Lethargic cat with dry mouth and loss of appetite

by Jennifer

These are some pertinent details: Cat 8 years old, not eating for 2 days now. Sleeping more than usual and not usual playful self. Dry mouth

I need a reply right away? We’re terrified for our cat.

Please contact with suggestions at: psychopathicdeathwish@hotmail.com (note: MikeB deleted the email address as this is a resolved and closed issue but the information has been upgraded). See response below the picture.

Dry mouth in cats can cause the cat to lick their lips to try and moisten them
Dry mouth in cats can cause the cat to lick their lips to try and moisten them. Photo: Pixabay.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats


RELATED: Why is my cat lethargic? 20 reasons.

Response from Michael. I am not a veterinarian. Please see a vet.


Your cat seems to be dehydrated hence the dry mouth. In this instance you do not mention that the cause might be diarrhea. But dehydration is caused by a loss of both water and electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium).

This loss is due to inadequate fluid intake. This in turn is probably due to not eating or drinking. Cat food is 80% water. Fever increases the loss of water. Your cat is lethargic (sleepy) indicating that (s)he may have a temperature.

The gums are tacky and dry to the touch. The saliva is thick. If your cat is “noticeably dehydrated” (s)he should receive “prompt veterinarian attention”.

The vet will ascertain the cause and treat that plus threat the dehydration. An electrolyte solution can be given by bottle or syringe to the cheek pouch. A balanced electrolyte solution for children acceptable.

In the US, Ringer’s lactate with 5 percent Dextrose in water and solution of Pedialyte is suitable for a cat.

‘Dry Mouth’

Decreased saliva production will naturally cause a dry mouth. There is a condition called xerostomia which refers to dry mouth. It’s a condition which affects people as well. Cats with this condition can have a reduced or variable appetite. It can result in a heavy film of plaque and tartar without the saliva’s cleansing action. It will also affect grooming because as we know cats use their saliva to groom themselves. And cats with the condition may do more than the usual amount of licking their lips. The condition is more likely to be seen in elderly cats with renal failure.

What causes xerostomia? East Valley Animal Hospital tells me that there are several possible causes of dry mouth and cats namely: anxiety or stress, medical side effects, severe dehydration, nerve damage, and endocrine (hormonal) disorders such as hypothyroidism and as mentioned kidney failure, or liver or pancreas damage.

You will certainly have to see a veterinarian if you can’t eliminate dehydration which should be fixable with plenty of water to drink and taking your cat off a dry food diet. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins DVM who wrote the book Your Cat believed that the popularity of dry cat food has resulted in a substantial percentage of domestic cats being mildly dehydrated sometimes or perhaps all of the time. This is not to the extent where the cat suffers from dry mouth but it may be a contributing factor.

Pet MD

The pet MD website focuses on drugs as being a possible cause. It’s the same with people. They state that commonly used veterinary drugs that might be expected to lead to dry mouth in companion animals include: antihistamines, diuretics, sedatives, decongestants, atropine, and anaesthetic agents. The list is not comprehensive. Certainly, it would seem sensible to check with your veterinarian if your cat is on medication. It may be possible to decrease the dosage or switch to a different drug.

Another possible cause is radiation treatment for cancers which can damage the saliva glands. And sometimes a companion animal’s immune system can attack the saliva glands. An abnormal immune reaction can be directed at tear and saliva glands. You’ll need medication to suppress this immune reaction.

On the issue of nerve damage, this website refers to a condition called dysautonomia which causes the degeneration of nerves which can lead to dry mouth as well as a poor appetite. The symptoms include vomiting and pupils at don’t respond to light normally.

There are additional problems associated with dry mouth such as bad breath, a cracked tongue and dry and possibly cracking oral mucous membranes, inflamed oral tissues, difficulty chewing and swallowing and severe dental disease.

To manage the condition there is a treatment called pilocarpine which stimulates saliva production particularly before meals according to this website. A cat with poor oral health will have to see a veterinarian for treatment. You can use mouthwashes designed for pets. And providing food with a high-water content as mentioned is valuable


  • Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook page 5.
  • As stated in the response

Good luck.

Michael Avatar

This page was written before 2012 and has been republished. It was a submission by visitor because in those days I had a form which allowed visitors to submit their own questions and articles. I think it’s worth republishing because it’s a rarely discussed condition and it may help but there’s no substitute of course for taking your cat to a veterinarian in a timely manner.

Here are some contributions from visitors at that time:

Lethargic cat with dry mouth and loss of appetite to cat health problems

Comments for
Lethargic cat with dry mouth and loss of appetite

Click here to add your own comments

Jan 10, 2011TO THE VET U GO
by: Kathy W

Please get ur cat to a vet. Cats cannot go 48 hrs without food or drink and they will go into kidney failure. I know I learned the hard way. I almost lost my Lias father that way. I nursed him back to health but it wasnt easy. It was 24 hr care for about 2 months.

Dec 30, 2010To Jennifer
by: Ruth

The others are right and give you good advice.
Please take your cat to the vet urgently if you haven’t already been by now.
A cat not eating for 2 days is in serious trouble as he can go into organ failure and die.
(Retired vet nurse)

by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

My Sadie was dehydrated and a fast trip to the vet had her on a drip for about an hour!

DO NOT FOOL AROUND! Get this cat to the vet now before it is too late! Your cat will thank you and you will have peace of mind.

Dec 29, 2010Michael is TOTALLY RIGHT!
by: Jo Singer

The symptoms your cat is demonstrating really needs immediate veterinary attention. Lethargy in cats, and “dry mouth” are symptoms that if this were my cat, I would be at the vet immediately.

It does sound like your cat is dehydated for sure.. but what is the cause of this condition? You must get to the root of the cause before your can can receive the appropriate care.

I really feel for you. Having a cat displaying unusual symptoms is worrysome. I err on the side of caution all the time. Even if my vet ascertains that it is nothing serious, at least I can breathe a sigh of relief! And if it is something to be concerned about, we are moving in the right direction.

I have a cat that is chronically dehydrated for a reason that my vet has not been able to diagnose, as all of his blood work is normal. He gets 5CCs of Pedialyte several times a day via oral syringe.
Since this is not really a huge amount of fluid it cannot hurt him, and can help a LOT. This product can be found at most super markets in the baby department. Get the unflavored variety… but don’t do anything until your vet gives your cat a thorough check up.

Good wishes, and the best of luck


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