It’s important to keep a watchful eye on your dog’’s hydration levels. Dehydration in dogs can lead to a host of health problems and even become life-threatening if untreated.
But what causes dehydration in dogs? And how can you tell your dog is dehydrated?
Below we’ll walk you through signs and symptoms of dehydration in dogs, common causes, and how to prevent and treat dehydration in dogs at home.
What Causes Dehydration In Dogs?
In the same way that you or I can become dehydrated for a variety of reasons, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what causes dehydration in dogs.
However, here are some of the most common culprits to consider if you suspect your dog might be dehydrated:
This is the obvious one: your dog might not be drinking enough water! To meet his daily hydration needs, it’s recommended that your dog drink 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day.
That means a 50-pound dog should drink around 50 ounces of water daily. Just remember this rule of thumb can vary depending on your dog’s activity level, diet, and environment. For example, on hotter or more active days, it’s probably good to aim for a bit more water intake.
If your dog isn’t drinking enough, it could be due to a lack of available water, a dislike for the water source, or simply forgetting to drink. If you can, give your dog filtered or spring water, not tap water that contains harmful chemicals like chlorine and fluoride.
RELATED: Is fluoride bad for dogs?
Illness Or Injury
Another reason to keep an eye on your dog’s water intake is because dehydration can sometimes be a symptom of other illnesses or injuries. For example, dehydration in dogs can sometimes be caused by illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes, or parvo.
Also, other common symptoms of illness, like vomiting and diarrhea, can quickly deplete your dog’s hydration levels. That’s why it’s important to monitor your dog’s water intake and seek veterinary care if you notice any signs of dehydration.
Excessive Heat Or Exercise
Dogs are active creatures who love to play and run … but too much exercise without enough water, especially on a hot day, can cause dehydration in dogs. Some dogs get so excited by play that they forget to stop and drink.
If your dog’s been overdoing it in terms of excessive heat or exercise, it’s likely he’ll exhibit other symptoms like overheating and panting. These are signs that you should make sure to give him plenty of water to ensure he recovers and stays healthy.
Signs And Symptoms Of Dehydration In Dogs
Now that we know the causes of dehydration in dogs, how can you tell if your dog is dehydrated?
Below are a few of the most common symptoms of dehydration in dogs that you can keep an eye out for. Just remember that your dog’s dehydration symptoms might vary depending on how severe it is.
Lethargy And Weakness
One thing to look out for is a lack of energy and enthusiasm. A dehydrated dog may appear weak, lethargic, and have little energy. So if your dog seems to be sluggish or uninterested in play, it’s time to investigate further.
Loss Of Appetite
Another red flag is when your dog starts to refuse meals. This could mean he’s not feeling well and might be experiencing dehydration. If your dog loses interest in even his favorite treats, it’s a pretty sure sign that he’s not feeling his best and could be dehydrated.
If he’s dehydrated, it’s not just your dog’s behavior that changes. You might also notice physical symptoms. One thing to watch out for is the appearance of sunken and dull eyes.
Dry Nose And Mouth
It’s common for dehydrated dogs to have dry noses and mouths due to lack of fluids. Just like humans, dogs rely on hydration to keep their noses and mouths moist, so if he’s not getting enough fluids, your dog’s nose and mouth can become dry and even cracked.
Dehydration can also cause your dog’s saliva to become thicker than usual. When dogs don’t get enough fluids, their bodies can’t produce enough saliva to keep their mouths moist. The result? Thick, sticky drool. So if you notice your pup’s saliva becoming unusually thick, it’s time to offer him plenty of fresh water.
Dark Yellow Urine
Dark yellow urine is a clear indication that your dog is not getting enough water. Just like in humans, concentrated urine that appears darker in color likely means your dog is running low on his water intake.
How To Test Your Dog For Dehydration
There’s are a couple of simple tests you can do yourself to see if your dog’s dehydrated.
- Pinch together the loose skin on the back of his neck. If the skin doesn’t immediately pop back into place but seems to stick together a bit, your dog is showing signs of dehydration.
- Check your dog’s gums. If they seem sticky or tacky, your dog is probably dehydrated. You can also press your finger against the gums. When you remove your finger, watch the little white patch your finger leaves to see how quickly it turns pink again. That’s called the capillary refill rate. In a healthy dog, it will go back to pink almost immediately, but it’ll take longer if your dog’s dehydrated.
