Guide to Dehydration in Dogs

Published May 29, 2019
thirsty dog in desert

It's normal for a dog to become a little dehydrated after intense exercise or going out in warm weather, but serious dehydration can be potentially deadly. All dog owners should be able to recognize the signs of dehydration to keep their dogs safe and healthy in all weather.

Why Is Dehydration a Problem for Dogs?

When a dog is dehydrated, his body is lacking in the normal amount of water needed to keep his physical systems working correctly. Sixty percent of a dog's body mass is made up of water, and it's crucial for normal functioning of the circulatory system in particular. Dehydration also leads to a loss of important electrolytes needed for the body to function, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. A small loss of only 10 to 15% of the water in a dog's body can cause serious illness, failure of the kidneys and other organs, and death.

How Long Can A Dog Live Without Water?

A dog should drink about one ounce of water per pound of body weight every day. Like humans, dogs can last much longer without food compared to water. A dog can only go up to two days without water. This time frame varies by breed and size, so your dog can potentially last without water for even less than 48 hours.

Signs of Dehydration in Dogs

Dogs that are dehydrated will display a set of common symptoms. You'll need to observe their behavior and check each of these areas for signs of dehydration.

Dog drinking from a water bottle

Changes in Behavior

Dehydrated dogs may appear shyer than normal or nervous. They may also appear confused and uncertain.

Changes in Energy Level

A dog that is dehydrated will appear lethargic and weak. His responses to you and his environment may seem dull and even unresponsive.

Respiratory Changes

A dog's heart rate will be come elevated and a rate of 140 or more is serious. You may see him panting constantly and have difficult, labored breathing or rapid breaths.

Changes to the Eyes, Face, and Mouth

Common signs of dehydration found on the dog's head include:

  • Sunken, dull eyes

  • Gums that appear dry and feel sticky to the touch instead of smooth and moist. Gums may look pale or even white.

  • Other areas of the mouth may feel dry as well as the nose

Skin Changes

Another very common feature to dehydration is changes to a dog's skin. The skin will lose its elasticity and will not return to normal if tugged on. You can check for this by "tenting" their skin to see how it responds.

Other Signs of Dehydration

Some other common signs that your dog is dehydrated include a lack of appetite. He may appear disoriented and lack balance if he tries to move about. His urine may be dark-colored and have a strong odor, or he may not be able to urinate at all. Finally, shock can occur if dehydration continues to worsen.

What To Do If Your Dog is Dehydrated

According to Registered Veterinary Technician Nellie Hatton, you should perform a few checks of your dog and his behavior:

  1. First, have you noticed if, "he hasn't finished his normal amount out of his food bowl, or, you haven't filled his bowl like you regularly do" which indicates a lack of appetite.

  2. Second, check the dog's gums. Hatton says to, "Life up the lip on your dog gently and with your finger touch the gums over the teeth on the top jaw. A hydrated pet would feel slick and wet. A dog that is not critically dehydrated but could use hydration would be slimy but slightly sticky. If they are super sticky or dry than your pet is likely dehydrated."

  3. She advises dog owners to get to a veterinarian immediately if their dog is critically dehydrated, and this may also include "other clinical signs such as vomiting or diarrhea which are very visible signs of fluid loss in a pet."

How to Get a Dog to Drink Water

It may not be as easy to get a dehydrated dog to drink as just giving them a bowl of water. Hatton advises owners to try using low-sodium chicken or beef broth mixed in a solution that's half water and half broth. You can also try Pedialyte, but she recommends "staying away from anything with added dyes, and most dogs do not really enjoy fruity flavors." If the pet is critically dehydrated and vomiting, Hatton urges owners do "NPO (nothing per os/mouth) and get the dog to a veterinarian for immediate attention."

Puppy drinking water

Keep Water Amounts Small

When rehydrating a dog, make sure that you take care to keep the amounts they drink small. Too much water given too fast can actually make them sicker and lead to vomiting and further dehydration. You can also give him ice cubes to chew on.

Dehydration and Other Health Problems

A dog can become hydrated due to intense heat and lack of access to water. However, it's also linked to several serious health problems including kidney disease, diabetes, Addison's disease, parvovirus and poisoning. Any illnesses that lead to chronic vomiting and diarrhea can also lead to dehydration such as intestinal parasites and viral or bacterial infections.

Make Sure Your Dog Gets Plenty of Water

It's important to monitor your dog's regular water intake. It doesn't take long for a dog to begin to suffer serious symptoms without water. Knowing the signs of dehydration, especially if you live in a hot climate or have a brachycephalic dog or a dog that is elderly or has medical concerns is a critical facet of being a responsible dog owner.

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Guide to Dehydration in Dogs