Quench Your Cat’s Thirst. What Vets Use to Hydrate Felines


Dehydration can be dangerous and even life-threatening for cats. Cats are susceptible to dehydration for a few key reasons:

First, cats have a low thirst drive and do not instinctively drink enough water day-to-day, unlike humans and some other pets. It is difficult for them to recognize when they are becoming dehydrated.

Second, cats have a higher percentage of body water compared to humans – approximately 60-70% for cats versus 50-55% for humans. This means water loss impacts cats more significantly than humans.

Lastly, when cats stop eating or drinking due to illness, their small body size allows them to become dehydrated more quickly than larger animals. Within 2-3 days of decreased fluid intake, they can become dangerously dehydrated.

Ensuring proper hydration is crucial for maintaining cats’ organ function, regulating body temperature, removing toxins, and transporting nutrients. Dehydration can lead to kidney failure, constipation, vomiting, lethargy, and even death. Cat owners and vets must be vigilant about hydration.

Subcutaneous Fluids

Subcutaneous fluids, often abbreviated as SQ or subQ fluids, are sterile fluids administered under a cat’s skin to help hydrate them. SQ fluids work by creating a “reservoir” of fluid under the skin that gets slowly absorbed into the body over 6-12 hours (VCA Hospitals).

Veterinarians commonly prescribe SQ fluids for cats with various medical conditions that cause dehydration or fluid loss, such as:

  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Infections
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Advanced age

SQ fluids are easy to administer at home by pet owners after being shown the proper technique. They help provide consistent hydration between veterinary visits for cats needing supplemental fluids. Most cats tolerate the fluids well and do not mind the administration (VCA Hospitals).

The typical volume given ranges between 50-150 mL per treatment, depending on the cat’s size and needs. The frequency varies from daily to once or twice weekly. The veterinarian will advise on the appropriate SQ fluid plan for an individual cat. Monitoring hydration, skin elasticity, and body weight helps determine ongoing fluid needs (Vet Professionals).

Intravenous Fluids

Intravenous (IV) fluids provide hydration and electrolytes directly into a cat’s bloodstream through a vein. This allows for quick absorption and distribution of fluids throughout the body (1). IV fluids are used when a cat is moderately to severely dehydrated and unable to absorb sufficient fluids orally or subcutaneously. Vets administer IV fluids when cats are in shock, have kidney failure, suffer from certain toxins or infections, or are recovering from anesthesia (1).

Common intravenous fluids used for cats include:

– Lactated Ringer’s solution – Contains electrolytes like sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium gluconate as well as lactate. Lactated Ringer’s helps restore a cat’s fluid and electrolyte balance (1).

– 0.9% Sodium Chloride – A saline solution used to treat dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. It does not contain other electrolytes so is not a balanced solution.

– 5% Dextrose – Provides calories and assists kidney function. Often combined with Lactated Ringer’s (1).

IV fluids require catheter placement in a vein and monitoring by a vet. Potential risks include phlebitis, hypothermia, fluid overload, and electrolyte imbalances if the wrong fluids or amounts are administered (2). Vets carefully calculate the type and rate of fluids based on the cat’s specific needs.

(1) https://vetfocus.royalcanin.com/en/scientific/prescribing-iv-fluids-in-the-cat

(2) https://icatcare.org/advice/how-to-give-subcutaneous-fluids-to-your-cat/

Oral Hydration

Oral hydration is often the first line of defense for cats showing early signs of dehydration. Some of the common oral hydration methods include:

Water – Offering small amounts of water frequently, such as a teaspoon every 5-10 minutes, can help cats stay hydrated. Use a syringe if needed to gradually administer water into the mouth.

Broths – Low-sodium chicken, fish, or bone broths appeal to many cats and provide hydration. Broths can be warmed to increase palatability.

Hydration gels – Products like Pet-A-Lyte electrolyte gel provide a balanced way to hydrate cats orally. The fluid-and-electrolyte formula helps replace what is lost during dehydration and vomiting episodes.

The key with oral hydration is giving cats access to fluids frequently in small volumes to avoid overwhelming their system. Work closely with your vet to determine the right oral hydration protocol for your cat’s needs.

Assisted Feeding

Assisted feeding involves using a feeding tube or syringe to deliver fluids and food to cats that are unwilling or unable to eat and drink on their own. This can be an effective way to hydrate and nourish dehydrated or undernourished cats. According to Southern Counties Rescue (https://southerncountiesrescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Syringe-feeding.pdf), assisted feeding allows for reliable administration of fluids and medications. It also helps maintain proper hydration when a cat is not drinking enough water.

To assist feed a cat, a vet will place a small tube down the throat and into the stomach. Fluids and liquid food can then be delivered through the tube using a syringe or gravity flow bag. This allows fluids to be given in controlled amounts. Syringe feeding can also be done by placing the syringe tip in the side of the mouth and slowly depressing the plunger.

