Dehydration in dogs, which occurs due to an excessive loss of body fluids, is a common and dangerous condition that needs to be immediately addressed. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to serious consequences, including organ failure and death. For this reason, pet parents should learn to recognize the signs of dehydration and how to respond to it with proper dog first aid and veterinary attention.
Dehydration in Dogs is Typically Caused by:
- Not enough intake of food or water
- Overexposure to heat
Along with a loss of water, dehydration also typically involves a loss of electrolytes – minerals such a sodium, chloride and potassium.
Signs of Dehydration in Dogs Include:
- Lack of skin elasticity
- Dry, sticky gums
- Sunken eyes
- Too much or too little urination
- Delay in capillary refill time (the time it takes for your dog’s gum to return to its normal color after you press your finger against it)
How to Determine Dehydration in Dogs
Although it is less accurate than medical testing from your veterinarian, a quick at-home physical examination to test the elasticity of your dog’s skin can help tell you if your dog is dehydrated. To check, do the following:
Gently pull up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. If the skin does not immediately spring back to its normal position (within 1 or 2 seconds), your dog is dehydrated and needs immediate attention. The longer it takes for the skin to return to its normal position, the more severe the dehydration.
Be aware that if your dog is older it will be more difficult to accurately perform this test, since older dogs naturally lose some of their skin elasticity.
Accurately determining dehydration in dogs via the skin test is also difficult in overly skinny (malnourished) or obese dogs. The skin of malnourished dogs, like the skin of older dogs, loses some of its elasticity.
Determining the level of dehydration is also difficult in obese dogs, since excessive skin fat can cause the skin to return to normal even if the dog is dehydrated. In such instances, check for dehydration by feeling your dog’s gums to see if they are dry and sticky. If so, then your dog is probably dehydrated.
Bear in mind that even if your pet’s skin snaps back to normal immediately, he may still be dehydrated. This is because even pets that are dehydrated will have skin that immediately snaps back to normal if the pet is less than 5 percent dehydrated. The higher the level of dehydration, the more pronounced will be the symptoms.
What You Should do for Dehydration in Dogs
As mentioned above, dehydration in dogs is serious and if left untreated can be fatal. Therefore, it needs to be addressed immediately. If you suspect that your dog is dehydrated, do not attempt to treat him at home, as it is unlikely he will be able to drink enough water to correct the situation. The best course of action is to immediately take your dog to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic for diagnosis and treatment.
Your veterinarian will determine the level of your dog’s dehydration and the volume of fluids needed to re-hydrate him. Fluids will then most likely be administered either subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously for greatest efficiency.
Your veterinarian will typically also ask you questions about your dog’s recent eating and drinking habits and physical symptoms, as well as perform a physical examination and laboratory tests to determine the level of your dog’s dehydration, as well as the cause of the dehydration.
Once again, do not attempt to treat a dehydrated dog at home. If you suspect that your dog is dehydrated, be safe and take him to your veterinarian.
If he is not vomiting, you could also try giving him Pedialyte®, an electrolyte-replacement drink made for infants, which is also safe for dogs. This should not, however, replace bringing your dog to the veterinarian for prompt medical treatment.
To avoid dehydration, always make sure that your dog has plenty of clean, fresh water available and that he eats and drinks normally.
If your dog is ill or injured, monitor him closely to make sure he is drinking enough water to replenish fluids lost due to vomiting, diarrhea or fever. Also be aware that excess fluids are lost as a result of excessive panting or severe drooling. In cases of drooling, the dog’s gums may feel moist, even though he is dehydrated.
After your dog has been re-hydrated, it is essential that your veterinarian perform the proper examinations and tests to determine the underlying cause. Only by doing so can you ensure that your pet is healthy and avoid repeated dehydration.
Again, dehydration in dogs is a serious condition that requires prompt attention by a veterinary profession. Do not take chances with your dog’s life. If at any time you suspect that your dog might be dehydrated, immediately bring him to your veterinarian for diagnoses and treatment.