It is no secret that cats need water. Although their ancestors came from the desert, cats need fluids to survive. Water keeps body tissues healthy and is vital for the kidneys to do their job of flushing toxins out of the system. According to WebMD, water constitutes 80% of cats' bodies. Cats who eat raw or canned food normally get enough moisture from their meals. However, dry cat food only contains an average of 10% water, and cats on dry food only must have a continual source of fresh water to replace fluids lost through urination, defecation, and respiration.
Water not only provides fluids, but also electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride, all of which are necessary for proper body function.
Dehydration in Cats
How do you know your cat is dehydrated? Your first indication may be when your veterinarian tells you so. However, a fairly easy test at home can tell you immediately that your cat us suffering from loss of fluids: the scruff area between the shoulders of cats is normally smooth and flexible. Therefore if you grasp it with your fingers and gently life up, the scruff will almost immediately fall back into place. However, if a cat is dehydrated, when you lift the scruff of skin, it will form a tent, and when you release it, it will remain upright in its tent shape. Other symptoms of dehydration, depending on the stage of fluid loss, include sunken eyes, dry gums, drooling, or panting.
Dehydration can be caused by either fluid loss or too little fluid intake.
There are several factors associated with dehydration in cats. They include:
- Heatstroke: Loss of Fluids During Hot Weather
A cat's temperature can climb quickly when outside, or worse, left in a vehicle on a hot summer day, especially if they concurrently lack extra fluids. Keep a rectal thermometer handy, and learn how to use it. A temperature of 103°F or higher should be considered a veterinary emergency.
- Renal Failure
Kidney failure, whether sudden or chronic, can quickly fill the bloodstream with those toxins the kidneys normally handle. Replacing the lost fluid and electrolytes plays a vital role in treatment. Fluid replacement can be accomplished by your veterinary clinic staff with IV (Intravenous) fluids, almost always followed by Subcutaneous Fluids at home. Although it may sound frightening at first, done properly, giving Sub-Q fluids isn't all that bad, and your cat will feel so much better afterward that it's well worth learning how. My experiences with giving Sub-Q fluids to my 18-year-old Shannon, who was in Chronic Renal Failure, also proved to be a bonding experience for both of us. I would bundle him in a soft towel and lay him on my lap as I sat on my bed. The bed was a 4-poster, and I hung the Ringer Solution with the delivery apparatus from one of the overhead rails, and once I got the slow drip going, I cuddled my cat. You can learn how to administer Sub-Q fluids with this article from Janet Crosby, Guide to Veterinary Medicine.
- Feline Hyperthyroid Disease
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism in cats include frequent vomiting, diarrhea, and polydipsia (increased) thirst, clues that Hyperthyroid cats may be dehydrated.
- Feline Diabetes
As with Hyperthyroidism, symptoms of Feline Diabetes include frequent urination, excess thirst, which could also be a sign of dehydration. One of the most serious side effects of untreated feline diabetes is Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening. An important part of the treatment for that condition is a veterinary IV with Ringers solution. Diabetic Nephropathy (Renal or Kidney Failure) is also a serious potential side effect when high levels of glucose damage the filtering function of the kidneys. As with Diabetic Ketoacidosis, the treatment includes veterinary IV fluid replacements.
- Hepatic Lipidosis
Hepatic Lipidosis, commonly known as "Fatty Liver Disease," is a life-threatening disease, however, it is completely reversible if treated in time. Simply put, the liver starts shutting down if a cat stops eating. Treatment consists of feeding through a tube in a veterinary hospital, along with IV fluids to keep the kidneys working. Once stabilized, your veterinarian might suggest syringe feeding a watery mix of food, along with Sub-Q fluids.
The information found herein underscores the critical need to know your cat's normal condition so that any deviation from the normal is a strong indication that it is time to call your veterinarian. You are your cat's lifeline to good health, and he is depending on you to help keep him healthy and well-hydrated. You'll both be much happier if you respect that trust.
Disclaimer: As with all medically-related articles, I must inform you that I am not a veterinarian. This article is not intended to be a definitive answer to any questions you might have about dehydration in cats, but is meant to give you a starting place to do your own research so you can make an informed decision, should it ever become necessary. Above all, your own veterinarian should always be your primary source of information and advice about your cats.