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Is My Dog Dehydrated?

Like humans, dogs are mostly water. About 70% of their body is water, so remaining hydrated is critical. When your dog becomes dehydrated, it’s a serious issue. The lack of water can affect your dog’s vital organs, including their heart, liver, and kidneys, and, if left unchecked, can be fatal. There are a few signs of dehydration in dogs to look for, from tacky gums to a loss of skin elasticity.

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Signs of dehydration in dogs

When your dog is dehydrated, there are usually a few key indicators. Dog dehydration symptoms may include:

  • Dry nose
  • Dry or sticky gums
  • Thick saliva
  • Excessive drooling
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Lethargy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dark urine

Severe dehydration in dogs may cause more serious symptoms, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive panting
  • Sunken eyes
  • Loss of appetite

These symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can indicate other serious illnesses, such as parvovirus. Identifying dehydration in dogs with vomiting and diarrhea can be done by looking for other key signs, such as a dry nose, thick saliva, or sunken eyes. However, since some of these symptoms may also indicate another condition, it’s best to talk to your vet if you’re unsure.

Causes of dehydration in dogs

Dehydration in dogs can stem from various things, including:

  • Lots of exercise (think a long hike, a few hours of playing in the dog park, or going on a run)
  • Lack of access to water
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Failing to drink enough water
  • Heatstroke
  • Specific diseases and conditions, such as kidney disease or diabetes

If you can't think of a plausible reason why your pup might be dehydrated (such as after a long hike or lack of access to water), contact your veterinarian. Dehydration can also stem from various chronic conditions, like kidney disease and diabetes. Your veterinarian will take a closer look and help you determine whether your pup's dehydration is due to an illness or chronic condition.

Assessing your dog’s hydration level

Determining whether your dog is well-hydrated can be tricky, especially if you don’t know what to look for. Here’s how to tell if a dog is dehydrated:

Skin tent test

Have you ever pinched the skin on your hand to check how hydrated you were? You might notice that your skin remains tented for a few seconds when dehydrated. A dog’s skin also becomes less elastic with dehydration, so when you pinch it, it stays tented.

To test this, gently pull up some loose skin around your dog’s shoulder blades, then release. Your dog is likely dehydrated if the skin remains tented for a few seconds before falling back into place. A well-hydrated dog’s skin should immediately spring back into place. However, it's important to note that there is a caveat, as it can be hard to tell on dogs with wrinkled skin, and senior dogs may lose some of their skin elasticity.

Capillary refill test

A hydrated dog’s gums should return to normal color within a second or two when you press on them. This is called the capillary refill test. If your dog will let you handle their mouth and touch their gums safely, you can do this test at home.

To test your dog’s hydration levels, gently press a finger against their gums and remove it. If the area remains white for more than a second or two, your dog is likely dehydrated.

You may also notice that their gums are sticky when you do this test. Tacky gums are often another sign of dehydration.

Saliva test

When adequately hydrated, your dog’s saliva should be thin and watery. If dehydrated, their saliva will likely be thick and ropey and may stick to their mouth. You may also notice excessive drooling (although some breeds naturally produce more saliva) with thick saliva that doesn’t fall from their mouth but instead hangs from it.

Urine output

If possible, monitor your dog’s water consumption and urine output. This is tricky with dogs that live outside, but if your furry friend lives inside with you, monitor how much water they drink and how many times they need to go outside to go potty. Pay attention to the color of their urine. If it's consistently dark yellow, your pup may be dehydrated.

Generally, dogs and puppies need an ounce of fluids per pound of body weight. So, if your dog weighs 10 pounds, they should consume approximately 10 ounces of water daily. Of course, multiple factors, such as exercise, can affect this number. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re unsure how much water your dog should drink.

Assessing your dog’s hydration level

Treating dehydration in dogs

Dog dehydration can be a scary thing to deal with, especially if you don’t know the best course of action. If you notice your dog is showing signs of dehydration, there are a few things you can do. Some are doable at home; others require the attentive expertise of your vet.

Provide water

If you’re wondering how to treat dehydration in dogs at home, the first step is to offer water. Dogs with mild to moderate dehydration usually drink water if you provide it. So, if you notice signs of dehydration, offer your dog water.

However, some dogs with severe dehydration may not want to drink water, even if it’s cool, fresh, and readily available. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated and they refuse to drink water, call your veterinarian immediately.

Give an electrolyte-enhanced fluid

Just like humans, dogs need electrolytes to function normally and remain healthy. These electrolytes, including minerals such as chloride, potassium, and sodium, help with multiple essential life functions. They help move nutrients to cells, facilitate muscle function, keep the body’s pH level in check, and regulate nerve function.

When your dog becomes dehydrated, they may experience an electrolyte imbalance, which can throw off those functions. In some cases, giving your pup an electrolyte-enhanced fluid can be a good way to restore that balance. However, since too much of an electrolyte-enhanced fluid can be dangerous, it’s important to talk to your vet.

Tell them about your concerns and ask what they recommend for restoring that electrolyte balance. If an electrolyte-enhanced fluid is a good fit for your pup, your vet will let you know how much and what kind to give.

Visit your vet

If your pup isn’t improving, even with water and electrolytes on board, visit your vet as soon as possible.

