What is Dehydration?
The technical point of dehydration is when fluid in the body drops by five percent. Loss between five and ten percent is considered moderate, while any loss over ten percent is deemed severe. A cat can not live with water loss of fifteen percent. As dehydration can be fatal, immediate rectification of the condition must be sought through veterinary treatment. While dehydration may occur simply from not accessing adequate amounts of water, it may be a symptom of a larger problem in the body. The underlying cause should be identified and treated in such cases.
To function properly, the body of a cat needs to maintain at least 60 percent of its composition in water and electrolytes. These electrolytes include sodium, potassium, and chloride. If excess water is lost or absorbed by the body and there are not enough fluids entering the body to replace it, dehydration begins to occur. This is also referred to as hypohydration. A cat must have a steady intake of fluid to function properly. If not enough water is present from consumption, the cells of the body will shift fluid out from themselves to try to maintain organ functionality. The entire body is thus negatively affected by a lack of water, with circulation, digestion, and toxin removal being adversely affected.
Symptoms of Dehydration in Cats
While in the early stages of dehydration symptoms may be mild, more will begin to show as water loss increases. All signs of dehydration require medical attention to stabilize the cat. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Dry mouth
- Sunken eyes
- Poor skin elasticity
- Poor capillary refill times (the time it takes for blood to fill the lips after they have been pressed)
- Increased heart rate
- Polyuria (frequent urination)
Causes of Dehydration in Cats
Cats are prone to a low thirst drive as their instinct is to derive adequate water from eating live prey. They also can be picky when it comes to water condition. While environmental conditions do account for some instances, internal disease may also be present in cases of dehydration. All known causes are listed below.
- Sickness that decreases appetite
- Prolonged vomiting or diarrhea
- Kidney failure
- Blood loss
- Dry food
- Unclean or inaccessible water
Diagnosis of Dehydration in Cats
Once arriving to a veterinary clinic, your cat will undergo a complete physical examination. You will be asked many questions about your cat's eating and drinking habits, and about the onset of symptoms. The goal is to identify the cause of the dehydration to make sure it does not continue after immediate rehydration. Dehydration itself is easy to identify. Often a skin turgor test will be used, where the scruff of the neck is pulled and the time it takes to return to normal position helps indicate dehydration. This may be more difficult to determine in obese cats.
To confirm the diagnosis, full blood work will be needed including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile. A packed cell volume (PCR) test and a total blood protein test can identify dehydration by the concentration of both cells and protein in the blood. Urinalysis is also helpful to determine the electrolyte levels in the body and to assess kidney function. Concentration of the urine will also be present in dehydration cases.
Treatment of Dehydration in Cats
The cat will first have fluids replenished to stabilize its condition with underlying issues being addressed after. Dehydration will rapidly lead to severe complications within the body if not treated fast enough.
In cases of dehydration, often oral fluid consumption is not enough to rectify the life threatening situation. Intravenous administration of fluids directly into the vein is needed in most instances. The fluid levels should be brought up slowly and hospitalization is required for the process. The cat may need ongoing fluid replacement, and this is often done subcutaneously with a syringe through the skin on the back of the neck of the cat. This treatment can be done at home in chronic cases of dehydration.
If excessive vomiting is causing the dehydration, antiemetics may be administered to prevent both nausea and vomiting in the cat. These drugs inhibit the receptors that trigger vomiting in the cat’s brain.
If kidney failure is present, there are limited treatment options available.
Recovery of Dehydration in Cats
Once your cat has been discharged, continue to monitor it daily for signs of dehydration. Ensure fresh water is provided in an accessible location and that it is changed more than once a day. A fountain water dish may help keep water fresh enough to encourage the cat to drink. Your veterinarian may suggest switching to wet food to increase water intake while eating. Keep a cool, sheltered area available to your cat both outside and indoors to prevent overheating.
Bring your cat to the vet for regular check-ups to help identify serious underlying conditions at early stages. If your cat has been diagnosed with a severe health issue, treatment may be required for the rest of the cat’s life. This includes certain medication prescriptions and administering regular, at-home subcutaneous fluid injections to your cat.