We all know when we feel thirsty and need a drink, but would you know if your dog was dehydrated? Dehydration in dogs is a common and potentially fatal problem that all owners must be aware of.
Dog dehydration is not something to take lightly. Severely dehydrated dogs need emergency care from a vet, and in the worst cases, death can occur as a result.
What is Dehydration in Dogs?
Dehydration occurs when the body does not have as much water as it needs to properly function. All mammals need water to keep their bodies functioning, and dogs are no exception to this rule. The body requires water to carry out several basic physiologic processes, including breathing, perspiration, and urination. Water is also needed for the production of feces, lubrication of joints, protection of organs, and carrying nutrients to the cells. Essentially, water is necessary for all of the body’s processes, and without it, the body cannot function.
Because water is so vital for the body, a lack of water leads to many uncomfortable and distressing symptoms. The hallmarks of dehydration include headaches, loss of appetite, decreased urine volume, tiredness, and increased thirst. These symptoms become increasingly severe as more water is lost. A total body water loss between 1 and 2% is considered as mild dehydration. In some cases, severe dehydration leads to seizures and respiratory arrest.
Signs of Dehydration in Dogs
Dogs can’t tell us when they’re thirsty, so knowing the signs of dehydration is important for keeping your pooch happy and healthy. Furthermore, dehydration is a symptom of many dangerous conditions like heat stroke and antifreeze poisoning. Being able to spot dehydration is a key skill you will need as a responsible pet owner. The symptoms of dehydration in dogs include:
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargic behavior
- Sunken eyes
- Dry nose
- Sticky gums
- Thick saliva
- Darker urine
What Causes Dehydration in Dogs?
Just like in humans, dehydration in dogs is caused by a lot of different conditions. If your dog frequently vomits or has severe constipation, diarrhea, dehydration is a likely result. In addition, playing under the scorching sun without enough water can quickly lead to severe dehydration. Lesser-known causes of dehydration are medical problems like kidney disease.
Humans lose heat by sweating – as our sweat evaporates, we quickly cool down. We can also wear loose-fitting clothing if we choose to. Dogs, however, only have sweat glands in their nose and pads. Panting works fairly well for a short amount of time but it uses up too much water. As a result, dogs struggle to efficiently lose heat when their body temperature increases, leading to heatstroke.
The signs of heat stroke include dehydration, heavy panting and drooling, difficulty balancing, vomiting, twitching, and collapse. Your pet’s temperature is a solid indicator of heat stroke; a temperature of 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit is normal for cats and dogs, so any temperature above this range indicates that there is a problem. A temperature above 106 degrees can damage your dog’s internal organs, so never wait until your pet’s temperature exceeds this point to act.
Vomiting and diarrhea are the primary causes of dehydration in dogs. Acute vomiting and diarrhea are caused by the ingestion of toxins, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and heat stroke. As far as diarrhea is concerned, there are two types – small intestinal and large intestinal. Small intestinal diarrhea is very loose and watery. Large intestinal diarrhea is softer and sometimes encases in mucus.
Prolonged bouts of vomiting and diarrhea can cause the body to lose more water than it takes in. This water is lost quickly and in large quantities, and because these conditions can cause a dog to feel unwell, they may not want to eat or drink after the bout. Whilst it’s important that your dog doesn’t eat or drink large amounts after vomiting or having diarrhea, it’s also important to re-introduce fluids in small amounts to prevent dehydration.
The kidneys have several functions that are critical to the maintenance of your dog’s health. When kidney dysfunction occurs, a dog’s health is severely compromised. Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a term used to describe any damage to the kidneys, whether it be a mild disease or acute renal failure (ARF). The most common causes of AKI are a combination of dehydration and infection. When dehydration occurs, blood flow to the kidneys is reduced. Dehydration is a hallmark characteristic of kidney diseases, whether it be the cause or a symptom.