The same applies if your dog refuses to drink water. This can signify various medical conditions, such as diabetes, a bladder infection, or kidney disease. Severe dehydration may also cause a lack of interest in water intake. On the other hand, some diseases, like diabetes and kidney disease, can trigger thirst in your pet, causing them to drink plenty of water yet still seem dehydrated. If your pup won’t drink water or seems dehydrated despite drinking plenty of water, contact your vet immediately.

Your vet will evaluate your pet and determine the best course of action based on their diagnosis. If there is no known cause for the dehydration, they may look for medical causes of dehydration, such as diabetes or kidney disease. Treating severe dehydration usually involves administering subcutaneous or intravenous fluids.

Subcutaneous fluids

To give subcutaneous fluids, your vet will insert a small needle into the skin between your dog’s shoulder blades and feed the fluids through a tube. These fluids aren't just water, but instead are special fluids your vet carries that are specifically designed for this purpose, so they're the only ones that should be given subcutaneously.

When your pet is ready to go home, there might be a lump in the area. You might even notice that the fluids migrate lower down the body, causing the extremities to look almost swollen. Don’t worry — this is normal. It’s simply the pocket of fluids that your pup will absorb in the next few hours. If it doesn’t go away, contact your vet, but it usually dissipates within a few hours.

Intravenous fluids

If your dog is severely dehydrated, your vet may choose to administer fluids intravenously. In this method, your vet will insert a needle into your dog’s vein and deliver fluids directly into the bloodstream.

The method of choice will depend on your dog’s condition and needs.

Tips to prevent dehydration during dog walks

Preventing dehydration during dog walks (or in general) doesn’t have to be a hassle. It comes down to simple measures you implement into your day, from staying inside during the hottest parts of the day to providing access to fresh water to taking breaks.

Skip the heat of the day

Switch your walk times to suit your pet's needs as the temperature heats up in spring and summer. Take your furry friend for a walk in the morning or the evening when the temperature is more comfortable. Exertion during the day's heat, usually around midday, can be strenuous on your furry friend, so it's best to keep your walks to the cooler hours.

Dogs pant to cool down, dissipating heat by breathing rapidly. However, lots of panting can make it easier to dehydrate, so going on walks during the heat of the day isn’t ideal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t go on an excursion in the middle of the day. For example, you could still go on a hike with your dog, even if the hike is long enough that you’ll still be on the move during the hottest part of the day. In these cases, you’ll need to diligently ensure your pup has plenty of water and stop for rest breaks to help them cool down.

Stay hydrated

Give your pup access to plenty of water throughout the day. Generally, dogs will take the initiative if they’re thirsty and make their way to their water bowl. Giving them constant access to fresh water can help sidestep dehydration and ensure those scary symptoms don’t come knocking at your door. If you're on the move for a hike or a similar excursion, bring along a collapsible water bowl that will fit easily into your pack. If possible, put your pup's water supply in an insulated bottle to keep it nice and chilly.

Stop for breaks

Monitor your pup’s behavior on your walk and take breaks as their body language indicates. If they’re starting to slow down or pant heavily, find some shade and take a break. Give them a few minutes to cool down, and offer some water to ensure they stay hydrated.

Dehydration in puppies

While dehydration in puppies can cause many of the same symptoms as in adult dogs, the culprit behind the dehydration can be different. Puppies are in a vulnerable state of their lives, prone to various illnesses, including a few that can cause dehydration.

A few of these conditions can include:

  • Parvovirus. This serious, life-threatening illness is common in puppies and typically causes vomiting and diarrhea. This can cause dehydration, as both result in significant bodily fluid loss.
  • Intestinal parasites. Puppies are prone to intestinal parasites, especially if they haven’t been dewormed. Those parasites can cause an assortment of symptoms, including dehydration, in your pup.
  • Foreign body ingestion. Puppies are notorious for getting into things they shouldn’t. If your puppy gets into trouble and consumes something they shouldn’t, resulting in a foreign body lodged in their digestive tract, they can become dehydrated. The pain and discomfort may affect their appetite and thirst, leading to severe dehydration if left unchecked.

Preventing dehydration in puppies

Sidestepping dehydration in puppies is much like the process for adult dogs. However, since they’re prone to a few more illnesses that can cause dehydration, there are a few more things you’ll need to think about.

These measures, in addition to those for adult dogs, can help prevent dehydration in your puppy:

  • Vaccinations. Vaccinating your puppy against severe illnesses like parvovirus can do much more than prevent dehydration. Since parvovirus can be life-threatening, a complete set of vaccines could save your puppy’s life.
  • Deworming. Kick those intestinal parasites to the curb with a deworming schedule. Talk to your vet to determine what the best dewormer is for your little buddy.
  • Close monitoring. Watch your puppy carefully when they’re in an area where they could get into trouble. Early detection for foreign body ingestions makes a world of difference, so if you see your puppy swallow something or notice symptoms that could indicate they did, contact your vet immediately.

Given how severe dehydration can be, ensuring your dog is well-hydrated is essential. Learn to recognize the signs of dehydration, including panting, tacky gums, excessive drooling, and thick saliva, and how to address the early signs. As with any medical concern, talk to your veterinarian if your dog’s symptoms persist or worsen or if you don’t know what to do.

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