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How to Tell If My Cat Is Dehydrated: 8 Vet-Reviewed Signs

Written by: Chelsea Mortensen

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

tired sick cat lying on bed

How to Tell If My Cat Is Dehydrated: 8 Vet-Reviewed Signs


Dr. Tabitha Henson (Vet) Photo


Dr. Tabitha Henson (Vet)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats don’t always advertise when something is wrong, and if your cat isn’t getting enough water, you might not even realize it if you aren’t paying attention. However, dehydration is a serious condition; cats that 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 work against them, but it doesn’t just happen on hot days. Every cat owner should watch out for signs of dehydration.

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How to Tell If Your Cat Is Dehydrated

1. Panting

blue tabby cat panting in hot weather
Image Credit by: Sari ONeal, Shutterstock

Dogs and cats pant to cool their bodies by exposing their wet tongues and mouths to the air. Although dogs pant after exercise, cats usually only pant when 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 accurate 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 2 or 3 inches until it looks almost like a tent.

Then let it 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

Veterinarian checks teeth to a big maine coon cat at vet clinic
Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

Another way to tell if your cat is dehydrated is by looking at their gums. Try pulling up their lip to see what the gums above their teeth look like. Healthy cats have pink gums that are moist and slippery, just like a person’s gums. Dehydrated cats have white or gray gums that are dry or sticky to the touch.

4. Sunken Eyes

cat watery eyes
Image Credit by: osobystist, Shutterstock

As cats become dehydrated, they lose luster in their eyes, and the skin around them sags. Bright, alert eyes are a sign of a healthy cat, while dull, sunken eyes can indicate dehydration or illness. If your cat has sunken eyes and other dehydration signs, they must be taken to the veterinarian promptly.

5. Sweaty Paws

tabby cat paws on backrest of couch
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Just like panting helps cats cool off, sweat can indicate your cat is overheating. Sweat can also speed up the dehydration process by removing water from the body when your cat can’t spare it. Cats don’t sweat all over, but you can check their paws to see if they’re sweating. Leaving wet paw prints behind despite dry feet or damp paws might be a sign that your cat is overheating.

6. Refusal to Eat

kitten not eating
Image Credit: Happy monkey, Shutterstock

If your cat feels bad, they might react by refusing to eat. Dehydration can cause nausea and appetite loss as the body struggles to function without water. A decreased appetite can signify many problems, so you shouldn’t jump straight to dehydration. But if your cat shows other signs of needing water and refuses to eat, it might be a sign that the condition is serious.

7. Lethargy

Sick cat medicines
Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

Another sign of dehydration is a lack of energy. It can be hard to diagnose because cats like to nap during hot days and conserve energy, but lethargy often goes beyond laziness. If your cat struggles to move or eat, they might not be drinking enough water.

8. Stool Changes

cat pooping on the street
Image Credit: Pathara Sanjou, Shutterstock

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 feces and a lack of urine in the litterbox. Dehydration caused by an illness can swing the other way, leading to diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive urination that purges water from the system.

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What Makes Cats Dehydrated?

Overheating and heat stroke are some of the most common causes of dehydration. A lack of available water or an aversion to the water can also contribute to dehydration.

Sometimes, dehydration is a sign of an underlying problem. Illnesses that cause vomiting can lead to dehydration, and some disorders that cause excessive urination, like untreated diabetes or kidney problems, can also cause dehydration. In those cases, your cat is probably drinking enough water, but it just passes through the system too quickly to fully hydrate your cat.

cat drinking water from fountain
Image Credit: Daria Kulkova, Shutterstock

Treating Cat Dehydration

In minor cases of dehydration, the most important thing is to help your cat get more fluids into their system. Provide plenty of clean, fresh water, and use a wide, shallow bowl. Some cats avoid water because it is too close to their litter box or because it doesn’t get changed frequently enough. Adding a few ice cubes on hot days 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 a wet topper to their dry food can help.

Not every cat water fountain will make your life easier. This is why we recommend the well-designed Hepper Stainless Steel Cat Water Fountain, which has advanced triple filtration, three different flow modes, and an automatic shutoff feature.

Hepper Stainless Steel Cat Water Fountain
  • Premium 304-Grade Stainless Steel - This metal cat water fountain is hygienic, with superior...
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This modern, minimalist fountain runs surprisingly quietly and is very easy to clean.

At Catster, we’ve admired Hepper for many years and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

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Final Thoughts

If your cat is already dehydrated or drinking lots of water doesn’t seem to alleviate the signs, take them to a vet. Your vet can give your cat an IV containing fluids to keep them hydrated until they’re recovered or until the underlying issue is diagnosed. With the proper treatment, dehydration is simple to reverse.

Featured Image Credit: Natata, Shutterstock

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