Will Your Sick Cat Drink Water? 3 Things to Watch For


Cats, like all living things, need water to survive. Water makes up about 70% of a cat’s body and is essential for various bodily functions like regulating body temperature, digesting food, eliminating waste through urine, and transporting nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. When a cat is sick, its normal food and water intake can become disrupted, putting it at risk for dehydration.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in, resulting in a fluid deficit. This fluid loss causes the blood to thicken, which makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood through the body. Dehydration also causes cells and organs to be deprived of vital fluids and nutrients. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalances, organ failure, seizures, coma, and even death. That’s why it’s critical for cat owners to monitor their sick cat’s hydration and take steps to encourage drinking.

Even mild dehydration of just a few percentage points can negatively impact a cat. The chances of dehydration increase with fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, panting, drooling, and certain medications. While too much water loss is dangerous for any cat, kittens and senior cats are most vulnerable. Ensuring sick cats stay well-hydrated improves the likelihood of a full recovery.

Signs of Dehydration

There are several physical signs to look for to determine if your cat is dehydrated:

  • Dry or sticky gums – Dehydrated cats often have tacky or dry gums when you lift up their lip and touch their gums gently (source).
  • Skin tenting – Gently pinch the skin on the back of your cat’s neck and release. If it’s dehydrated, the skin will be slow to flatten back down (source).
  • Sunken eyes – With dehydration the eyes may appear sunken in and dull (source).
  • Lethargy and weakness – Dehydrated cats often have low energy levels and may have trouble standing or moving around (source).
  • Not eating or drinking – Loss of appetite and decreased drinking are common with dehydration.
  • Fever – Dehydration can sometimes cause an elevated body temperature.
  • Pale gums – The gums may appear pale pink or white instead of healthy bright pink.

Paying attention to these signs can help detect dehydration early so you can take steps to get your cat rehydrated.

Common Illnesses That Cause Dehydration

There are several common feline illnesses that can lead to dehydration in cats:

Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a frequent cause of dehydration in cats. Kidney disease causes the kidneys to be less efficient at concentrating urine, leading to increased urination and water loss. This puts cats with kidney disease at high risk for dehydration (Cornell Feline Health Center).


Similar to kidney disease, diabetes leads to increased urination and water loss. Excessive thirst is also common in diabetic cats as they try to compensate for fluid loss. However, this thirst trigger can become impaired over time, leading to dangerously high levels of dehydration (WebMD).


Hyperthyroidism increases a cat’s metabolic rate, often leading to weight loss despite a ravenous appetite. The increased metabolism also leads to more water consumption and urination. Vomiting and diarrhea are other common symptoms, further contributing to dehydration (PetMD).

Encouraging a Sick Cat to Drink

Getting a sick cat to drink enough water can be challenging. Dehydration can quickly become dangerous, so it’s important to encourage hydration. Here are some tips for getting your ill feline to drink:

Offer different water sources. Try shallow bowls, fountains, dripping faucets, or bottled water. The variety may entice your cat to drink. Allow access to multiple fresh water sources around your home.

Add flavor enhancers. A touch of low-sodium broth, tuna juice, or even baby food can make the water more appealing. Just avoid over-salting.

Use fountains. The sound and motion of running water can prompt drinking. Fountains keep the water cooler and fresher too. Make sure it’s easy for an unsteady or reclusive cat to access.

Try lickable treats. Products like tuna gelatin and chicken broth ice cubes provide hydration along with nutrition. They can stimulate appetite and get essential fluids into your feline.

With patience and creativity, you can keep your sick cat hydrated. But if you’re concerned about dehydration, always contact your veterinarian.

Assisting Hydration

If your cat is mildly to moderately dehydrated, your veterinarian may recommend giving subcutaneous fluids at home. This involves injecting sterile fluids under your cat’s skin to rehydrate them. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “The most common places for subcutaneous fluid administration are along the back in the “scruff” region, and along the sides of the chest wall.”

Giving subcutaneous fluids takes training and practice. Your vet will demonstrate the proper technique and provide detailed instructions. Make sure you understand how to gather the supplies, insert the needle, monitor the rate of flow, and recognize signs of trouble before administering subcutaneous fluids yourself.

For cats who are too weak or ill to drink on their own, a feeding tube may be placed for assisted hydration and nutrition. As per VCA Hospitals, “A feeding tube will allow us to provide optimal nutrition during your cat’s illness.” Feeding tubes are inserted by a vet, either through the mouth into the esophagus or directly into the stomach via a surgical abdominal incision.

Tube feeding formulas provide hydration along with calories and nutrients. Your vet will advise you on the equipment, formula, and schedule for tube feeding your cat at home. Monitor the amount consumed and watch for complications like vomiting, diarrhea, or irritation at the tube site. Report any concerns promptly so the hydration plan can be adjusted as needed.

