Cats are pros at masking pain. If it’s not something obvious like a broken leg or battle wound, it can be tough to tell when our feline friends aren’t feeling right. Dehydration is an issue that’s tough to detect, yet it can pose a serious problem. So it’s important to know what to look for and when to talk to a vet.

What Is Dehydration?

Put simply, dehydration happens when the body lacks sufficient fluids to carry out basic functions. Just like humans, cats can experience it in hot weather, after a period of diarrhea or vomiting, through disorders like diabetes or kidney disease, or in the aftermath of traumatic events.

Unlike humans and other animals, cats aren’t programmed with a strong urge to drink water, even when they need it. Being naturally carnivorous, their bodies are conditioned to absorb moisture directly from their food. It’s likely they won’t bother looking for water if it’s not readily on hand and clean. If they reach the point of dehydration, it’s even tougher to get them to drink.

Signs of Dehydration

Outdoor cats are more likely to become dehydrated than indoor cats. Usually this is because water is tougher to come by if someone isn’t providing it for them. Cats who are on a dry food only diet are also more prone. Thankfully, there are several ways to watch for potential dehydration.

Skin Test

You’ve probably seen your vet do this once or twice, and it’s the easiest way to check for dehydration. Cats with sufficient fluid in their bodies will have supple and elastic skin. If you suspect your kitty hasn’t been drinking enough water, gently pinch the scruff of her neck into a tent shape. After you let go, the skin should snap back into position almost immediately. If it doesn’t, she’s likely a bit dehydrated.

Gum Check

If your cat doesn’t mind having you check her mouth, take a look at her gums. They should always be moist and pink if her fluid levels are good. After pressing gently on the gum, the white spot left by your finger should almost immediately turn pink again. If not, the issue might be that your cat is dehydrated.

Eye Test

It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a healthy cat’s eyes and those of a dehydrated one. Watch for eyes that lack focus or that are dull or sunken. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and talk to your vet.

Watch the Litter Box

Dehydration often leads to constipation, so certain changes in your cat’s bathroom habits can indicate a problem. Is she using the box less often? Are her poops hard, small, and look almost like rabbit pellets? If you notice either of these or are simply seeing less wet litter than what is normal for your cat, she may be dehydrated.

Other Signs of Dehydration

Though less specific to dehydration, other symptoms such as hiding, lethargy, or an altered heart rate are red flags that your cat isn’t feeling well. Once your pet starts feeling sick, he’s less likely to look to you for help; always make note of behavioral changes and take action if you have any concerns.

When To Visit the Vet

Dehydration doesn’t always warrant an emergency vet run, but the sooner you can recognize it, the easier it is to fix it. If you don’t see any obvious indication of stress such as seizures or vomiting, you can try simply offering your cat fresh, clean water.

If dehydration appears severe or you suspect an underlying health issue is causing it, then it’s time to see a vet. Sometimes the only way to treat your cat is through IVs or subcutaneous fluids injected under the skin. Dehydration can become serious in a very short time, so consider going to an emergency clinic if your regular vet isn’t available.

Causes and Prevention of Dehydration

Many times, dehydration occurs simply because your cat forgets to drink, and it only happens a few times throughout his life. But if it’s a frequent occurrence, you’ll need to figure out what’s causing it in order to correct it.

The fix can be as simple as changing the location of the water dish. Some cats won’t drink too close to their food bowls because of cross-contamination, and many won’t touch water if it’s too close to the litter box. So you’ll need to find a place where they will drink from the dish. This may require some trial and error, since every cat is different and some are extremely picky. Once you find the ideal place, leave the dish there and check it throughout the day to make sure your kitty is using it.

Other cats prefer moving water. If yours is always licking at the tap or playing in the sink, consider buying a motorized, filtered water dispenser or two. Some just don’t want or like to drink water, in which case switching to moist canned food (or at least supplementing their dry food diet with it) is a simple fix.

Other Considerations

That said, any number of things could lead to your cat refusing to drink water. Stress is a common trigger and can be brought on by virtually anything (moving to a new home, adding another pet, a new baby, a stray cat appeared outside, etc). If you suspect stress as the cause, talk to your vet for tips on how to correct it. He or she may be able to direct you to a trained cat behaviorist who specializes in pinpointing stressors and correcting problematic behaviors.

Likewise, there are several health problems that can lead to frequent or severe dehydration. In this case, your best bet is to consult your veterinarian. Ruling out health issues should be your first step, so if there is a problem, you can treat it as soon as possible. If there are none, you can move on to other fixes until you find the one that works.

If your cat isn’t feeling well, contact us to schedule an appointment. We’ll address your concerns and recommend the best treatment for your furry friend.