Cat and dog dehydration refers to the excessive loss of body water. Pets are prone to dehydration when the weather gets very hot, and they don’t have access to enough water. As a result, they can develop heatstroke. More often, though, dog and cat dehydration happens from vomiting and diarrhea.
Here in Texas, we’ve had weeks of triple-digit temperatures that can even cause pet sunburn. I worry about the outside pets, but even indoor cats and dogs can suffer from dehydration. Normal water loss occurs in the pet’s bathroom deposits, through moisture exhaled with the breath, and through sweat. These fluids get replaced when the cat and dog eat and drink. Learn more about how pets drink here.
Causes of Cat & Dog Dehydration
Any illness may prompt pets to stop eating and drinking, and prolonged fever increases the loss of body fluid. Specific disease conditions or injuries like diabetes or kidney disease may cause excessive urination that also causes of 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.
A normal adult pet’s total body water is approximately 60 percent of his body weight. That means your 12-pound pet carries over 7 pounds of liquid! Signs of dehydration become apparent when he loses as little as five percent of normal body water. A 12 to 15 percent loss of total body water results in shock and imminent death.
Diagnosing Dog & Cat Dehydration
The earliest noticeable sign of dehydration is the loss of skin elasticity. “Tenting” the skin can measure this. Grasp the loose skin at the pet’s shoulder blades and gently lift, and it should quickly spring back into place upon release. When slightly dehydrated, the skin retracts slowly; more serious dehydration causes retracted skin to remain in a ridge, and spring back little if any.
Dry mucous membranes are another sign of dehydration. The pet’s mouth becomes dry, the gums feel tacky instead of wet, and saliva turns stringy and thick.
Also, capillary refill time, the time it takes for blood to return to tissue after you apply pressure, becomes delayed. To check capillary refill time, gently press the flat of one finger to the side of your pet’s gums; this will briefly block blood flow and turn normally pink tissue white when you quickly release the pressure.
Normally it takes less than two seconds for the white to return to pink. At seven to eight percent dehydration, capillary refill time delays another two to three seconds. Longer than four or five seconds indicates severe dehydration. These pets also have sunken eyeballs, involuntary muscle twitches, weakness, lethargy, and their paw pads feel cold.
Pet Dehydration First Aid
In mild cases without vomiting, offering plain water may be sufficient. Dogs usually lap up the water they need, but cats often act reluctant. Flavor the water with low-fat, no-salt chicken broth, or juice from water-packed tuna. Warming it slightly also helps tempt cats to drink.
Dogs often like ice cubes. Float some in a bowl of water, or just offer a cube for the dog to munch.
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 and dogs. Mix it 50/50 with water or offer straight of your pet accepts it. Often, you’ll need to give it like liquid medication. Use a needleless syringe, turkey baster, or even a squirt gun. Keep the pet’s head tiled up and squirt the solution into the pouch of the cheek. Give 1 to 2 ounces ever 1 to 2 hours.
Moderate to severe cat or dog dehydration need veterinary attention and may need intravenous fluid therapy. When the dog or cat dehydration results from chronic conditions like kidney failure, liver disease, or intestinal problems, they may need ongoing fluid therapy.
How do you protect your pets from dehydration? Do you offer extra water, special hydration, or provide fluid therapy to your cat or dog? Please share so others can benefit from your experience!
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!