What to Do If 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 to 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 That Your Cat Is Dehydrated
A dehydrated cat can be easy to identify. First of all, his coat would not look in top shape but will lackluster and appear rough and neglected. If the cat's skin between the shoulder blades is pulled (to form a tent), the skin will not snap back into place quickly. Rather, it will take a few extra seconds or 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
Capillary refill time may be slow. This can be tested by pressing on the gums with a finger. The pressed gum will turn whitish; once you release pressure, the gum should return to 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 the pulse remains weak. These are the signs of a progressive stage of dehydration.
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.
What Happens in Dehydration?
A dehydrated cat lacks essential elements such as electrolytes, sodium, potassium, and water. This lack of fluids leaves vital body cells deprived of water ultimately and can cause 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, whereas 15% is the highest level of dehydration. Beyond this number, the 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 its 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.
The 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 SQ 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 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
- Canned food/meat baby food with no onion/garlic (try Beech-Nut)
- 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.
- 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 the cat appears less dehydrated and interested in eating on its own.
- Once cat appears interested in drinking on its own, fill a 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 Pedialyte and offer the ice to lick.
Note: Small kittens affected by vomiting or diarrhea can dehydrate very quickly so veterinary attention is best.
Other Hydration Methods
More hydrating options for finicky drinkers:
- Open a can of low-sodium tuna in water and offer the cat the water to drink
- Try Whiskas milk that is lactose-free; some cats may find it appealing.
- Boil chicken breast and puree it with water to make a slurry/gruel to drink
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 to the water bowl
- Offer ice chips
- Have the cat seen by a vet as soon as you suspect dehydration
If your cat is dehydrated, it is highly suggested that you have him/her checked by the vet to rule out any diseases. Some cats may simply not drink enough, so 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!
Be Sure to Consult With Your Veterinarian
Remember, 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.
A Vet Explains How to Give Fluids
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.