Dehydration in Cats

Dehydration occurs when your cat loses body fluids faster than he can replace them. Usually it involves loss of both water and electrolytes (which are minerals such as sodium, chloride, and potassium). If the cat is ill, dehydration may be due to an inadequate fluid intake. Fever increases the loss of water. This becomes significant if the cat does not drink enough to offset the loss. Other common causes of dehydration are prolonged vomiting and diarrhea.

One sign of dehydration is loss of skin elasticity. When the skin along the back is pinched up into a fold, it should spring smoothly back into place. In a dehydrated cat, the skin stays up in a ridge. Another sign is dryness of the mouth. The gums, which should be wet and glistening, are dry and tacky to the touch. The saliva is thick and tenacious. Late signs are sunken eyeballs and shock.

Treatment: A cat who is noticeably dehydrated should receive prompt veterinary attention. Treatment involves replacing fluids and preventing further losses.

In mild cases without vomiting, fluids can be given by mouth. Make sure fresh, clean water is always available for your cat to drink on his own. If the cat won't drink, give him an electrolyte solution by bottle or syringe into the cheek pouch. Balanced electrolyte solutions for treating dehydration in children are available at drugstores. Ringer's lactate, with 5 percent dextrose in water, and Pedialyte are both suitable for cats. These solutions should only be given orally. They are given at the rate of 2 to 4 milliliters per pound (.5 k) of body weight per hour, depending on the severity of the dehydration (or as directed by your veterinarian).

Many cats will need subcutaneous or intravenous fluids administered at the veterinary hospital. Secondary kidney failure can occur as a result of severe dehydration.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.