What to Do About Cat Dehydration: Know the Signs

cat dehydration

Cats evolved as desert creatures and have an amazing ability to conserve water, but cat dehydration can still kill. Even though cats seem to prefer to drink water in the weirdest places (the sink? your glass? the TOILET?!) they most often just don’t drink enough water. It’s important to know the signs of cat dehydration and provide ample drinking ops to keep kitty healthy and happy.

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Dehydration is the excessive loss of body water. Normal water loss occurs in the cat’s litter box deposits, through moisture exhaled with the breath, and through sweat. These fluids are replaced when the cat eats and drinks.

I’m sharing this information from my DEHYDRATION entry from Cat Facts, The Series 4 (D): The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia which includes these topics: Deafness, Declawing, Dehydration, Dermatitis, Diabetes Mellitus, Diarrhea, Dominance, Dreaming, and Drowning.

I’ve broken the massive CAT FACTS book into catnip-size alpha-chapter sections. Folks can choose which ones they most need. Each chapter will release every week or so, but ONLY for subscribers on my Pets Peeves Newsletter. Of course, you can still get the entire CAT FACTS book either in Kindle or 540+ pages of print.


Any illness may prompt the cat to stop eating and drinking, and prolonged fever increases the loss of body fluid. Specific disease conditions such as diabetes or kidney failure, as well as injuries or illnesses that result in vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding are all common causes of dehydration.

Grey cat drinks water from a pond


A normal adult cat’s total body water is approximately 60 percent of his body weight. Signs of dehydration become apparent when the cat loses as little as five percent of normal body water. A 12 to 15 percent loss of total body water results in imminent death.

The earliest noticeable sign of dehydration is the loss of skin elasticity. Dry mucus membranes are another sign of dehydration. The cat’s mouth is dry, the gums are tacky instead of wet, and saliva may be stringy and thick.


When the loose skin at the cat’s shoulder blades is gently grasped and lifted, it should quickly spring back into place upon release. When slightly dehydrated, the cat’s skin retracts slowly; more serious dehydration causes retracted skin to remain in a ridge, and spring back little if any.

When your cat suffers dehydration, her capillary refill time (the time it takes for blood to return to tissue after pressure is applied) is delayed. You can get a general idea of the state of dehydration with this easy test. I recommend you do this when your cat feels fine, to know what “normal” looks like.

Gently press one finger to the side of your cat’s gums; this will briefly block blood flow, and turn normally pink tissue white when the pressure is quickly released. Normally it takes less than two seconds for the white to return to pink. At seven to eight percent dehydration, capillary refill time is delayed by another two to three seconds. Longer than four or five seconds indicates severe dehydration. Such cats may also have sunken eyeballs, involuntary muscle twitches, and their paw pads feel cold.

Veterinarian male doctor making an infusion therapy to a cat on blue yellow background.


A cat with noticeable dehydration needs immediate veterinary attention. Fluid and electrolyte (mineral) loss will be replaced, and steps taken to prevent further loss. Intravenous fluid therapy may be necessary.

In mild cases in which the cat is not vomiting, oral hydration with plain water may be sufficient. Your veterinarian may prescribe a balanced electrolyte solution such as Ringer’s lactate with five percent Dextrose in water.

Fluids for treating dehydration in children, such as Pedialyte, are also suitable for cats. They should be given as directed by your veterinarian.

Has your cat ever suffered from dehydration? Do you have a “kidney cat” and give fluid therapy at home? Please share your experiences! (Oh, and I hope you’ll forward this post to those who need the info…)

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What to Do About Cat Dehydration: Know the Signs — 4 Comments

  1. I especially find the stress of travel a dehydrator for Neville. I have learned to automatically force feed water 2-3 times a day by syringe, orally, during and after travel until I notice the normal water level brining consumed during the day. A preventative measure, I hope.

  2. Great article, Amy- as always of course. Just wanted to remind folks that if giving pediatric Pediolyte it should be unflavored. Pediolyte also contains dextrose. It is a really good way to hydrate orally in kitties that are not vomiting.

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