dog dehydration

Key takeaway

Dehydration is a shortage of fluid in the body caused by lack of water intake, excessive fluid loss or a combination of both. A healthy dog can experience dehydration from not getting enough to drink. However, there are medical conditions that lead to chronic dehydration. A vet can recommend treatment for these.

When it comes to your dog’s nutrition, there’s nothing more important than water. A canine can live for a while without carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins, but your best friend won’t last long without hydration. Good old H2O is even more crucial than the love and affection you give.

That’s why it’s important to prevent dehydration in dogs, to recognize it when you see it, and to know what to do about it.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration is a dangerous reduction in the amount of water in the body. It happens when animals (or humans) lose more fluids than they take in, which. results in the body not having enough liquid to perform its normal daily functions. If dogs lose fluids through urination and perspiration and don’t replace them, they will become dehydrated.

People may recognize when they’re dehydrated and get something to drink. Dogs can’t tell you about dehydration, at least not in words, and they may not be able to get a drink for themselves.

Dogs continuously lose water through panting, sweating through their paws, and waste elimination. Dogs that fail to replace this are at risk, even if their water level gets as little as 10 to 15 percent too low.  If you don’t attend to the problem, they may suffer organ damage and even die.

dogs continuously lose water through panting, sweating through their paws, and waste elimination

Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

Your dog won’t speak up and say, “Hey, friend, I think I’m getting dehydrated,” but there are a number of signs that they need water. Among the first signals are panting, lethargy, and a general lack of energy. Just like you, they lose their edge if they haven’t been getting enough to drink. Unlike you, their nose should be moist. A dry nose is an indication of possible dehydration. In severe cases, a dehydrated dog may have sunken and dry-looking eyes.

If you suspect dehydration, there are two quick ways to tell if a dog is dehydrated. The first checks for loss of elasticity in the skin. To test, lift the skin on the dog’s back between the shoulders. Release it, and it should drop back into its normal position immediately. If it doesn’t, the dog is probably low on fluids.

The second test involves the gums. Gently press on the gums until the pressure of your finger produces a light spot. When you remove your finger, the natural color should come back right away. Also, the gums should be moist and slick. If the gums are dry and sticky, this is a condition called xerostomia and is a sign of dehydration. The dog’s saliva will probably be thick and pasty as well.

A healthy dog may become dehydrated simply from not drinking enough on a warm day. Some dogs, however, have conditions that may lead to chronic dehydration. In these cases, signs of dehydration in dogs include loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as urinating frequently and in large volumes.

Common Causes of Dehydration in Dogs

There are a number of reasons dogs become dehydrated, and all of them involve a reduction in fluid intake, an increase in fluid loss or some combination of the two. The most common reason for dehydration in an otherwise healthy dog is simply not drinking enough on a particular day.

On the other hand, there are health reasons why dogs may be losing more fluid than they can easily replace. An example is any kind of illness or fever that causes diarrhea or vomiting. There is also chronic water loss caused by conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism. Some medications produce more frequent urination and can be dehydrating.

There are also situations in which dogs drink less than they need. There may be a loss of appetite due to illness or chronic medical conditions. A less obvious reason might be dental issues. If the dog’s teeth hurt when they drink, they’ll be less inclined to do so. And there are those circumstances where there simply isn’t enough water available to them. For example, the other dog in the household (or even the cat!) may be polishing off the water bowl and not leaving any for the less assertive dog.

Another more serious cause of dehydration is heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s internal temperature gets high enough to cause organ damage, possibly death, and is a medical emergency. You need to take steps immediately to cool the animal and call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency care center right away.

dog drinking water

Treatment of Dehydration in Dogs

If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, you should consult your veterinarian immediately.

If the case of dehydration is a mild one, there are steps you can take to rectify the problem until you’re able to get your dog to your vet’s office. Offer your dog a drink of water every few minutes or give them pieces of ice to lick. 

