Dehydrated Cat Gums – Causes and Tips For Prevention

Dehydrated Cat Gums - Causes and Tips For Prevention

Your cat’s gums can tell you a lot about his current health condition. They act as a warning system, changing from a normal pink to a different color when your feline is not feeling well. One obvious concern that will change the color of your cat’s gums is dehydration.

Although we do not rely solely on gum color to detect illness, any abnormal changes to your cat’s gums along with other subtle symptoms can help you and your vet assess the cat’s current state. These signs can be crucial for early diagnosis of, and intervention in, potentially serious health problems.

How can I tell if my cat’s gums are dehydrated?

A healthy feline’s gums are normally pink in color; any other color can be a sign of health problems. If you are not used to checking your cat’s gums, it might be challenging for you to recognize healthy gums. Thankfully, there is one standard you can rely on to check whether or not your cat’s gums are healthy. This method is known as the capillary refill time test.

Before checking your cat’s gums, keep in mind that most cats are not comfortable having someone touch or poke around their mouths, so be sure to do this carefully. Use a thick blanket or towel to wrap around the cat and restrain him. Then, position him on a table and, using your fingers, gently apply pressure on the corners of the jaw to open his mouth.

Now it is time to do the capillary refill test. Hold your cat steady as you gently press your finger against his gum, and pull your finger away when the gum turns white. Normally, the gum should revert to its natural pink color quickly – within about three seconds after you remove your finger. If it takes longer to return to its pink color after release, then your feline is quite possibly suffering from dehydration.

Healthy gums should also feel wet and smooth when touched. Watch out for dry and sticky gums, as this can also be a clear indication of dehydration.

What causes dehydration in cats

Most of us do not often see our furry companions drink from their bowls. In the wild, felines would get their fluids from live prey as well as streams or water puddles. Domesticated cats can be a little finicky about drinking from water bowls because they do not like their whiskers brushing against the bowl when they drink, or perhaps they are not happy with the position of the bowl. Often they will find other sources of water if they are allowed to go outdoors. So, it is not a surprise if your cat rarely drinks water in front of you.

Healthy felines should not have hydration problems, even if we do not always see them drinking from their water bowl, because they can get a large part of their fluid from wet food. However, consuming too much dry food, combined with a lack of access to fresh drinking water – especially during hot seasons – can increase the risk of dehydration in cats.

Our whiskered companions are masters of concealing illness, so it can be really challenging to spot when they are dehydrated. While a lack of water consumption is the most obvious reason for dehydration, some medical conditions can also cause your feline to lose more fluid than he consumes. Some of these health issues are listed below:  

  • Illnesses that cause reduced appetite
  • Prolonged vomiting or diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Kidney problems
  • Blood loss
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Heatstroke
  • Fever
  • Shock

Other signs of dehydration

Dehydration in cats can range from mild to severe, depending on several other factors such as your cat’s water intake and current state of health. If your cat is suffering from dehydration, you might notice other symptoms such as the following: 

1. Sweating

Cats do not have sweat glands all over their bodies as humans do, so you will only notice their paws getting damp when they are dehydrated and suffering from elevated body temperatures.

2. Panting

Unlike dogs, it is quite rare for cats to pant. If they do, it is usually caused by being extremely hot or excess loss of body fluids due to illness.

3. Thick saliva

Healthy cats usually have thin saliva. If you start noticing thick, rope-like saliva, then your cat is most likely suffering from dehydration.

4. Lethargy

While cats love to take short naps during the day, excessive lying around with signs of lethargy can be a serious concern. If your feline is usually energetic but suddenly changes to a tired-looking kitty, you should investigate whether the cause is dehydration or any other medical issue.

5. Reduced skin elasticity

Signs of dehydration are not only evident in your cat’s gums and behavior, but also on his skin. Using the skin tent test, you can easily tell whether your feline is dehydrated. To do this, gently pinch the skin between your cat’s shoulder blades and hold it up for a second, then release it. A well-hydrated cat has supple and elastic skin. If the skin does not snap immediately back into place, your cat might be dehydrated.  

6. Dull and sunken eyes

A perfectly healthy cat should have bright eyes. If they look dull and sunken, it may be due to a lack of moisture in the body.

7. Constipation

Just like humans, our furry companions can have difficulty passing stools if they do not consume enough water. Signs of constipation, such as repeatedly straining in the litter box or passing out small, hard stools, are signs of dehydration that should not be ignored. 

8. Lack of appetite

A lack of appetite, along with possible nausea and vomiting, are usually indicators that your kitty is not feeling well. Eventually, your cat will refuse to eat and drink due to the discomfort caused by the illness, creating a vicious cycle. Dehydration along with these other red flags are signs of a possible emergency and require immediate medical attention. 

9. Elevated heart rate

A normal, healthy feline has a resting heart rate of 120 to 160 beats per minute. Anything outside this range can be a cause for concern. Dehydration can force the heart to work harder as the blood thickens due to the lack of fluid, so if your cat is not sufficiently hydrated, his heart rate could go higher than normal. 

10. Vomiting and diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms when your feline is not well-hydrated. Without proper diagnosis and intervention, your kitty could lose even more fluids, leading to more health problems. At this time, it could be difficult to offer your cat food or water as it will likely end up in the litter box or on the carpet. Keep him calm and quiet, and do not delay a visit to your vet for a thorough assessment and treatment for dehydration.

Tips to prevent dehydration

1. Fill your cat’s water bowl with some flavor

It can be challenging to get your furry companion to drink more water, but with a little creativity, you can turn that ordinary bowl of water into something flavorful that your cat cannot resist. One way is to add a little bit of tuna or salmon into the water since cats love the smell of seafood. Clam juice and low-sodium chicken broth also work well to entice them to drink from their bowl. 

2. Switch their diet to wet food

Since cats are wired to take most of their fluids from food, it is best to feed them with canned wet food or tuna to increase their water intake. You can also make a gruel by adding a little bit of water to their food. 

3. Try ice cubes

Many cats go crazy for ice cubes. Add them into the water bowl and your cat will surely not resist taking a few laps. You can even make seafood-flavored ice cubes from salmon, tuna, or clam juice to help keep your cat hydrated.

4. Invest in water fountains

Cats generally prefer to drink fresh, running water, so it may be easier to encourage them to drink from a water fountain. The trickling sound of the flowing water is appealing to most felines, as it is a reminder of flowing streams or waterfalls in the wild. A fountain is also highly recommended by most cat owners as a cleaner alternative because it usually comes with filters to remove dust and sediment.


Hydration is key to your furry companion’s well-being, and dehydration can cause serious health problems. Since cats are known for taking most of their fluids from the food they eat, they can be somewhat disinterested in their water bowls and may drink less than the ideal amount of water. If you suspect your cat to have dehydration problems, then checking his gums, along with other subtle signs, could help you confirm the issue. 

Dehydration in cats is an emergency that should not be delayed. While some home remedies might work, it is best to take your kitty to the vet for a proper assessment and treatment for rehydration.

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