How to Check Your Dog for Dehydration and Other Canine Water Tips


Indoor/Outdoor Water Bowl
Photo via orvis.com

Summer brings with it opportunities for joyous time outdoors with your beloved family members, including your dog. Hopefully, during these lively adventures, your furry, four-legged friend makes frequent pit stops at her water bowl, because without enough water, she’s at risk of dehydration. The condition can vary from mild to severe, at which point it’s a medical emergency—her organs can shut down without immediate treatment.

Read on to learn the signs of dehydration in dogs, how to check your dog for the condition, what to do if she shows symptoms, and how to get her to drink enough water to prevent dehydration.

What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration?

Know the symptoms of dehydration and keep a watchful eye on your dog, especially when she’s running around in the heat, isn’t drinking enough water, or has lost fluids due to an illness. Signs of dehydration in dogs include:

  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Panting
  • Dry or sticky gums
  • Thickened saliva
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry nose
  • Lethargy

How to Check Your Dog for Dehydration

If you suspect your dog is dehydrated or she’s on the way to becoming dehydrated, the following methods can help clarify the situation and inform your next steps.

1. The skin elasticity test.

Gather and lift a section of the skin by your dog’s shoulder blades and then release. In a well-hydrated dog, the skin will immediately fall back into place. When your dog is dehydrated, the skin will take time to return to its normal position. (Note: It’s helpful to do this test when your dog is hydrated to familiarize yourself with her skin’s normal response.)

2. The gum test.

Carefully insert a finger under your dog’s upper lip and slide your finger along her gums. Are they slick and wet, or dry and sticky? The latter is a sign of dehydration. Additionally, check your dog’s capillary refill time by pressing your finger against her gums and pulling it away. It will be white for a moment and then return to pink as it refills with blood. In a dehydrated dog, the white spot will take longer to return to pink. Check capillary refill time when your dog isn’t dehydrated so you’ll have a baseline for comparison.

3. The visual test.

Look at your dog. Are her eyes sunken and dry? Is her nose dry? While a dry nose is not always a sign of illness, combined with other symptoms it can indicate dehydration.

If your dog shows any of these signs of dehydration, take her to the veterinarian immediately.

How to Treat a Dehydrated Dog

If your veterinarian confirms dehydration, the most common treatment is intravenous fluids to replenish your dog’s fluids and balance her electrolytes; she may have to stay in the hospital for a night or two while she receives them.

Your vet will also check for any underlying conditions that could be causing the dehydration, and provide the necessary treatment for any illnesses discovered.

In very mild cases of dehydration—or when the conditions that cause dehydration are present—offer your dog fresh, cool water. Don’t let her guzzle too much at once, as this can cause vomiting and worsen the condition. You should also contact your veterinarian, who may recommend giving your dog electrolytes, such as unflavored Pedialyte, in the correct quantity for her body weight.

How to Prevent Dehydration in Dogs

Dehydration prevention is your best strategy at home. Here’s how to help keep your dog hydrated:

  • Offer plenty of fresh, clean water.
  • Keep dog bowls filled with water in multiple locations.
  • Keep water bowls in the yard, especially when it’s hot.
  • Carry water and a travel water bowl with you when away from the house.
  • Clean your dog’s water bowl daily, to prevent the buildup of bacteria.
  • Avoid exercising your dog in the heat.
  • In excessive heat, keep your dog in cool conditions and out of direct sunlight.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea.

Can a Dog Get Dehydrated on a Cool Day?

Yes. People often mistakenly believe dogs can’t get dehydrated or heat stroke in winter or on cool days, but both conditions are possible every day of the year. While the risk of dehydration is elevated in summer when temperatures are high and dogs lose fluids through panting, dehydration is still possible on cool days. Vigorous exercise, bouts of vomiting or diarrhea, and canine illnesses that cause fever, excessive urination, or loss of interest in eating and drinking can contribute to dehydration no matter the weather.

Can a Dog Drink Cold Water?

You may think “the colder the better” when giving your dog water, especially on a hot day. But while an iced beverage refreshes you on a steamy summer day, cool water (rather than cold or iced) is safest for your best friend. Cold water can drop your dog’s temperature too rapidly, which can complicate heat stroke or heat exhaustion symptoms—better never to take the risk.

What to Do When Your Dog Is Dehydrated but Won’t Drink

Illness and even the symptoms of dehydration can make your dog slow to drink water, or make her stop altogether. Dehydration can also dampen your dog’s appetite for her food. She may find wet food more tempting, and it will provide at least some fluids for her. Additionally, individual dogs may not drink as much water as others. Thankfully, you can take steps to encourage your dog to drink more water.

How to Make Your Dog Drink More Water

You can’t (and shouldn’t) force your dog to drink water. You can, however, encourage her to drink more water with these tips:

  • Keep her dog bowl clean
  • Keep the water fresh
  • Position water bowls near where your dog spends most of her time (i.e., near her dog bed, in the living room, in the kitchen)
  • Offer ice cubes
  • Flavor her water with chicken or beef broth to make it tastier

If you have a puppy who doesn’t stop playing and exploring long enough to drink water, use positive reinforcement by giving her treats and praise each time she drinks water for a few days. Soon enough she’ll make a habit of stopping when she’s thirsty.

How Much Water Should a Dog Drink?

In general, dogs should drink one ounce of water per pound of bodyweight every day. So a 55-pound dog should drink 55 ounces of water each day. This amount of water will vary, of course, based on environmental conditions (excessive heat, dry air), illness, and exercise. Encourage your dog to drink a bit more water than usual on very hot days, or during vigorous exercise. When your dog is ill or on medication, talk to her veterinarian about the right approach to hydration.

Observe your dog’s water intake and frequency of visits to the water bowl for a few days when she is healthy, so you’ll notice any changes, should they occur.

Can Dogs Drink Too Much Water?

Yes. (A word of caution here—never minimize your dog’s access to water unless directed by your veterinarian.) Some illnesses and medications can make your dog excessively thirsty, and these require medical attention. This is yet another reason to familiarize yourself with your dog’s water-drinking habits when she is healthy.

Illnesses and medications that can cause excessive thirst include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Any illness causing vomiting or diarrhea
  • Heart medications
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Seizure medications

If your dog suffers from any of these conditions or takes these medications, talk with your veterinarian about healthy water intake. Also, ask your veterinarian to clarify the symptoms that indicate a true emergency.

To recap: Keep your dog’s water bowl clean and filled with fresh water throughout the year; take extra care to lead your dog to water during excessive heat and prolonged or vigorous exercise; and know the signs and causes of dehydration in dogs.

With an ounce of prevention (and an understanding of the cure) your dog will stay hydrated and healthy—and you can help her if she ever becomes dehydrated.

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