Don’t try to force a lot of water all at once. This could induce vomiting and make the dehydration problem even worse than it was. You can also give the animal an electrolyte replacement fluid, but only do so with your vet’s approval. 

If the dog is suffering from shock, heat stroke or severe dehydration, it’s imperative to act immediately. Symptoms of heatstroke include panting, rapid heart rate, drooling, glassy eyes, vomiting and diarrhea. There can even be seizures. If you have a rectal thermometer available, check for a body temperature greater than 104 degrees.

symptoms of heatstroke include panting, rapid heart rate, drooling, glassy eyes, vomiting and diarrhea.

If there’s heatstroke, call your vet immediately. They may advise you to offer small amounts of water on the way to the clinic. Or they may recommend that you begin emergency cool-down procedures. For example, to move the dog to a shady spot or indoors and submerge the animal in cool water. Don’t use cold water; it can constrict the blood vessels. Alternatively, apply cold, wet towels to their chest, neck and head. You might be tempted to spray them with the garden hose, but don’t do it. On a hot day, the water inside may be hot as well. Give the dog water that’s cool but not cold. Ice cubes are OK. Get them to a vet as quickly as possible once you’ve started to cool them down.

Once the dog is in the veterinary office, your veterinarian may rehydrate them with intravenous fluids.

If your pet is suffering from chronic dehydration, you need to discuss a treatment plan with your vet. They will recommend a course of action depending on the cause of the hydration and the dog’s age and medical history.

Dehydration in Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

How much water does my dog need?

The typical requirement is one daily ounce of water for each pound of the animal’s body weight. So a 30-pound dog should get almost two pounds (or two pints) of water each day. To track how much your dog is drinking, make a note of the high point and low point of water in the water bowl each time you refill it.

If your dog is especially active or is outside in warm weather, the water requirement may be higher. Discuss the specifics of your pet’s fluid needs with your veterinarian.

Are certain dogs more prone to dehydration?

All dogs are at risk if they don’t drink enough. That being said, dehydration is more likely in dogs that are old, sick or pregnant.

How can I prevent dehydration in my dog?

The most important thing you can do is to always have plenty of clean, fresh water available. Place a bowl where the dog can get water any time they want. Change the water frequently so that it stays fresh. Clean the bowl every day. Some dogs are clumsy (as any cat will tell you!) and can knock over or spill a water bowl. Use a bowl that’s designed not to tip or spill.

If you go on outings with your pet, or simply spend a lot or time outdoors, carry a portable bowl. When you get a drink for yourself, get one for your buddy as well.

Please keep the toilet lid closed. That water is neither clean nor fresh.

To prevent diseases and chronic conditions that lead to dehydration, keep your animal as healthy as possible. Maintain your regular vet appointments and follow their recommendations. Make sure vaccinations are up to date. Don’t let the animal eat old food or garbage. Ask your vet what you should do to prevent parasitic infections and other causes of disease and dehydration.

 if you suspect your dog is dehydrated, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Final Notes

If your dog suffers from chronic dehydration due to a medical condition, it can be difficult to get them to the vet to establish and to carry out their treatment plan. Veterinary clinics are busy and it’s often difficult to get a timely appointment. Fortunately, there’s another way.

Dutch-affiliated veterinarians can evaluate your pet online and send treatment plans and even prescription medications directly to your home. Dutch was established by pet parents like you and by board-certified veterinarians who looked at today’s pet treatment and decided there might be a better way.

How does it work? Just visit Dutch online for an initial consultation. Dutch vets will tell you if your dog is a good candidate for online treatment. If so, they’ll develop a customized treatment plan for your animal. They’ll send treatment instructions and medications to your home address. You’ll establish an ongoing relationship with Dutch-affiliated vets.

Dutch works with local veterinarians throughout the United States. For issues that can’t be handled remotely, they’ll recommend that you visit a local treatment facility.

Dutch provides true ongoing veterinary care from qualified doctors. They have the experience and expertise to help you keep your best friend healthy.