What happens if my cat doesn’t drink water for 3 days?

If a cat goes without drinking water for 3 days, it can quickly become a dangerous situation. Dehydration happens rapidly in cats and can lead to serious health issues if not addressed right away. In this article, we’ll discuss the timeline of what happens when a cat doesn’t drink water and provide tips on how to get a dehydrated cat to drink again.

12 Hours Without Water

After just 12 hours without water, a cat will start to feel thirsty and dehydrated. Its mouth and nose may feel dry, which will cause the cat to seem more restless. At this stage, the dehydration is still mild and can be reversed quickly by providing fresh, clean drinking water.

24 Hours Without Water

By 24 hours without water, dehydration becomes more severe. The cat will seem lethargic and weak. Its skin may tent when pinched, meaning it stays pinched up instead of snapping right back. The cat’s eyes may appear sunken in. Urine output will be greatly decreased and very dark yellow in color. The cat may vocalize its distress.

36-48 Hours Without Water

Dangerous dehydration sets in between 36-48 hours without water. The cat will be extremely weak and may not be able to lift its head. The eyes may appear dry and glazed over. The skin will not snap back when pinched up and may crack easily. Heart rate and breathing rate will increase. The cat may cry in pain when touched.

72+ Hours Without Water

By 72 hours without water, a cat is at risk of organ failure and death. They will be unresponsive, unconscious or barely conscious. Their eyes will be extremely sunken and glazed. The heartbeat will be rapid and weak. Skin may be cracking and bleeding. Kidney failure is imminent at this stage, which can lead to a fatal electrolyte imbalance.

Warning Signs of Dehydration

Here are the common signs of dehydration in cats to look out for:

  • Increased thirst
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Skin tenting
  • Little or no urine production
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate

What Causes Dehydration in Cats?

There are a few potential causes for dehydration in cats:

  • Not drinking enough water – This could happen if water is not easily accessible, if it’s dirty, or if the cat stops drinking due to stress or illness.
  • Excessive fluid loss – Vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, diabetes, and kidney disease can lead to fluid loss.
  • High environmental temperature – Cats can lose fluid and dehydrate more quickly in hot weather.
  • Illness – Diseases like kidney failure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cancer and gum disease can result in dehydration.
  • Medications – Some medications like diuretics and steroids may inhibit a cat’s ability to retain fluid.

How to Get a Dehydrated Cat to Drink

If your cat is showing signs of dehydration, here are some tips to get it rehydrated:

  1. Provide fresh, clean water at all times. Change water bowls frequently.
  2. Add more water bowls around the house. Cats often like different locations.
  3. Try pet fountains that constantly filter and circulate water.
  4. Flavor the water with tuna juice, bone broth or catnip tea.
  5. Use shallow dishes as cats don’t like their whiskers touching the bowl.
  6. Gently syringe feed water by squirting small amounts slowly into the side of the mouth.
  7. Feed canned/wet foods high in moisture. Broths, meat baby food, tuna can help.
  8. Subcutaneous fluids given under the skin may be prescribed by your vet.
  9. Treat any underlying illness causing dehydration.

See your vet right away if dehydration persists despite your efforts or seems severe. They can provide subcutaneous fluids and additional support.

Preventing Dehydration in Cats

Here are some tips to keep your cat well-hydrated and prevent dehydration:

  • Provide multiple fresh water bowls throughout the house.
  • Change water daily and scrub bowls weekly.
  • Invest in a filtered cat water fountain.
  • Wet food helps cats increase fluid intake. Feed wet food or add water to dry food.
  • Make water easily accessible, especially for senior cats.
  • Keep water away from food and litter boxes.
  • Monitor water intake if giving medications that cause increased thirst.
  • Have an annual senior exam to check for underlying illness.
  • Brush cat’s teeth regularly to avoid kidney/gum disease.
  • Check skin elasticity and hydration at least weekly.

When to See the Vet

Take your cat to the vet promptly if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Not drinking water for 12+ hours
  • Skin tenting or poor skin elasticity
  • Sunken eyes or dry eyes
  • Extreme lethargy or inability to lift head
  • No urine production or very concentrated urine
  • Vomiting or diarrhea lasting over 24 hours
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat
  • Crying or whining in pain

Dehydration can happen fast in cats, so don’t wait once you see any of these signs. The vet will be able to assess their level of dehydration and provide intravenous fluids and electrolytes as needed.

