Hydration Hacks. How to Keep Your Furry Friend Hydrated When They Won’t Drink

Causes of Dehydration in Cats

There are several potential causes of dehydration in cats:

Not drinking enough water is a common cause of dehydration in cats. Cats have a low thirst drive and do not tend to drink as much water as they need. This can lead them to become dehydrated over time if they are not encouraged to drink more regularly (1).

Excessive vomiting or diarrhea causes the loss of high volumes of fluid and can quickly lead to dehydration if the fluids are not replenished. Illnesses that cause gastroenteritis like infections or parasites can bring on persistent vomiting and diarrhea (2).

Hot weather or temperatures over 100°F can cause dehydration in cats as they pant and lose moisture from their mucous membranes. Overheating and heat stroke can occur if a cat cannot reduce its body temperature (3).

Certain medical conditions like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, cancer or diabetes can increase thirst and urination leading to excessive fluid losses. These chronic diseases commonly cause dehydration in senior cats (1,3).

Other issues like fever, stress, exertion, lactation, burns, or trauma can also raise fluid requirements and lead to dehydration if intake is not increased (2).

(1) https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/dehydration-cats
(2) https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hydration
(3) https://wagwalking.com/cat/condition/dehydration

Signs of Dehydration

There are several telltale signs that a cat may be dehydrated. According to PetMD, one of the easiest ways to check for dehydration is to gently lift the cat’s lip and touch their gums [1]. If the gums are sticky and dry instead of wet and slippery, the cat likely needs fluids. Other signs of dehydration in cats include:

  • Dry or sticky gums [1]
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark yellow urine

WebMD notes that sunken eyes are a classic sign of dehydration in cats [2]. As a cat becomes dehydrated, the eyes may appear more inset as fluids are drawn away from the tissues around the eyes. Lethargy, weakness and loss of appetite frequently accompany dehydration as well. The urine may become darker and more concentrated as the cat’s body tries to conserve water.

Dangers of Feline Dehydration

Dehydration can be extremely dangerous for cats if left untreated. Some of the most serious dangers include:

Kidney Failure

Dehydration places significant strain on the kidneys. Without adequate fluid intake, toxins and waste products can build up and cause acute kidney injury or chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is one of the most common causes of death in older cats.1


Dehydration can lead to constipation as water is necessary to keep stools soft. Constipation is extremely uncomfortable and can cause obstructed bowels, vomiting, and loss of appetite.2


Electrolyte imbalances caused by dehydration can trigger seizures. Seizures may start as twitching in the face or limbs. Severe seizures can lead to loss of consciousness.3


Extreme dehydration can result in shock, organ failure, and coma. Coma indicates the body is shutting down. Immediate veterinary care is needed to prevent death.1


If dehydration goes untreated, it can lead to sudden death in cats. Death usually occurs due to heart failure, shock or brain swelling caused by severe electrolyte imbalances.2

Encouraging a Cat to Drink

There are several creative ways you can encourage a cat to drink more water and stay hydrated. Here are some tips:

Use a wider, shallower water bowl. Cats prefer wide bowls where their whiskers don’t touch the edges. Shallow bowls also prevent whisker fatigue.

Offer running water from a cat fountain. The movement and sound of flowing water is more appealing and enticing to cats.

Add broth or tuna juice to water. Adding a bit of flavor can make plain water much more interesting. Use low-sodium chicken or fish broth.

Offer chilled water. Cats tend to prefer cold water, so try keeping their water bowl refreshed with cool water.

Use plastic balls in water bowl. Adding a few clean plastic balls to the water bowl can attract finicky cats.

Be sure to give fresh, clean water daily in clean bowls. Place water bowls in multiple locations for easy access. With some creativity and experimenting with different approaches, you can find ways to keep your cat hydrated. [1]

Feeding Wet Food

Feeding cats wet or canned food is one of the easiest ways to increase their hydration. Canned cat foods typically contain around 75% moisture, whereas dry kibble only has around 10% moisture. The high water content in wet foods provides cats with a significant amount of their daily fluids.

Canned cat food also often contains broths and gravies that can further aid hydration. The juices contain electrolytes and minerals that help replenish what is lost when a cat is dehydrated. This helps wet food be even more effective at hydrating cats than dry kibble.

Experts recommend feeding cats primarily wet food and avoiding dry kibble as much as possible. Kibble is very low in moisture and does not have the same hydrating effects as canned food. Feeding wet food, or even adding water to kibble, can help prevent and treat dehydration in cats.

According to veterinarians, wet food leads to improved hydration and urinary tract health. The high moisture content helps flush out toxins and reduce strain on the kidneys. Cats with kidney disease or recurring UTI issues can greatly benefit from a wet food diet.