Some cancers are known to cause dehydration. Intestinal cancer causes symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Vomiting and diarrhea, when prolonged, can quickly lead to severe dehydration in dogs. The same can be said for liver cancer, which also comes with polydipsia, the term used for excessive thirst. In addition, dehydration is a common side effect of many cancer treatments. As in humans with cancer, radiation and chemotherapy are used to treat it; fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea are leading causes of dehydration as a result. These treatments. while obviously beneficial to your pet in the long run, can still increase the need for IV hydration due to their increased need for fluids.
Dog Dehydration Test
As a responsible owner, it’s important that you are aware of how to check your furry friend for dehydration. The two easiest tests can be done at home. These are the skin elasticity test and the capillary refill time test. While these tests are not always accurate, they can still offer valuable insight into your pup’s condition.
Skin Elasticity Test
Skin turgor refers to the elasticity of skin. When you pinch your skin, it should spring back into its normal place within a second or two. If you have poor skin turgor, it means it takes longer for the skin to spring back to its usual position. This is usually due to dehydration, although age and breed can also be a factor. Checking for lack of skin elasticity is one of the easiest and most non-invasive ways to diagnose dehydration. However, it is not always possible for owners to conduct at home – a highly defensive or aggressive dog may not allow the interaction. In these cases, it’s best to ask for veterinary help to prevent injury to yourself and your pet.
To test with this method, gently hold the skin between your dog’s shoulder blades, raise it up, then let it go. If your pup is well-hydrated, the skin should spring back into place instantly. A dehydrated dog’s skin will take longer to fall back into its place. It’s a good idea to test your dog’s skin when you’re certain they are hydrated so that you have a base for what their skin should look like. This is especially important for wrinkly breeds such as Bulldogs and Pugs.
Capillary refill time (CRT) is the amount of time it takes for color to return to a capillary bed after pressure is applied to it. In animals, CRT is investigated by pressing on the gums as other areas are covered with fur or are inaccessible. In a well-hydrated dog, the gums will appear white for one or two seconds before returning to their normal pink color. Prolonged CRT indicates shock and dehydration.
While taking a dog’s CRT is helpful for assessing emergencies, the capillary refill time test cannot be used as a universal diagnostic tool. Capillary refill time is affected by other external factors such as ambient temperature. In addition, some breeds naturally have dark or black gums, making it more difficult to accurately gauge CRT. Furthermore, some dogs are uncomfortable with their mouth being handled and will not allow a CRT test to be taken. If you suspect dehydration and cannot evaluate your pet by yourself, always ask your vet for assistance to ensure that your pet gets the help they need.
How to Rehydrate a Dog
While the most obvious solution is to provide enough water, sometimes water alone isn’t enough to stay cool. Other options include ice cubes, frozen treats, and wet food. In severe and chronic cases, your pup is best off going to the vet for more vigorous treatment.
Offer Plenty of Cool Water
Prevention is the best policy. In warm weather, it’s vital that you provide your pooch with plenty of cool water. This will help to prevent heat stroke and dehydration. Place several bowls of cool water around the house so that your pup has easy access to enough water. If you go out to the dog park, bring a portable bowl or some bottled water to ensure that you’re equipped for emergencies.
If your dog is mildly dehydrated, offer small sips of water every few minutes. It’s important that your dog doesn’t drink too much water in one serving. Offering your dog too much water in one go can cause vomiting, potentially exacerbating the dehydration. Water intoxication is a rare but potentially fatal complication. Symptoms of water intoxication include lethargy, bloating, vomiting, loss of coordination, and seizures.
Call Your Vet
If your dog is struggling with shock, heat stroke, or severe dehydration, they will need immediate veterinary attention. Your vet is likely to request that you bring your dog into the practice. At the practice, the vet can re-hydrate your pup with intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. Since severe dehydration is a symptom of an underlying problem, your vet may want to conduct further examinations to diagnose and treat your dog.
If your vet suspects dehydration, they will likely carry out a complete physical examination. The purpose of this is to determine just how dehydrated your pet is, as well as helping to identify any obvious causes. Taking a blood sample is a quick way to clarify how severe the dehydration is and can help to determine the cause. The blood sample is typically taken from a vein in the foreleg or the neck.
