Dehydration in cats
What is dehydration?
Dehydration is a reduction in the normal amount of water in the body. Mammals are 60-70% water and this is vital for normal function of the body.
What are the signs of dehydration?
The signs of dehydration will vary with the severity. The main test for dehydration is to pull up the scruff of the animal and let is fall back into place. In a normal animal it should drop immediately back into place, but in dehydration it falls back slowly, known as ‘skin tenting’. The skin generally moves about over the body less freely, so feels a bit dry. In severe dehydration, the eyes become sunken and the third eyelids may come across.
What causes dehydration?
The problem is a greater loss of water than intake. Normally the body responds to loss of water by reducing urine output from the kidneys and increasing thirst. If either is disturbed, dehydration may result.
The main causes of dehydration are vomiting, diarrhoea, failure to eat or drink and kidney disease. These can be a part of many disease processes and almost any disease process that causes an animal to feel ill.
It is possible for an animal to become dehydrated even if it is still drinking, particularly with kidney disease. The drinking is often increased in kidney disease, but it still can’t keep up with the loss from the kidneys.
How serious is dehydration?
The significance of dehydration depends on its severity. Mild dehydration can often be ignored if the underlying disease is treated then the animal will get better quickly. Severe dehydration, however, cannot be ignored as the circulation can fail if there is not enough fluid to keep it going properly. It can also damage the kidneys if allowed to go on for too long.
How is dehydration treated?
Dehydration is treated with fluid replacement therapy. If dehydration is mild and drinking is not a problem, oral fluids may be sufficient. Oral re-hydration fluids containing glucose and salt are better than plain water for re-hydration. Fluids can be given under the skin by injection to re-hydrate an animal. There is a limit to how much fluid can be given by this method and it can be a little painful. It is usually only used in very small animals where the veins are too small to give the fluids as a drip.
If dehydration is severe, fluids may have to be given by an intravenous drip, particularly if the fluid loss is continuing (e.g. severe diarrhoea & vomiting). A catheter is placed in one of the leg veins and a bag of sterile fluid is connected. The fluids contain salts and sometimes glucose at the same concentration as in the blood to replace what has been lost. The rate at which the fluid is given can be varied according to how much is needed.
Fluids can also be given into the abdomen or even into the bone marrow if necessary, but these methods are usually only used if a vein is not possible – usually because of small size.
This article is for reference only.
If your pet is showing any symptoms or distress, and you suspect your pet is ill CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.