What is dehydration?
Also known as hypohydration is a serious and potentially life threatening condition which is defined as excessive loss of water and electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium).
Most animals are made up of around 60% water. When the water ratio falls 5% below normal, cats will start to show signs of dehydration.
Dehydration requires veterinary attention immediately. Failure to do so may result in death.
What are the causes of dehydration in cats?
Sickness - A sick cat may go off it's food and water and therefore not receive enough fluids and become dehydrated.
Increased urination - Medical conditions such as diabetes and renal failure in which the cat urinates more often may cause dehydration.
Lack of available, fresh drinking water.
What are the signs of dehydration in cats?
Dehydration has three classes;
Mild dehydration: up to 5%
Moderate dehydration: 5 - 10%
Severe dehydration: 10% or more
Signs of dehydration include;
Poor skin elasticity (see below for instructions on how to check this)
Increased heart rate
Poor capillary refill time (see below for instructions on how to check this)
Constipation. Water is re-absorbed from the colon and if the cat is dehydrated, the body will try to conserve water by removing additional water from the stool.
Skin turgor test: To check for dehydration grasp some skin at the base of their neck (the scruff) and gently pull it up. In the hydrated cat, the skin will spring back immediately. In a dehydrated cat, the skin will be slower to retract. The more severe the dehydration the slower the skin will take to retract.
Capillary refill time: This helps you to test your cat's blood circulation and can indicate dehydration, heart failure or shock. To test capillary refill time life your cat's upper lip and press the flat of your finger against the gum tissue. Remove the pressure and you will see a white mark on the gum where your finger was placed. Using a watch with a second hand, time how long it takes for the pink colour to return to the white spot. In the healthy cat it should take around 1 - 2 seconds to return to pink.
How is dehydration in cats treated?
Dehydration is reversed by giving fluids either subcutaneously or via IV. This will need to be done at your veterinarian's surgery.
Addressing and treating the underlying cause of dehydration is also essential.
How to avoid dehydration in cats:
Ensure there is a constant supply of fresh, clean drinking water available at all times.
Provide your cat with a cool, sheltered area if it has access to the outdoors.
If your cat is sick, monitor it closely for signs of dehydration.
Seek veterinary attention if your cat has vomiting or diarrhoea.
Seek immediate veterinary attention if your cat displays signs of increased thirst or urination.