How To Tell If Your Cat Is Dehydrated – Signs, Symptoms, & Risks – Vet Answers

How much water do cats need and why do they often refuse to drink
| Updated: September 19, 2023
Cat drinking water falling through the air

A cat with gloves never catches mice, but a dehydrated cat will soon run out of steam while at it. Cats can’t say when they feel thirsty, and even if they could talk, they wouldn’t. Hydration is a marathon, not a sprint, so it is up to you as a cat lover to keep your feline friend hydrated at all times to avert some undesirable consequences.

In this article, you will learn to tell when your cat is dehydrated, its implications, and what to do about it.

Cats Need Water to Survive 

Like every other living creature out there, cats are sure in need of water to survive. Cats are made up of about 60-70% water and need water for body metabolism, blood circulation, and digestion.

Though cats hate the feel of water, they wish they could get to the fish without wetting their paws, but that doesn’t mean they hate the taste, too. A cat needs water for virtually everything, such as:

  • Transport of needed and essential nutrients to various parts of the body
  • Water enhances blood circulation to several organs and parts of the body
  • It promotes organ functionality output and lifespan 
  • It helps in various body metabolism and activity
  • Water is an important component in digestion; it prevents constipation and Gastrointestinal tract complications, such as Ulcer
  • Water plays a major role in urinary cleansing, precluding the growth and impact of kidney stones in the urinary system
  • Water aids Filtering out toxicity from organs in the body
  • A depressed cat can have a brighter continence after it takes water. 
  • Water is an important factor in maintaining a good skin rebound in cats. Dehydrated cats lose skin elasticity.
  • It improves the overall health status of your cat 

How Much Water Do Cats Need?

The amount of water a cat needs daily depends on some factors, such as the type of food; the food could be wet or dry.

Most wet food contains about 80% of water, while the dry food types contain much less. Giving your cat dry food will demand you supplement with more water. Cats that are fed on wet food might not need to take much water since they get water from the food. 

Also, the amount of water intake by your cat will depend on the body weight. Smaller cats require less water than larger cats for obvious reasons. Below is a table portraying the needed amount of water a cat should take, depending on the body weight.

Lean Mass WeightQuantity of Water (Daily)
5 lb4-6 ounces
10 lb8-10 ounces 
>10lb>10 ounces
Table 1: Quantity of water intake by weight in Cats
N.B These are a range of quantities; your cat may decide to take a little bit more or less water, which is fine

How to Tell When a Cat Is Dehydrated

You could tell something is wrong with your cat by merely seeing a change of behavior and mood; symptoms like lethargy and depression might be tilting towards dehydration. 

But how could you tell this change of demeanor is a result of dehydration? There are key symptoms to look out for in dehydrated cats, which shouldn’t be taken lightly. Some of those symptoms include:

  1. A total decrease in vitality and movement:  When cats get dehydrated, they tend to limit their movement to conserve energy and prevent further loss of fluid. 
  2. Paleness of the mucous membrane: You should make it a habit to check the mucous membranes of your cat for paleness. To check for paleness of the mucous membrane, open the lower eyelid and check for the degree of reddening of the mucous membrane between the eyelid and the eyeball. A fairly pink mucous membrane is normal, while one tilting towards a white color might be a symptom of dehydration.
  3. Sticky gums: By examining the gum, you can tell if your feline friend needs water. Dehydrated cats tend to have sticky gums and thick saliva. 
  4. Sunken eyes: If your cat has been off water for a while, you will notice that the eyeballs become sunken into the sockets. This is a conspicuous symptom in a dehydrated cat to look out for.
  5. Lethargy: A dehydrated cat will, of course, be tired and weak. Water is necessary for vitality and movement. Once you notice a reduction in your cat’s movement or activity, it could be that your cat needs to be rehydrated.
  6. Decreased skin turgor/elasticity: This is one of the easiest ways to check for dehydration in cats. Gently lift up the skin of the cat and let it go; in a hydrated cat, the skin will retract almost immediately, whereas in a dehydrated cat, it will take longer or retract much more slowly.

Why is my cat not taking water?