How To Prevent Dehydration In Dogs
Dehydration is a simple problem, but it can have big health consequences, especially if your dog is consistently dehydrated. It’s best to stop dehydration in its tracks as early as possible to prevent it from causing other health issues.
Here are a few strategies to prevent dehydration in dogs:
Keep Fresh Water Available
It may sound obvious, but we’ve all been guilty of forgetting to refresh our dogs’ water bowl from time to time… Making sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times will make him much more likely to stay hydrated. Changing the water and washing the bowl out frequently to keep your dog’s water supply clean and fresh can also help incentivize your dog to drink more water. Again, give your dog filtered or spring water rather than straight tap water.
Encourage Water Drinking
If you notice that your dog isn’t drinking enough water, there are a few things you can do to encourage him to stay hydrated. One simple trick is to add a small amount of broth (preferably homemade or low sodium) to his water bowl, or water from a can of salmon or tuna. The savory flavor can entice even the pickiest of drinkers, and the added electrolytes can help keep your dog hydrated.
You can also try offering ice cubes as a treat. Many dogs love the crunch of ice cubes and will happily slurp them up, getting a little extra hydration in the process.
Exposure to direct sunlight and high temperatures can quickly lead to dehydration and overheating. So if your dog is headed outside for some extended playtime, it’s important to make sure he has access to shade and a cool area to rest.
If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, you could consider investing in a cooling mat or bed. These specially designed beds use gel technology to keep your pup’s body temperature down, even on the hottest days.
Limit Exercise On Hot Weather Days
Exercising is important for your dog’s health and happiness, but you want to limit playtime when the temperature climbs. During the hottest part of the day, reduce exercise and outdoor playtime to avoid overheating and dehydration.
Instead, opt for early morning or late evening walks at cooler temperatures. And remember to never leave your dog in a car on a hot day, even for a few minutes. Even with the windows cracked, cars quickly heat up to dangerous levels, putting your dog at risk of heat stroke and dehydration.
RELATED: Can dogs get heat stroke?
How To Treat Dehydration In Dogs At Home
Sometimes hot weather can’t be avoided. Or maybe your dog just loves to exercise… Either way, there might be times where you simply can’t prevent a bit of dehydration.
Luckily, as long as it’s just an occasional and mild case, treating dehydration in dogs at home is relatively simple. If you suspect your dog might be dehydrated, here are some steps you can take to treat him at home:
- Give Small, Frequent Amounts Of Water
If your dog is dehydrated, it can be better to give him small amounts of water frequently to help rehydrate. If he’s not interested in drinking, you can use a syringe or dropper. Just remember to go slow to prevent choking.
- Feed Moisture-Rich Food
Raw food naturally contains a lot of water, which can help keep your dog hydrated and provide him with essential nutrients. If your dog’s eating kibble, you can try giving some canned food which contains much more water. You can also try adding a small amount of water to your dog’s dry food.
- Monitor Your Dog’s Progress
Keep a close eye on your dog’s hydration levels and monitor his progress. Keep track of how much water he’s drinking and how often he’s peeing. If your dog doesn’t seem to be improving or is showing signs of severe dehydration, it’s time to call your vet.
What To Do About Severe Dehydration In Dogs
Severe dehydration in dogs requires immediate veterinary attention. If your dog is experiencing severe dehydration, he may need intravenous or subcutaneous (sub-Q) fluids to rehydrate his body quickly.
Note: Intravenous fluids should only be given by your vet. But if your vet thinks sub-Q fluids are sufficient, she can give you a kit to take home, and teach you how to give the fluids to your dog.
Your vet can also perform diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s dehydration. This way, you can manage any underlying health conditions or illnesses that may be contributing to your dog’s dehydration.
In some cases of severe dehydration in dogs, hospitalization might be necessary to monitor your dog’s hydration levels and ensure he’s receiving the necessary treatment and care.
Bottom Line | Dehydration In Dogs
Dehydration is a risk we all have to navigate. By monitoring your dog’s hydration levels, providing access to fresh water and shade, and seeking veterinary care when necessary, you can prevent and treat dehydration in dogs.
Just remember that dehydration in dogs can be life-threatening if untreated … so if you suspect your dog is chronically or severely dehydrated, book a visit with your vet.
Goucher TK, Hartzell AM, et al. Evaluation of skin turgor and capillary refill time as predictors of dehydration in exercising dogs. Am J Vet Res. 2019 Feb;80(2):123-128