Cats don’t always advertise when something is wrong, so if your cat isn’t getting enough water, you might not even realize it if you aren’t paying attention. But dehydration is no joke—cats who don’t get enough water will feel the consequences. Dehydration is an especially big problem in hot climates where your cat’s warm fur coat might be working against them, but it doesn’t just happen on hot days. Every cat owner should watch out for signs of dehydration.
How to Tell If Your Cat Is Dehydrated
Dogs and cats pant to cool their body down by exposing their wet tongue and mouth to the air. But while dogs often pant after exercise, cats usually only pant when they are dehydrated, struggling to breathe, or overheating. If you see your cat panting, there’s a good chance they aren’t getting enough water. Panting is usually one of the most obvious signs that something’s not right, so if you see a cat panting, you can check for other signs of dehydration.
2. Skin Tenting
The “skin test” is a strange but real way to tell if your cat’s getting enough water. Cats have stretchy, supple skin when they are healthy, but it becomes stiff during dehydration. To perform a skin test, pinch the loose skin between your cat’s shoulder blades and pull it up two or three inches until it looks almost like a tent. Then let go. If the skin snaps back to normal within a second or so, you’re good! But if it takes several seconds to return to normal or the “tent” stays sticking up, your cat is likely dehydrated. The longer it takes your cat’s skin to normalize, the more serious it is.
3. Dry Gums
Another way to tell if your cat is dehydrated is by looking at their gums. Try pulling up their lip to see what the gum above their teeth looks like. Healthy cats have pink gums that are moist and slippery, just like a person’s gums. But dehydrated cats often have whitish or grayish gums that are dry or sticky to the touch.
4. Sunken Eyes
As cats become dehydrated, they lose luster in their eyes, and the skin around their eyes sag, leaving them looking sunken. Bright, alert eyes are a sign of a healthy cat, while dull, sunken eyes can be a sign of dehydration or illness. If your cat has sunken eyes along with other symptoms of dehydration, it can help show that the dehydration is serious.
5. Sweaty Paws
Just like panting helps cats cool off, sweat can be a sign that your cat is overheating. Sweat also can speed up the dehydration process by removing water from the body when your cat can’t spare it. Cats don’t sweat all over, though. You’ll want to check your cat’s paws, where they have sweat glands. Leaving wet paw prints behind despite dry feet or paws that are damp to the touch might be a sign that your cat is overheating.
6. Refusal to Eat
If your cat is really feeling laid low, they might react by refusing to eat. Dehydration can cause nausea and appetite loss as the body struggles to function without water. A loss of interest in food can be a sign of many different problems, so you shouldn’t jump straight to dehydration. But if your cat shows other signs of needing water and is also refusing to eat, that might be a sign that the condition is serious.
Another symptom of dehydration is a lack of energy. This can be hard to diagnose because cats often like to nap through hot days and conserve energy, but lethargy often goes beyond just laziness. If you get the sense that your cat struggles to move or eat, you might be seeing the symptoms of not getting enough water.
8. Stool Changes
One more way to check for dehydration is to check the litter box. Dehydration and constipation often go hand in hand. You might see hard, dry stool along with a lack of urine in the litterbox. Dehydration caused by illness can often swing the other way, leading to diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive urination that purges water from the system.
What Makes Cats Dehydrated?
Dehydration can be caused by lots of different factors. Overheating and heat stroke are some of the most common causes of dehydration. A lack of available water or an aversion to the water at hand can contribute.
Sometimes, dehydration is a sign of an underlying problem. Illnesses that cause vomiting can lead to dehydration, and certain disorders that cause excessive urination, like untreated diabetes or kidney problems, can also cause dehydration. In these cases, your cat is probably drinking enough water, it just passes through the system too quickly to fully hydrate your cat.
Treating Cat Dehydration
In minor cases of dehydration, the most important thing is to help your cat get more fluids into their system. Provide them with plenty of clean, fresh water and figure out what your cat needs to be happy with their water. Some cats will avoid water because it is too close to their litter box or because it doesn’t get changed frequently enough. On hot days, adding a few ice cubes can help it stay cool all day. Some cats also struggle to drink enough water because their bodies expect to get moisture from food. Switching to a wet food or adding some chicken broth or wet topper to their dry food can help.
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If your cat is already seriously dehydrated or if drinking lots of water doesn’t seem to alleviate the signs, you’ll want to bring your cat to a vet. Your vet can give your cat an IV containing fluids to keep your cat hydrated until they’re recovered or until the underlying issue is diagnosed. With proper treatment, dehydration is usually a solvable problem.
Featured Image Credit: Natata, Shutterstock