Dehydration in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Dehydration is a common condition that can lead to serious consequences for our pets. Luckily, it’s also a readily avoidable condition. Here are some need-to-know facts about canine dehydration as you head to the hills for a hike in warm weather, or if you find yourself with a sick pup suffering from a GI bug. 

What Is Canine Dehydration? 

Dehydration is defined as excessive loss of water from the body, or insufficient intake of water into the body. The most common way to have extreme water loss is from the gastrointestinal tract due to vomiting and diarrhea.  

What Causes Dehydration in Dogs? 

Water can also be lost if the dog’s ability to concentrate urine and conserve water is disrupted. This isn’t common, but kidney disease and diabetes are two examples of conditions where a dog can become dehydrated despite drinking a normal, or even increased, amount of water. These pets are drinking to keep up with what they are losing through inappropriately diluted urine. This can be life threatening and always warrants a trip to your veterinarian.  

Insufficient water intake is usually due to inadvertently not providing enough water for the pet to drink, often on a warm day. We often think of dehydration in terms of sweating on a summer day, but dogs don’t sweat! Dogs maintain their body temperatures by evaporative cooling just like people, but this takes place over the tongue and mouth. In short, they pant! As air passes over the tongue, saliva evaporates using thermal energy, and the result is a decrease in air temperature. We use the same technique when we sweat, but you might argue having a larger surface area to evaporate from allows us to be more efficient at staying cool than our canine companions. 

What Are the Symptoms of Canine Dehydration? 

Going for long periods of time while dehydrated carries inevitable health risks. A dehydrated dog is often lethargic and weak, with an increased heart rate, and eventually damaged vital organs, if left untreated.  

Identifying that your dog is dehydrated is the first step towards correcting their water deficit. Here are some clinical signs and symptoms you can use to determine their hydration status: 

  • Eyes: a dehydrated dog will often have eyes more sunken in with evidence of a drier eye surface.  
  • Skin: a skin turgor test is a subjective way to assess hydration. Normally, a well hydrated animal’s skin will quickly bounce down when gently pinched or tented upwards. A dehydrated animal’s skin will stay tented upwards or slowly return to normal. This is generally a sign that dehydration is severe. This test can be influenced by the pet’s body condition, skin condition, and age. 
  • Mouth: The gums of a normally hydrated dog will be slick with saliva and moisture. A tacky/sticky or dry mucus membrane is often an indication of dehydration. 

Treating Dehydration in Dogs 

In general, veterinary attention is always advised if you have concerns about your pet’s hydration status, especially if the dehydration is secondary to uncontrolled vomiting and/or diarrhea. Never continue to offer or force a pet to drink water if they are vomiting. This can actually make the problem worse as it continues to trigger more vomiting.  

If there is no vomiting, you can offer your pet small amounts of water frequently to correct dehydration. Never offer unlimited water to a severely dehydrated dog! In extreme cases, dehydrated animals ingesting large amounts of water can cause dangerous imbalances in the animal’s cells causing deadly consequences. Give a tablespoon for smaller dogs, to a fourth of a cup for larger dogs every couple of hours, increasing the volume of water as it is tolerated. 

How to Prevent Canine Dehydration 

Preventing dehydration isn’t difficult in a healthy dog. Avoid the peak hours of heat on hot days and be sure to account for your dog’s water consumption when on hikes and during other activities. Collapsible dog bowls are easy to pack and can be filled with your own water.  

Preventing dehydration in a sick dog can be a little trickier, and often the attention of a veterinarian is crucial. It is advisable to give your dog small amounts of water frequently, if your pet is not vomiting. You may want to potentially withhold water completely for a few hours until vomiting stops, or you are able to seek veterinary care. 

Dehydration can be serious and in some cases life threatening. Thus, taking the steps to protect your dog with pet insurance can help keep your furry companion safe and comfortable.  

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