11 Critical Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs & How to Help

The signs of dehydration in dogs can be very subtle, to extreme and severe. Find out what to watch for and how to help severely dehydrated dogs.

Updated February 13, 2024
Dog drinking water

It's normal for a dog to become a little dehydrated after intense exercise or going out in warm weather, but serious dehydration can potentially be deadly. Here's how to recognize the signs of dehydration in dogs to keep your dogs safe and healthy in any type of weather.

How to Check If a Dog Is Dehydrated

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 quieter than normal or may appear nervous. They may also appear confused and uncertain.

Changes in Energy Level

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

Respiratory Changes

A dog's heart rate will become elevated with dehydration. A rate of 140 beats per minute or more is serious. You may see them panting constantly and have difficulty breathing, have labored breathing, or breathe rapidly.

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, and the gums may look pale or even white

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

  • Sticky drool 

Need to Know

Shock can occur if dehydration continues to worsen.

Skin Changes

Skin may 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 in Dogs

Some other common signs that your dog is dehydrated include:

  • A lack of appetite
  • Appearing disoriented and lack balance when trying to move about
  •  Urine may be dark-colored and have a strong odor, or they may not be able to urinate at all

Related: Summer Safety Tips to Max Out Your Dog's Fun in the Sun

Why Is Dehydration a Problem for Dogs?

When a dog is dehydrated, their body lacks the normal amount of water needed to keep their physical systems working correctly. Sixty percent of a dog's body mass is made up of water, and it's crucial for the normal functioning of the circulatory system.

Dehydration also leads to a loss of important electrolytes needed for the body to function, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Even a seemingly 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.

Related: Heatstroke in Dogs: Signs, Treatment, and Prevention

How Long Can A Dog Live Without Water?

Like humans, dogs can last much longer without food compared to water. A dog can go up to two days without water, but this certainly doesn't mean it's healthy or safe for them. Not to mention, this time frame varies by breed, age, and size, so your dog can potentially last without water for even less than 48 hours.

Need to Know

A dog should drink about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight every day. That means a 50-pound dog should drink 50 ounces or about 1 & 1/2 liters daily.  

If You Think Your Dog Is Dehydrated

According to Registered Veterinary Technician Nellie Hatton, RVT, you should perform a few checks on your dog and their behavior. 

1. Check for an Appetite 

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. Check Their Gum Color

Second, check your dog's gums. Hatton says to, "Lift 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 then your pet is likely dehydrated."

3. See Your Veterinarian

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."

Need to Know

If you're worried your puppy is dehydrated, don't waste any time and bring them to a veterinarian immediately for care. Dehydration is especially dangerous for puppies. 

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. Dehydration may lead to nausea and vomiting, which your veterinarian can help you with. Hatton advises owners who are encouraging their dogs to drink more 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."

Need to Know

High sodium count and any artificial sweeteners can be toxic for dogs, especially when dehydrated.

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 dehydrated 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.

Dogs Should Always Have Access to 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, a dog that is elderly, or one that has medical concerns, is a critical part of helping your dog stay comfortable and healthy. And remember, your veterinarian is your best resource — and should be your go-to if you believe your dog's severely dehydrated.

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11 Critical Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs & How to Help