Understanding & Treating Dehydration in Dogs

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Dehydration in dogs is a serious condition that should never be ignored — especially considering a dog's body is made up of 60 to 70% water, according to Veterian Key.

Dehydration occurs when a dog's body loses more water than it takes in, and there isn't enough water in the dog's blood stream. When this happens, electrolytes in the body become unbalanced, which negatively impact the ability of muscles and internal organs to function normally. Read on to learn more about how to tell if your dog is dehydrated and how to keep your dog from getting dehydrated.

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Dehydrated

Border collie drinking water from the fountain outdoors.Believe it or not — there are subtle clues that your dog might be dehydrated. One of the classic ways of checking for hydration in dogs is by gently pulling up on the skin located on the nape of the dog's neck and then letting the skin go. If the skin quickly bounces back down flat, then the dog is hydrated. If the skin stayed tented up or flattens out slowly, then your dog could be dehydrated.

One concern with the skin tenting test is that by the time a dehydrated dog has tented skin, they are so dehydrated that internal organs may already be experiencing damage. A sign of milder dehydration you may be able to detect is checking their gums. If their gums feel dry and tacky, this commonly indicates that they are slightly dehydrated. Also, keep in mind that skin tenting may not work as well in older dogs or dogs with hormonal conditions that impact skin elasticity.

Other clinical signs of dehydration in dogs include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive tiredness or dull mentation
  • Wobbling when getting up or walking
  • Gums that appear dark red or pale
  • Sunken, dull eyes

If you notice any of these signs and think your dog is sick or dehydrated, call your veterinarian immediately and prep to bring them into the vet quickly. Dehydration is a serious condition that should be treated by a professional as soon as possible.

Treatment for Dehydration in Dogs

Treatment of dehydration in dogs depends on how severely a dog is dehydrated. Mild dehydration in dogs that are drinking adequately can be remedied by offering small amounts water. If your dog is vomiting or can't hold water down, offer your dog some ice chips, and call your vet for advice. Your vet will likely want you to bring your dog in for examination.

Moderate to severe dehydration is treated by fluid therapy, either subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously. This is done carefully under the supervision of a vet, because if you rehydrate a dog too quickly or give them too many fluids at once, it can cause additional health problems.

Golden retriever having water squirted ito his mouth by human with water bottle.If dehydration is due to an underlying condition, then that condition needs to be treated or the dehydration will likely return. Any environmental or health condition that impacts the balance of water in a dog's body can cause dehydration. Dehydration in dogs may be caused by vomiting, diarrhea, liver and kidney disease, fever, not eating or drinking enough and hormonal conditions like diabetes mellitus. Because there are so many possible underlying conditions, the advice of your vet is especially important.

If your vet suspects an underlying condition, additional tests, such as blood work, urinalysis or imaging studies like X-ray or abdominal ultrasound may be recommended. These tests will help your vet determine the cause of your pup's dehydration and help them decide on the best treatment plan for your pet.

Dehydration can cause damage to internal organs, so if you notice any signs of dehydration in your dog, offer them small amounts of water and call your vet as soon as possible. Depending on the underlying cause and appropriate treatment, prognosis is usually good for recovery from dehydration.

Preventing Dog Dehydration

Fortunately, if you provide continuous access to clean water, a healthy dog will drink as much as they need to stay hydrated without any intervention on your part. Offering plenty of clean water is also important to help your dog stay cool on hot summer days as heat stroke can also lead to dehydration. When the temperature is on the warmer side, make sure to always have clean water available for your dog to drink from. So, if you decide to go to the dog park or take a walk around the neighborhood, make sure to bring a water bottle and something for your dog to drink out of. If your dog refuses to drink water after playing in the warm sun, monitor their behavior. If they look sluggish or withdrawn, make sure to contact your veterinarian right away as these can be signs of heat exhaustion.

Ensuring Proper Water Intake

In general, dogs should drink about an ounce of water per pound of their body weight on a daily basis. If your dog weighs 20 pounds, then your dog should drink roughly 20 fluid ounces every day; if your dog weights 50 pounds, your dog should drink roughly 50 fluid ounces, and so on and so forth. With certain conditions, like diabetes and kidney disease, a dog can drink a lot of water and still be dehydrated. If you notice your dog is suddenly drinking more than usual, it's time to talk to your vet to make sure there are no underlying health conditions.

While dehydration in dogs can be life-threatening, if you know what to look for, then you can catch dehydration before it becomes a big problem. Then you can enlist the help of your friendly neighborhood vet to prevent dehydration from causing further problems for your furry friend.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well-known international speaker in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications.. Dr. Wooten has spoken in the veterinary education space for 5 years, and speaks on leadership, client communication, and personal development. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. In addition to being a speaker, author, veterinarian, and co-creator of the wildly popular card game 'Vets Against Insanity', she co-owns Elevated Eateries Restaurant group in Greeley with her husband of 22 years, and together they are raising 3 slightly feral mini-humans. When it is time to play, she can be found skiing in Colorado or diving with sharks in the Caribbean.

Go big...or go home. To learn more, visit drsarahwooten.com.