If your dog is reluctant to drink enough water, wet food can help to provide a little extra moisture. Wet pet food contains between 75 and 78% moisture. This type of food can be easier to digest than dry kibble and increases the amount of water taken in by a dog each day. In contrast, dry kibble contains 5 to 10% moisture. In order to digest drier foods, a dog’s body has to give up some moisture of its own to soften the food.
If your dog struggles with dehydration due to a chronic condition, your vet might recommend sticking with wet foods as they inherently contain more moisture. Or, alternatively, dry food can be soaked in water. Cancer can affect every step of a dog’s digestive process. The disease and its methods of treatment can cause a lack of saliva and the development of mouth ulcers. Diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are all side effects that can lead to dehydration. As such, your vet might recommend an easy to digest and soft meal for your pet to maintain hydration.
Electrolytes are minerals in the body that carry an electric charge. Common electrolytes in the body include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. These minerals are found in the blood, urine, tissues, and other bodily fluids. In addition, they help to balance the amount of water in the body. While humans can quickly lose electrolytes through sweat, it is more common for dogs to experience electrolyte imbalance as a result of a disease. Most commonly, diseases of the kidneys, parathyroid glands, and even diabetes can cause abnormalities in phosphate excretion.
Although they are made with electrolytes, sports drinks for humans are formulated with too much sugar to be healthy for dogs. In addition, unlike humans, dogs sweat more water than salts, meaning that introducing more through human electrolyte formulas could result in sodium ion poisoning. As such, it’s best for a vet to administer an electrolyte formula if your pet needs it, or sticking to a specially-formulated dog electrolyte product. You should administer electrolytes only with your vet’s guidance.
In warmer weather, ice cubes can be a great way to quickly cool your pooch down. You can place ice cubes in your pup’s water, offer them as a cool treat, or crush them up to make them easier to consume. For smaller dogs, it’s best to crush the ice cubes up to prevent tooth damages. If you provide your dog with ice cubes, be mindful of your dog’s ability to chew on them safely.
No one can deny the appeal of a homemade frozen treat. Your pup feels the heat of summer too, and they deserve a fun and tasty way to cool off! To help prevent dehydration and heat stroke, consider making frozen yogurt, frozen peanut butter or frozen chicken broth treats. A frozen Kong is another popular option for hot dogs. Fill your dog’s Kong toy with kibble and add some peanut butter to the opening. Not only is this a tasty and refreshing treat, but it also keeps your pooch mentally stimulated.
Preventing Dehydration in Dogs
When it comes to dehydration, prevention is the best policy. As a responsible owner, it’s up to you to make sure that your pup has everything they need, especially water. If you are unable to frequently re-fill your dog’s bowls, an automatic watering system can be a great help.
Fresh Supply of Water
The best way to prevent dehydration is to offer your dog enough fresh water. Your dog needs access to water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Always ensure that your dog’s water is fresh and clean. According to some experts, your dog should drink 30ml (around one ounce) of water per pound of body weight. If your dog weighs 60 pounds, they should drink 60 ounces each day.
There are some situations wherein a dog will need more water than normal. For example, nursing dogs need more water to stay properly hydrated. As a general rule, lactating females need three to four times more water than she would normally drink. In addition, a dog who frequently exercises will need more water to replace fluids lost through panting and sweating.
Just because you provide enough fresh water for your dog, it doesn’t mean that they won’t try to drink from unsafe sources. Ingesting the wrong type of water can cause health problems. Due to a lack of water circulation, stagnant ponds and lakes harbor pathogenic bacteria, algae, and parasites. To keep toilets sanitary, many are treated with cleaners and bleach that can be harmful to pets. Ocean water contains a lot of sodium which can lead to dehydration if consumed in large amounts.
Automatic Watering Systems
Implementing automatic watering systems allows unrestricted access to clean, hygienic water for your pet when you’re away. Most dispensers have a large capacity that can provide water for over a week. If you opt to use an automatic watering system, it’s still important that you regularly check the system for any mold or algae and clean it as necessary.