There could be many reasons why your cat is not taking water. It could be caused by either a behavioral pattern or an underlying illness or maybe just negligence from your end as a cat owner. This also answers why your cat is dehydrated.

Behavioural reasons 

The cat is, above all things, a dramatist! And might not just drink water because you placed it alongside its food or in the wrong bowl; they could be that picky. 

Never feed your cat anything that doesn’t match the carpet. It’s your duty as a pet owner to understand how your cat likes to be fed, what bowl is its favorite, and in what color. 

Observing all this will go a long way to reducing your cat’s refusal to take water. If you have more than one cat, make sure to separate their drinking bowls to avoid fighting and water bowl snatching.

Management reasons 

Helping your cat stay hydrated requires you to put some effort into making water available always. Referring to Table 1 above, you can estimate the quantity of water needed by a cat daily. 

If the right quantity of water is not provided, your car might suffer from dehydration. Helping your cat drink water adequately starts with you making provision for it.

Cat drinking water from a large pot
Cat drinking water pooled in an overturned pot
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Underlying Ailment

Cats with teeth problems or mouth injuries will experience difficulty eating or drinking because of pain. You might need to take your cat to a Vet for a proper oral examination to unravel any oral problems that might be preventing your cat from taking water. 

In some instances, your cat might still look dehydrated even after taking enough water, this is because of some underlying ailments that cause constant loss of fluid from the body. 

Conditions such as diabetes, kidney or urinary disorder, and abnormally high body temperature can cause excessive loss of water in cats. 

Some diuretics can also lead to increased urination and, subsequently, dehydration. Consult a Vet if you think your cat is unusually dehydrated even after providing water.

Is dehydration in cats risky?

It is risky to let your cat get dehydrated. Dehydration could lead to severe health conditions in cats, ranging from weakness to chronic kidney failure. 

Understanding the role water plays in the body will give you insight into understanding the risk involved in dehydration. Water is the most neglected nutrient in the cat’s diet, but the most vital as all functions of the body depend on it. 

When cats are dehydrated, they become susceptible to conditions such as kidney failure, kidney stones, Multiple organ dysfunction, neurological dysfunction, high blood pressure(due to thicker blood), GIT disturbances, and loss of weight. These conditions are not to be toiled with; do not allow your cat to get to this fatal stage of dehydration. 

What should I do when my cat is dehydrated?

If you think your cat is dehydrated, the first call to action is to provide water in a bowl for your cat to drink, removing any extra heat source causing an excessive increase in temperature. 

If your cat still refuses to take water directly for some reason, offer only wet food to indirectly supplement water loss. If you notice that the dehydration persists and your cat looks sick, consult a Vet for proper examinations. If your cat has severe dehydration, it might be put on a drip to supplement fluid loss.

Cat drinking water from an automated cat water bowl
Cat drinking from an automatic waterer
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How do I keep my cat dehydrated?

Preventing your cat from getting dehydrated starts with you. It involves making the needed quantity of water available to your cat daily and observing for any change of mood or behavior that might indicate dehydration, as discussed earlier. 

If your efforts to keep your cat hydrated proved abortive, visiting a vet might be the lasting solution. If you apply all you have learned in this article, your feline friend is sure to have 9 healthy lives, leaving paw prints on our hearts. 

Dr. Jerry Ayaebi Author Image
Dr. Jerry Ayaebi

Dr. Jerry Ayaebi (DVM, CEP) is a Licensed Veterinary Surgeon specializing in small animal medicine and care, with a focus on household pets, reptiles, and fishes. He has extensive experience in clinical cases, ranging from inappetence to life-threatening conditions. Currently, he is the Veterinary Manager at Ectovis. After obtaining his Veterinary Medicine degree, he furthered his education by obtaining a CEP certificate, which has provided him with additional experience in the field. He has also, shared his knowledge through content writing, proofreading, and editing.

Read More

Leave the first comment

More From BuzzPetz

Before you go - You'll want to check out these articles!
[ultimatemember form_id="4648"]

Already a member?

Login Here

[uwp_register id="3" title="register"]

Not a member?

Register Here