DUNDEE, SCOTLAND: Yes, domestic cats can die of dehydration as evidenced by a recent case of domestic cat neglect from Scotland in which a 22-year-old-man, James McDonnell, became so depressed that he neglected his two cats to such an extent that they died of suspected dehydration.
McDonnell ended up in the criminal court on a charge of animal cruelty. The court was told that a post mortem on the cats found that the most likely cause of death was dehydration.
We are not told how the defendant managed to get his cats to such a dire state. Perhaps the cats were full-time indoor cats and he simply failed to provide water.
Although in the more usual way a cat becomes dehydrated is because of (1) fever and not taking in enough water or (2) prolonged vomiting and diarrhoea and (3) illness during which the cat fails to ingest enough fluids.
Dehydration occurs when a cat loses body fluids faster than they are replaced by the cat ingesting fluids. It normally involves the loss of electrolytes and water. Electrolytes are minerals: sodium, chloride and potassium.
The classic sign of feline dehydration is a loss of skin elasticity. The skin on the back of the neck fails to spring back to a neutral position when pulled up. The mouth is dry and the gums are tacky to the touch. The saliva is more viscous.
In mild cases home treatment is appropriate i.e. providing fluids by mouth which means providing clean, fresh water. If the cat won’t drink, my book on vet care tells me that a electrolyte solution can be administered into the side of the mouth with a syringe. Ask your vet for advice on this and the make up of the solution. The cat may need to be hospitalised to receive subcutaneous or intravenous fluids. Severe dehydration can cause secondary kidney failure.
Potential dehydration is an important issue is feline paediatrics e.g. overfeeding kittens can cause dehydration. Feline paediatrics is an important and complex area of cat care.
Sources: (1) Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, page 22 and Dundee Evening Telegraph online.
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