During hot weather, the last thing you want to do is exercise in the sun. The same goes for your dog! Even the most active dogs should take a break from running and playing. On hot days, you should walk your dog throughout the cooler times of the day, ideally in the early morning and late evening. During this time, it’s important that you watch your pet for signs of over-heating, including heavy panting and lethargy. If you spot these signs, stop immediately, find a shady spot, and provide plenty of cool water.
If it’s too hot for a walk, you can keep your dog mentally stimulated by refreshing their basic training and teaching them new tricks. Be sure to stick with tricks that aren’t too physically taxing!
Dehydration in Dogs – FAQs
Got any more questions or concerns about dehydration in dogs? Our Frequently Asked Questions section will have all the tips and tricks you need to know. As always, if you are concerned about your dog’s health, always contact your vet for advice.
What are Signs of Dehydration in Dogs?
The signs of dehydration in dogs include loss of appetite, vomiting, panting, sunken eyes, and a dry nose. Symptoms of dehydration can be very subtle in the beginning, so it’s vital that you monitor your dog during hot weather and during treatment for certain conditions.
Urine color says a lot about how hydrated an animal is. Generally speaking, the lighter the color, the more hydrated a dog is. This is because, when dehydration occurs, the kidneys tell the body to retain water. Therefore, less water is allowed into the urine, causing it to become much more concentrated. This gives the urine its darker appearance.
Feel your dog’s gums – a well-hydrated dog will have smooth, pink gums that refill quickly when pressure is applied to them. If your dog’s gums are a little dry and a little sticky, take it as an indicator that dehydration could be setting in. When the gums are completely dry and slow to refill, your pet is dangerously dehydrated.
How do you Hydrate a Dog that Won't Drink?
If your dog refuses to drink water, you should contact your vet immediately. A significant decrease in thirst is characteristic of illnesses such as diabetes and kidney disease. A refusal to drink can also be caused by an injury near to or inside of the mouth. In any case, your vet will need to diagnose your dog accurately in order to treat the underlying problem.
Whilst you wait for your appointment, there are a few steps you can take to help your dog. Most dogs can’t resist the flavor of a tasty chicken or beef broth. Just remember to keep garlic and onion out of the recipe. To add to this, you can also try seedless watermelon, which contains a substantial amount of water. Wet food is another option, but be sure to make the transition gradually rather than completely replacing your pup’s daily meal in one go.
How Long Does it Take for a Dog to Recover from Dehydration?
The time it takes for a dog to recover from dehydration depends on how dehydrated the dog is. If dehydration is not treated, it will last indefinitely and can result in death. Dogs can survive for up to three days without drinking water. It’s important to note that three days is the maximum and even three days is pushing it – by three days, a dog will suffer from uncomfortable and distressing symptoms of dehydration.
Recovery time will also depend on the cause of the dehydration – oftentimes, the underlying cause must be addressed to prevent further dehydration from occurring. Fortunately, mild cases of dehydration can be treated quickly, often within one day if enough water is provided.
How do you Re-hydrate a Dog with Diarrhea?
Some dogs won’t drink enough to rehydrate themselves after a bout of diarrhea, so it’s important that you take steps to help them replenish their fluids however you can. Try offering ice cubes, crushed ice, or even a bowl of chicken broth to entice your dog to drink. In addition, you can try offering a bland diet of boiled chicken and white rice whilst your dog’s intestinal lining recovers.
Even if you think you can treat your pup’s diarrhea at home, your dog should go to the vet if they have diarrhea for more than 48 hours. If your dog acts sick along with diarrhea or has a fever, take them to the vet immediately. Learn more about Imodium for dogs.
Dehydration in dogs is a common and potentially fatal problem. As a responsible owner, it is your role to ensure that your pet is getting enough food and water, and to monitor for signs of ill health. If your dog shows signs of dehydration, take them to your vet as soon as possible.