Tonawanda News

August 1, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Recognize dehydration in pets

By Kenny Coogan
The Tonawanda News

— At work our five male naked mole rats had thirteen babies. I guess this means that one of them was incorrectly sexed. The female and babies were separated due to the history of the rest of the colony killing the babies. Who knew naked mole rats could get jealous?

Naked mole rats live in a similar manner to ants. They live underground, dig tunnels and have one queen that has all the offspring. They all have a specific job, including digging tunnels, protecting the entrances from predators and finding food. 

Naked mole rats are from the arid parts of Africa. The foods that they gather are root vegetables. In the wild they acquire their water from their food.

We placed the mother and babies in an enclosure that had bedding, PVC and cardboard tubes, a heat source and food. They get fed a variety of vegetables including carrots, white and sweet potatoes, parsnips and a pelleted herbivore. In the past we never gave them additional water. I asked the veterinarian if we could give the mother some additional water. He said as long as it was the size of a bottle cap. It needed to be shallow enough for the babies not to drown.

In the wild they get enough water content from the foods that they gather, but in captivity maybe a nursing mother cannot. The vet said that many animals that live under human care have trouble getting enough water. 

The nutrient-infused pellets and kibble that we feed to our pets are dense because they have been concentrated. Through the concentration process water evaporates and salt is added to prolong the shelf life. Water allows the body to function properly and by decreasing the water content in our pets’ food our pets are now inclined to become dehydrated.

Every morning as I enter my shower, my cat races me to the bathroom to sit on the edge of the bathtub. As soon as I get out and the water is shut off, he jumps down and starts drinking from the shower head. He behaves as if it was the best-tasting water in the house.

Although I clean his actual water bowl multiple times a day, he still prefers the shower water. I have to clean his water bowl often, because he usually pushes his food into it, making the pellets soggy.

Those of us who have parrots easily recognize this behavior. Parrots are notorious for being messy especially when it comes to their eating habits. My cockatoo shovels as many pellets she can in her beak and walks them over to the water bowl to give them a soak, before she eats them.

Dehydration is an imbalance of water and electrolytes. If you have ever been dehydrated you can recount the fatigue, loss of appetite, dry mouth and possible headache. The same can hold true for our critter companions.

General symptoms for cats and dogs include sunken eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, dry mouth, depression, panting, elevated heart rate and decreased skin elasticity. For parrots regurgitating dry pellets and repeatingly opening their mouth and sticking out their tongue is a sign of dehydration. 

In addition to the hot summer we are having in Western New York, diarrhea and vomiting can also contribute to dehydrated pets. To prevent dehydration clean water bowls daily. Cleaning the bowl will prevent bacteria growth and changing it regularly can make it more appealing for our pets. Observing your pet’s preference and intake can also help. Some may drink more from certain sized bowls or certain types of materials.

Purchasing a water bowl with a weighted bottom will make tipping the water much harder. When traveling or exercising with your pets bring extra water and water bowls. Crushed ice or ice cubes can elicit interaction from your pet and can often turn play into hydration.

Pets that are prone to dehydration include young and elderly animals, pets that are nursing and ones that have serious illness such as kidney disorders or have a hyperthyroid.

Dried food, including the pelleted herbivore that is for naked mole rats, usually includes seven to twelve percent water. This can be compared to wet cat and dog food that can have up to 80% of water. If animals are only given dry kibble, the availability of fresh water is even more pertinent.

If your pets are suffering from extreme dehydration take them to see a veterinarian immediately. They can run tests to see the cause of the situation and give intravenous or subcutaneous fluids.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.