Making Water Irresistible

Cats can be picky about their water, especially when they are feeling under the weather. However, there are some tricks you can try to make water more enticing and irresistible for your sick cat:

Warm water. Cats prefer their water at room temperature or slightly warmed. Heating up a bowl of water for 10-15 seconds in the microwave can make it more palatable (just make sure it is not too hot). The warmth makes the water give off more aroma and cats seem to find it more appealing. (Source).

Moving water. Cats are fascinated by moving water and often find it hard to resist. Letting water trickle from a fountain or even a gently dripping faucet can entice your cat to drink. The motion seems to make the water more noticeable and fresh. You can buy cat water fountains or make your own drips to capture your cat’s interest. (Source).

Flavored water. Adding a bit of tuna juice, clam juice, or low-sodium broth to the water can make it more enticing. The smell and taste help stimulate their appetite for water. Start with just a spoonful of flavoring and increase slowly if needed. Just make sure not to overdo the flavoring. Too much can upset your cat’s tummy. (Source).

Dietary Considerations

When a cat is sick, getting them to eat and drink enough can be a challenge. However, proper nutrition and hydration are crucial for supporting their recovery. Some dietary considerations for a sick cat include:

Wet Food – Canned or pouched wet food is easier for a sick cat to eat and digest than dry kibble. The moisture content also helps them stay hydrated. Look for meaty chunks in broth or gravy. According to the Blue Cross, strong smelling foods like chicken, tuna or pilchards can help tempt a sick cat’s appetite.

Broths – Bone broths made from chicken or fish can provide hydration and nutrients for cats that won’t eat solid foods. Low sodium varieties are best.

Cat Soups – There are specialized cat soup products made for ill cats who need gentle nutrition. These contain blended meats, broths, vitamins and minerals.

The key is finding foods your individual cat is willing to eat. Warming canned food to body temperature or adding some human grade meat, broth or fish juice can make it more enticing. Work closely with your vet for the best diet for your sick cat’s condition.

When to Call the Vet

If your cat is showing signs of severe dehydration, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Left untreated, dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalances, kidney failure, and even death.

Call your vet right away if your cat is exhibiting any of the following symptoms:

  • Very dry gums and mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Skin tenting – when the skin is pulled up, it stays there instead of snapping back down
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low body temperature (below 100°F)
  • Minimal or no urine production
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Collapse or unconsciousness

A severely dehydrated cat needs immediate veterinary treatment, which usually involves subcutaneous or intravenous fluid therapy to restore hydration and electrolyte balance. Hospitalization with ongoing supportive care may be necessary until the cat is stable and able to drink adequately on its own again.

Don’t hesitate to seek emergency vet care if your cat seems extremely ill from dehydration – a delay could be life-threatening. With prompt, aggressive treatment, many cats can make a full recovery from even advanced dehydration.

Preventing Dehydration

The best way to keep your cat hydrated is to take preventative measures before illness occurs. Here are some tips for preventing dehydration in cats:

Provide abundant clean water. Cats should always have access to fresh, clean water. Place multiple water bowls around your home and change the water daily. Consider getting a cat water fountain, which many cats prefer over stagnant water. Make sure the fountain is cleaned regularly according to instructions.

Feed wet food. Canned or pouched cat foods have high water content and can help your cat stay hydrated. Aim to feed wet food at least once daily if your cat mainly eats dry food.

Monitor water intake. Pay attention to how much water your cat drinks each day. Look for any decreases that could indicate illness or dehydration. Weigh your cat weekly to check for weight loss that could signify dehydration.

Keep your cat indoors during hot weather. Prevent overheating and dehydration risks by keeping your cat inside with access to cool, shaded areas and plenty of fresh water on hot days.

By following these tips, you can help your cat stay hydrated and reduce the chances of dehydration occurring.


Hydration is extremely important for cats when they are sick. Dehydration can exacerbate illnesses and lead to further health complications. As a cat owner, you play a critical role in identifying signs of dehydration such as lethargy, dry gums, and skin tenting. Encouraging your sick cat to drink more water can help counteract dehydration.

There are several techniques you can try to entice your cat to drink more when ill. Making water more palatable by adding tuna juice, chicken broth, or catnip can make it more appealing. Placing multiple water bowls around your home increases accessibility. Fountain water bowls keep water cooler and flowing, which cats often prefer. Assisting hydration by administering fluids under the skin with guidance from your veterinarian is also an option.

Monitoring your cat’s water intake and hydration status should be a top priority when they are sick. If you notice signs of dehydration or your cat is not drinking adequately on their own, contact your vet right away for additional recommendations. With proactive care and encouragement from you, your sick feline can get the fluids they need to recover.

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