A closer look: Increased or Excessive Thirst (Polydipsia) in Cats
Polydipsia is caused by disruptions to any of the systems involved in thirst and urine production. These include:
- Thirst center (the part of the brain that controls thirst)
- Endocrine system, including the hypothalamus and pituitary glands
- Circulatory system
- Respiratory system
Cats’ consumption of water varies day to day. In cases where medically relevant increased thirst is suspected, measuring consumption is advised. Drinking in excess of 100 ml/kg (~1.5oz/lb) is the characteristic sign of polydipsia.
Note: Limiting the amount of water consumed by the cat is not advised. Polydipsia is typically a compensatory behavior that helps the cat cope with an underlying illness. Limiting access to water can worsen conditions, making the cat sicker. In extreme cases, limiting access to water is fatal.
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Polydipsia is common in cats. The amount of water a cat drinks varies from day to day, depending on activity level, the weather, and a number of other factors. In cases where the typical volume is noticeably exceeded for several days in a row, prompt veterinary attention is required. If other symptoms occur at the same time, including fever, changes in behavior, or refusal to eat, immediate care is required.
Polydipsia is most common in older cats or obese cats, but any cat consistently drinking noticeably more than usual requires veterinary attention.
Testing and diagnosis
In cases where the cat is drinking noticeably more than usual, the first step is to determine how much water is being consumed. Measuring the quantity of water that goes into the water bowl, and keeping a record of daily consumption is advised. Noting other reasons the water may be disappearing (other pets or spillage, for example) is also useful.
If the amount being consumed is more than 100 milliliters per kilogram of body weight over a number of days, veterinary care is required to diagnose underlying conditions.
Diagnostic tools include:
- Physical examination
- Blood test
- Diagnostic imaging, such as X-ray or ultrasound
- Specific testing for hormone-related diseases
In some cases, diagnosis of the underlying cause may require multiple tests, or therapeutic trials where the response to a medication is used to rule out certain conditions.
Treatment depends on underlying conditions and may include:
- Dietary management
- Medications, such as steroids, antibiotics, or diuretics
- Reducing or discontinuing use of drugs that are causing side effects
It is possible to mistake polydipsia for normal water consumption, especially if the cat is more active than usual or if the weather is hot.
Often, a cat with polydipsia also has polyuria (excessive urination). Other associated symptoms depend on underlying causes.