Hydrating Foods

There are many hydrating foods and beverages that can help encourage a cat to take in more fluids. According to Stella and Chewy’s: https://www.stellaandchewys.com/cats/promoting-hydration-and-urinary-health-in-cats/, some hydrating foods cats can safely eat include:

  • Broths and gravies – Offering canned or homemade broths and gravies mixed into their food can provide extra hydration. Low-sodium chicken or vegetable broths work well.
  • Canned fish – Canned tuna or salmon packed in water provides moisture along with protein.
  • Pureed fruits and veggies – Blending up small amounts of water-rich fruits like watermelon or cantaloupe and mixing it into their food can help hydration.
  • Ice cubes – Offering a few licks of an ice cube or shaved ice can provide hydration in a fun, cold treat.

The key is to mix the wet, hydrating foods into the cat’s normal meals to boost their fluid intake. Check with your veterinarian for hydrating food recommendations tailored to your cat.

Subcutaneous Fluids

Subcutaneous (SQ) fluids are one way to provide hydration to cats that are moderately dehydrated. With this method, fluids are injected under the skin using a small needle. The fluids are then absorbed into the body over the next few hours. SQ fluid administration must be done by a veterinarian or trained veterinary staff. It provides faster hydration than oral supplements since the fluids do not have to be processed through the digestive system first.

There are a few different ways to give SQ fluids, but often a fluid bag with tubing is used so that a steady flow can be administered while keeping the cat still. The fluids being injected are sterile solutions such as lactated Ringer’s solution or fluids containing electrolytes and glucose [1]. Common locations for SQ fluid injections in cats include the back of the neck, between the shoulder blades, or along the back.

SQ fluid therapy can help cats recover from moderate dehydration more quickly than oral hydration alone. However, it does require handling and restraining the cat which can cause stress. Talk to your veterinarian about whether SQ fluids could benefit your dehydrated cat.

Intravenous Fluids

Intravenous (IV) fluids are given directly into the vein. IV fluids are used when a cat is severely dehydrated, usually at more than 10% dehydration. Severe dehydration requires aggressive fluid therapy that often exceeds what can be provided through subcutaneous fluids. IV fluids must be administered by a veterinarian in a clinic setting (source: https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?pId=11196&meta=generic&id=3854241).

Common IV fluids given to dehydrated cats include a balanced electrolyte solution known as “Hartmann’s” or “Lactated Ringer’s” solution. These fluids help restore fluid volume and electrolyte balance (source: https://icatcare.org/advice/how-to-give-subcutaneous-fluids-to-your-cat/). The IV fluids are continued until the cat is adequately rehydrated, which may take 24-48 hours in severe cases.

IV fluid therapy requires catheter placement and continuous monitoring by veterinary professionals. It allows for rapid correction of dehydration that may not be achievable with other methods. However, there are risks associated with IV fluids, including fluid overload and electrolyte imbalances. Your veterinarian will monitor your cat closely and adjust the fluids as needed.

Oral Hydration Supplements

Oral hydration supplements can be effective for mildly dehydrated cats that refuse to drink water. These supplements provide electrolytes and nutrients that help hydrate the cat when given orally with a syringe. Products like Pedialyte are formulated for oral hydration and can be administered easily at home.

Pedialyte and similar oral hydration products contain balanced electrolytes like sodium, chloride, and potassium. The osmolytes help draw water into the cat’s bloodstream when given orally, promoting rehydration. Oral supplements are often recommended for cats experiencing mild dehydration from vomiting, diarrhea, or low water intake.

To use an oral hydration supplement, draw up the recommended dosage into a syringe and gently squirt into the cat’s mouth. Aim for the gap between the teeth and cheek. Give the supplement slowly and allow the cat time to swallow. Oral hydration supplements provide an easy way to get fluids into a mildly dehydrated cat that refuses to drink on its own. However, severely dehydrated cats will likely need subcutaneous or intravenous fluids from a veterinarian.

Preventing Dehydration

Preventing dehydration by providing ample clean drinking water is key. Here are some tips for preventing dehydration in cats:

Provide fresh, clean water daily. Empty and wash water bowls daily and refill with fresh water. Cats prefer fresh, clean water and are less likely to drink stale or dirty water.(1)

Feed a wet food diet. Cats that eat canned/wet food take in more moisture with their meals. Wet food provides 70-80% moisture versus only 10% in dry kibble. This helps your cat stay hydrated.(2)

Use a cat fountain. Moving water from a cat fountain attracts their interest more than stagnant water and encourages drinking. Position fountains away from food to prevent territorial issues.

Brush your cat. Regularly brushing helps remove hairballs that can cause vomiting and dehydration. Use a rubber grooming glove and brush gently.

Monitor urine volume and color. Look out for decreased frequency, volume, or darker colored urine as possible early signs of dehydration.

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