Dogs normally lose fluid through panting, breathing, urinating, defecating, and evaporation through their paws, and they eat and drink to compensate for these losses. Dogs who lose more water than they drink become dehydrated, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Severe dehydration inhibits sufficient cardiac output, reducing blood circulation through the body, and can lead to multiple organ failure. While all dogs are susceptible to dehydration, puppies, senior dogs, and toy breeds are at increased risk.
What causes dehydration in dogs?
Many issues can lead to dehydration in dogs, including:
- Insufficient water intake — If a dog does not have access to plenty of clean, fresh water, they can get dehydrated. Provide your dog with numerous water bowls throughout your home, and clean and refresh the bowls daily.
- Exercising — Dogs require more water when they exercise, so ensure you take water and a portable water bowl to provide your dog with water when you are on an outing.
- Chronic diarrhea or vomiting — Numerous conditions, such as parvovirus, distemper, food poisoning, and food allergies, can lead to chronic diarrhea and vomiting, which prevents your dog from ingesting enough water to compensate for the lost fluid and leads to dehydration. If your dog has diarrhea or is vomiting for more than 24 hours, they need veterinary care to prevent or treat dehydration.
- Heatstroke — Dogs don’t sweat like people, and they rely on less efficient methods, such as panting, to regulate their body temperature. This puts them at increased risk for heatstroke, which leads to dehydration. Overweight and brachycephalic dogs are at increased risk. Moderate your dog’s exercise on hot, humid days, and never leave them in an enclosed vehicle.
- Chronic illness — Dogs affected by a chronic illness, such as diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, and cancer, are at increased dehydration risk.
- Foreign body obstruction — Some dogs are prone to eating foreign objects, such as rocks, underwear, and socks, that can form a gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction, preventing food and water from passing through. If you know or suspect your dog ate a foreign object, seek immediate veterinary care.
How can I tell if my dog is dehydrated?
The following signs may indicate your dog is dehydrated:
- Lethargy — A dehydrated dog won’t have energy to expend playing, running, and jumping.
- Excessive panting — When dogs pant, air moves across their tongue and oral tissues to cause evaporation, and this helps lower their body temperature. If your dog is excessively panting, they may be overheated or dehydrated.
- Thick saliva — Dog saliva is typically thin and watery, but in a dehydrated dog, their body tries to conserve fluid, causing their saliva to be thick and stringy.
- Dry nose — A healthy dog should have a wet nose, and your dog’s dry nose may indicate they are sick or dehydrated.
- Skin tenting — In a well-hydrated dog, the skin at the back of their neck immediately springs back in place if pinched and released. If your dog is dehydrated, their skin will remain tented over their neck for several seconds.
- Tacky gums — Your dog’s gums should be pink, glistening, and moist to the touch. If their gums are sticky or dry, this indicates dehydration.
- Sunken eyes — If dehydration is severe, the fluid in the fat pads behind the eyes is reduced, and the eyes appear sunken.
What should I do if my dog is dehydrated?
If you think your dog is mildly dehydrated but otherwise normal (i.e., no vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or depression), offer them an ice cube or a small amount of cool water—never a large volume of water, which they may gulp and vomit. Gradually increase the amount of water over the next several hours until they seem rehydrated, and then ensure they have constant access to fresh, clean water.
If your dog seems moderately to severely dehydrated, or they are exhibiting other signs such as vomiting or diarrhea, seek immediate veterinary attention.
How are dehydrated dogs treated?
If your dog has a condition that is contributing to their dehydration, that must be diagnosed and treated first. During the diagnostic process, your veterinarian will administer subcutaneous or intravenous fluids to rehydrate your dog and address electrolyte imbalances.
How can I keep my dog hydrated?
The following tips should help you keep your dog well-hydrated:
- Provide sufficient water — Ensure your dog always has access to fresh, clean water. Provide several water bowls throughout your home, so your dog can always conveniently find water. Clean and refresh their water bowls daily, and wash their bowls with soap and water at least twice a week.
- Carry water — When taking your dog on an outing, carry a water bottle and a portable water bowl and offer them a drink frequently.
- Leave them at home — Unless your dog can accompany you on your errands, leave them at home. Dogs should never be left in an enclosed vehicle, and leaving the window cracked or parking in the shade does not decrease their risk of heatstroke.
- Stay current on preventives — Ensure your dog’s vaccines and parasite prevention medications are up to date.
- Schedule regular wellness checks — Adult dogs should be evaluated by a veterinary professional at least once a year, and senior dogs should be assessed every six months. This helps detect conditions that can predispose your dog to dehydration in the early stages when they are easier to manage.
- Seek veterinary care — Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog has chronic vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or if they have multiple episodes over a few hours.
Dehydration is a concerning issue, but these tips should help you keep your dog well-hydrated. If you think your dog is dehydrated, contact your primary care veterinarian or your nearest Ethos Veterinary Health location.