Problem

What is dog dehydration?

Dehydration in dogs is a common, potentially life-threatening condition. It’s the result of not drinking enough water and electrolytes and/or losing too much fluid. It requires immediate veterinary attention. If left untreated severe dehydration can cause serious organ damage and even death.

What causes dog dehydration?

All dogs are at risk of dehydration if they don’t eat or drink enough. There are various reasons your dog may refuse to drink. It may be a sign of an underlying illness such as heat stroke or a fever. Or it may be that they are simply feeling nauseous, lethargic, or are in pain.

Pets can also dehydrate if they lose a lot of fluid through vomiting, diarrhoea and or panting.

Dehydration can also be caused by your pet passing urine more frequently and in larger volumes than normal. This can happen when dogs are suffering from kidney failure, diabetes and other internal problems.

These conditions also often cause animals to drink more. However, this is usually insufficient to compensate for the large volume of fluid they are losing. It’s vital that you seek veterinary attention if your dog shows any changes in their urination or drinking habits.

Symptoms

What are the signs of dehydration in dogs?

Some symptoms of dehydration in dogs:

  1. Sunken eyes
  2. Dry gums
  3. Lethargy
  4. Weakness
  5. Collapse
  6. Loss of skin elasticity
Image of dog drinking water for Vets Now article on dehydration in dogs
Dogs should be given access to fresh, clean water throughout the day

How to test your dog for dehydration

Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch a little skin on your pet’s back or top of their head. If they are well hydrated, the skin should spring back when you release it. As the skin loses moisture, it will move back into place more slowly until, in the most severe cases of dehydration, it does not spring back at all.Any reduction in elasticity of your pet’s skin is known as a ‘skin tent’. Animals which are emaciated or obese often have mild ‘skin tent’. This does not necessarily mean they are dehydrated. This can be difficult to assess in older animals, those with thick or long hair coats or breeds with excessive skin folds.

Any reduction in elasticity of your pet’s skin is known as a ‘skin tent’. Animals which are emaciated or obese often have mild ‘skin tent’. This does not necessarily mean they are dehydrated. This can be difficult to assess in older animals, those with thick or long-hair coats or breeds with excessive skin folds.

Treatment

How is dehydration in dogs treated?

If you or your vet suspect your dog is dehydrated it’s likely your vet will carry out a full ‘head to toe’ examination. The purpose of this is to establish the severity of the dehydration and also identify the potential cause. The reason may be obvious, such an upset tummy or heat stroke. However, in other cases, you may just feel your pet is ‘not quite right’. It’s likely your vet will recommend some tests, such as blood samples, x-rays and ultrasound scans.

A blood sample is a quick and easy way to clarify the severity of your pet’s dehydration and can help identify a cause and decide what treatment is needed. The blood is usually taken from a vein located in one of your pet’s front legs or a large vein in their neck called the jugular vein. A small patch of fur is often clipped to help the vet find the vein. If the sample is taken from a leg, a small bandage will usually be applied to stop any further bleeding. This bandage can usually be removed within a couple of hours.

The most effective way of treating dehydration is to place the pet on a drip. This will replace any fluids already lost and also prevent any further dehydration.
An alternative method for rehydrating pets is administering fluid under their skin to form a ‘camel shaped’ hump. This fluid is then absorbed over a few hours. However, it’s less effective at correcting dehydration than a drip, and is only suitable for mild dehydration.

Oral rehydration solutions can also be used although these are only of benefit if your pet is still wanting to drink and able to keep the fluid down.
Depending on the symptoms your pet is showing they may also require antibiotics, anti-sickness medications and pain relief. You should discuss the best course of treatment for your pet with your vet.

How long can dogs go without water?

This depends on the size, breed and condition of the dog but, in general terms, even healthy animals will struggle to go more than a few days without water. Dogs with health issues such as kidney disease are at greater risk. Dogs should have access to fresh, clean water throughout the day. As a rule of thumb, they should drink around 50 to 60ml of water per kilogramme of body weight each day.

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