective antibiotics are the best to control diarrhea. More than dehydration, diarrhea poses a fatal health risk for younger cats

    • grejotte profile image

      Anne-Marie 6 years ago from Montreal

      Very useful! It is very hot this week and I have a cat that is constipated so I will apply everything I can that I learned in your article. Thank you!

    • profile image

      cassia 5 years ago


      i bought a bottle of unflavored pedialyte in Safeway's baby section yesterday. i mixed it with milk and gave it to my cat and i put the rest in the fridge. according to the instructions on bottle, it is to be discard 2 days after opening. i only use 1 or 2 tablespoon in 2 days (that's all she'll drink with milk). she's old and feisty so i don't want to use a dropper to cause her any extra agony. i put it in fridge, can it last longer? if so, how long? can anyone please answer this for me? thanks.

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      Anne 5 years ago

      Thank you! My 14 yr old cat is allergic to flea bites and gets a feaver then becomes dehydrated. I try to take every precaution, but shortly after coming home from a camping trip, I noticed he was not eating or drinking. Normally I take him to the vet but this time, his vets office was closed so I was very worried. He responded wonderfully to the pedialyte and watered down wet food. This morning he greeted me with kisses! Thank you so much!

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      india 5 years ago

      hello anne,...i hope you will respond because I see you went on a camping trip, and was wondering if you took your cat because this is exactly what happened to me and my cat. i took her camping (she is just over 1) and she was very scared (I know perhaps it wasn't a smart idea) but anyhow, she stopped eating/drinking (well very minimal) and I am just soooo worried now.. Just came back from the vet, they did a blood test. She has a fever, she is dehydrated. They gave antibiotics which I have to give to her twice a day for 14 days. And now I have another problem that I am booked for a (very very long overdue) vacation and I am supposed to leave next week which would be day 7 of the antibiotics. I'm screwed!!!! :((((( Maybe this is just a vent, I don't know, I'm just so upset. If anyone can offer me some advice here I would be ever so grateful!

    • profile image

      maryjane 5 years ago

      If you put your cat into a cattery they will make sure your cat gets any medication and will also make sure the cat eats and drinks plenty. she will be in safe hands

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      Mishka 5 years ago

      My kitty is a month old. the vet's are not able to do anything and she is too weak to walk. the vet prescribed Proviboost which im giving her twice a day. she has all the dehydration symptoms and is vomiting out all the water and medicine. what can be done now? i don't want to see her die ....:'(

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      I am afraid you will have to take her to the vet ASAP for fluids at this point, this sounds critical. What was the vet's diagnosis?

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      Sam 5 years ago

      This information is VERY useful, my cat was very weak & after reading this & doing all of this he's back to his crazy ten week old self, he will be seen by my cousin tomorrow who is a vet tech tomorrow!

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      chyna 4 years ago

      I have a cat with me at this moment that is dehydrated at this exact moment and we are feeding him tuna and water and eggs and milk and electrolyte for children, it is starving and we found it at a nearby house, we are trying to get it

      to come back from its dehydradtion, and we don't have the money to take it to the vet, will this cure it, or what?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Chyna, bless your heart for helping this poor fellow out. It really depends on how dehydrated this cat is, does the skin stay lifted when you pull it in a tent on the shoulder blades and back? I had a person comment not too long on an article claiming that he had success asking an EMT truck/station for a bag of expired fluids..Apparently, he claimed Iv's never expire but they have to be thrown away by law on certain date. Ask a vet or person who has a sick cat (with renal failure) how to give fluids at home. best wishes

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      austin veley 4 years ago

      yea my sisters cat is dehydrated and the cat will not eat or drink

    • profile image

      ashley 4 years ago

      What kind/color of Gatorade do I use?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Most cats won't really be eager to drink flavored gatorade, better off trying unflavored pedialyte or broth with no garlic or onion, here is a helpful article with options:

    • profile image

      lisa 3 years ago

      I gave my cat chicken flavored baby food mixed with a little water. I placed this on my finger and she licked it off. Within 5 minutes she appeared better

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      That's great! We often think of water, but there are many tasty ways to hydrate pets that go beyond H2O.

    • Alison Graham profile image

      Alison Graham 3 years ago from UK

      This is such a comprehensive guide and should be the go-to resource for any cat owner who supects or is concerned that their cat may be dehydrated. You write clearly in an easy-to-understand way and I found the information very helpful indeed. Thank you. Voted up useful and pinned.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Thanks Alison, I added several details after my cat suffered from kidney problems and I wanted to make this guide as complete and clear as possible for all those poor dehydrated kitties, thanks for the votes and pinning!

    • dotpattern profile image

      Pat Moire 2 years ago from West Village, New York City

      Cats can't live by dry food alone. Adding water to their wet food really helps to keep them hydrated.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      Very true. If we think of the food they would eat in the wild, rats, birds etc. it is far from dry.

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      Lily 11 months ago

      One helpful suggestion when you're administering lactated ringer's solution via IV - - warm the fluid bag first, by putting it in a sink of warm water - - just warm enough so that it isn't so uncomfortable for your cat. Makes a big difference!

    • profile image

      Gert 2 months ago


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