Treating Dehydration

To treat dehydration, the vet will typically:

  • Weigh your cat and assess their vitals, especially heart rate.
  • Check hydration through a skin turgor test.
  • Look for sunken eyes, dry gums, and foul breath.
  • Determine if the cat can drink enough water voluntarily.
  • Run lab tests including a chemistry panel, electrolyte panel and urinalysis.
  • Administer intravenous fluids to rehydrate your cat.
  • Give medications like metoclopramide to control vomiting.
  • Treat underlying illness like diabetes or kidney failure.
  • Monitor blood work and hydration status until cat is stable.

Mild dehydration can often be treated with subcutaneous fluids given under the skin at home. More severe dehydration usually requires hospitalization for intravenous fluid administration and monitoring.

Outlook for Dehydrated Cats

With early veterinary treatment, the outlook is promising for dehydrated cats. The prognosis depends on how quickly treatment was initiated and the severity of dehydration.

In mild cases with early treatment, your cat should make a full recovery within 24-48 hours. More severe cases or delay in treatment can lead to kidney damage and may have longer-lasting effects.

To help your cat fully recover:

  • Closely follow your vet’s aftercare instructions.
  • Give prescribed medications and fluids as directed.
  • Help your cat rebuild strength with high-quality nutrition.
  • Keep monitoring water intake and hydration status.
  • Follow up with your vet as recommended for blood work checks.
  • Modify home environment to prevent repeat dehydration episodes.

While kidneys have some ability to repair after rehydration, chronic dehydration can lead to permanent damage. Address any underlying illness and be vigilant about dehydration prevention to help your cat stay healthy.

Dehydration in Kittens

Dehydration can be particularly dangerous for kittens. Kittens already have a higher risk of dehydration because:

  • They have a large surface area compared to their body volume, allowing more fluid loss through the skin.
  • They are often weaned too early from mother’s milk before their kidneys are fully developed.
  • They can become so weak from rapid dehydration that they stop nursing.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases like parasites put them at risk of fluid loss.
  • They may not recognize where to find water to drink.

Kittens can become dehydrated in as little as 12-24 hours without fluids. Due to their small size, kittens need frequent feedings and constant access to fresh water.

Signs of dehydration in kittens include:

  • Wrinkly, tenting skin
  • Sunken eyes or fontanelle (soft spot on head)
  • Dry, tacky gums
  • Weakness or extreme lethargy
  • Not eating or nursing normally
  • Crying or distress

If you notice any signs of dehydration in a kitten, get emergency vet care right away. Dehydration can turn fatal very quickly in kittens. They’ll need fluid administration and temperature support until stabilized. Monitor nursing and hydration vigilantly if caring for orphaned kittens.

Dehydration vs. Overhydration

It’s important to not only watch for signs of dehydration in your cat, but also overhydration. When treating dehydration with supplemental fluids, it’s possible to accidentally over-correct and dilute the blood sodium concentration.

Signs of overhydration include:

  • Excessive vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Unusually moist gums
  • Respiratory distress

Overhydration can lead to dangerously low sodium levels, fluid in the lungs, seizures, coma and even death if not treated. Discuss safe fluid amounts and monitor your cat closely when giving home fluid therapy.

Emergency Tips if a Cat Hasn’t Drunk Water

If you notice your cat is unable or unwilling to drink water, here are some first aid tips until you can see a vet:

  1. Feel the skin over the shoulders to check for tenting as an early dehydration indicator.
  2. Inspect the gums – are they tacky or sticky? Press on them – do they turn white and instantly return to pink?
  3. Check for sunken eyes and excessive sleepiness.
  4. Offer fresh water in a clean bowl every few hours.
  5. Add water to canned food to increase moisture intake.
  6. Try warming chicken or fish broth as an incentive to drink.
  7. Make a slurry of canned food and water for easier lapping.
  8. Dropper or syringe a little filtered water slowly into the mouth.
  9. Keep your cat in a comfortable, safe area with readily accessible water.
  10. Seek emergency vet care if symptoms progress or no improvement after 12-24 hours.

Don’t wait if you suspect serious dehydration – it can be fatal. Get veterinary assessment and treatment right away for the best outcome.


Dehydration is serious for cats and can happen faster than you expect. Check your cat’s hydration status daily for tenting skin and other signs. Make water enticing and effortless to encourage good drinking habits. Address illnesses early and seek emergency vet care at the first sign of dehydration. With prompt care, most dehydrated cats can make a full recovery. Be vigilant about prevention and symptoms to keep your feline friend healthy and hydrated.

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