Assisted feeding should only be done under the guidance of a veterinarian, as improper technique can cause aspiration pneumonia. It requires patience and care. But it can be a lifesaving technique for dehydrated and malnourished cats that refuse to eat or drink enough on their own.

Monitoring Hydration

Veterinarians will closely monitor a cat’s hydration status after administering fluids to ensure they are recovering properly. According to WikiHow, there are several signs that hydration is being restored:

  • The tissues under the skin will fill back out and feel more flexible.
  • The cat’s eyes will appear less sunken.
  • Their gums and tongue will return to a healthy pink color.
  • Urine output will increase.
  • Overall energy levels and alertness will improve.

Vets may continue administering fluids until the cat is urinating regularly, has normal skin elasticity, and shows interest in food and water again. According to Bettervet, close monitoring is crucial to ensure the cat fully recovers from dehydration.

Preventing Dehydration

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent dehydration in their feline companions:

Make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Change the water daily and wash water bowls regularly. Consider placing multiple water bowls around your home. Cats often prefer wider, shallower bowls over deep, narrow ones. Some cats prefer running water, so a pet fountain may entice your cat to drink more. Keep water bowls away from food bowls and high-traffic areas.

Monitor your cat’s water intake. Note how much they typically drink so you can spot any decrease that may signal dehydration. Weigh your cat regularly to check for water loss.

Consider adding moisture to your cat’s diet with wet food, broths, or tuna juice frozen into ice cubes or popsicles. This extra fluid can help prevent dehydration.

Maintain proper humidity levels indoors. Use humidifiers as needed, especially in dry winter months. Proper humidity reduces moisture lost through respiration.

Brush cats regularly to remove excess fur and prevent hairballs that can cause vomiting and fluid loss. Keep your home clean to discourage conditions like diarrhea that lead to dehydration.

Avoid offering milk, since most cats are lactose intolerant. The resulting diarrhea will worsen dehydration. Limit salty foods that increase thirst and water needs.

Know the signs of dehydration like lethargy, dry gums, and sunken eyes. Seek prompt veterinary care if you suspect your cat is dehydrated.

When to Seek Help

Cats can become dehydrated relatively quickly, so it’s important to recognize the signs of significant dehydration requiring emergency veterinary care. According to the ASPCA, you should seek immediate veterinary assistance if your cat is showing any of the following symptoms:

  • Dry, sticky gums
  • Lethargy or unwillingness to move
  • Sunken eyes
  • Skin tenting – when the skin is pulled up, it stays there
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing rate
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

The vet clinic Boston Veterinary Group notes that cats can go from mildly dehydrated to dangerously dehydrated in just 48 hours if untreated. They recommend seeking emergency veterinary care if your cat hasn’t improved after 24 hours of at-home treatment. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure, seizures, coma, and even death, so prompt vet care is essential.

According to vets, you should seek immediate emergency assistance if your cat is unresponsive, having trouble breathing, seizing, or seems near death. Waiting too long can have tragic consequences, so don’t hesitate to visit an emergency vet clinic if your cat’s condition seems dire.


The costs associated with hydrating cats can vary greatly depending on the method used. Here is an overview of the typical costs involved with different feline hydration techniques:

Subcutaneous fluids: Administering subcutaneous fluids at home typically costs $30-50 for the fluids and supplies. The fluids may need to be given 1-7 times per week depending on the cat’s needs, so this can add up over time. Veterinary clinics charge $80-150 per treatment.

Intravenous fluids: IV fluid administration requires sedation and monitoring by a veterinarian. Each treatment costs $200-300 on average. Most cats need IV fluids 1-3 times per week.

Oral hydration: Oral hydration products like unflavored Pedialyte cost around $5 per bottle. Feeding canned foods high in moisture content costs $2-4 per can on average. These daily costs are relatively affordable.

Assisted feeding: A veterinary assistant feeder appointment costs $15-25 per visit. Purchasing an automatic pet feeder for home use ranges from $20 for basic models up to $150 for feeders with smart features.

Overall, subcutaneous and intravenous fluids tend to be the most expensive hydration methods for cats long-term. Daily oral hydration and feeding assistance are lower-cost options to consider.


Hydration is extremely important for cats, as even mild dehydration can lead to serious health issues. Some of the key takeaways are:

  • There are several methods vets use to hydrate cats, including subcutaneous and intravenous fluids, oral hydration, and assisted feeding.

  • Preventing dehydration through monitoring hydration levels, providing access to fresh water, adjusting the diet, and controlling any underlying health issues is crucial.

  • Signs of dehydration include lethargy, sunken eyes, poor skin elasticity, and dry gums/nose. Seeking prompt veterinary care if these signs are observed can help avoid complications.

  • While the costs for hydration methods vary, ensuring your cat stays properly hydrated is worth the investment for their long-term health.

By being aware of dehydration risks, monitoring your cat, and working with your vet, you can help keep your feline companion hydrated and healthy.

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