Dog Dehydration: Understanding the Signs, Symptoms and Prevention

dog hydration
Maggie Davies

As we head to longer and warmer days, those dreams of Spring and Summer strolls in the sun will soon become a reality. But as the temperatures begin to rise across the British Isles, there is no time like the present to understand the importance of ensuring your dog stays hydrated – no matter what the weather.

Just like us humans, our dogs require water to maintain proper organ functions and without it – the effects can be fatal. Helping to support muscle growth, liver, and brain function, to name a few, water is more essential than any other vitamin, protein, or mineral they consume. With weight a key factor in the amount of water your dog needs to consume, this article aims to provide you will all the information you need to ensure your dog stays healthy, happy and hydrated.

What is Dehydration?

Canine dehydration is a result of the body ultimately losing more fluid than it takes in. Water is a vital part of the way your dog’s body functions and without it, the body begins to slowly lose its ability to function as it such effecting major organs which can lead to fatal consequences.

As our dog’s eat and drink, they compensate for water lost through daily routines like urinating, pooping and moisture lost in panting and through their paws. However, important electrolytes are lost during these processes and if they are not regularly maintained through food and water consumption then that is when dehydration occurs.

Unlike us humans, dogs don’t sweat which aids in our body’s cooling process. For dogs, they maintain their temperature orally and this process actually occurs in the tongue and mouth which is why you tend to see dog’s panting when they are warm. Their temperature’s decrease as air passes through their mouth and salvia is evaporated – just like what happens to us when we sweat. However, as our surface area is much larger than our dog’s -this process allows us to cooler much more effectively than our furry friends.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Canine Dehydration?

Spotting dehydration early in our dog is fundamental to keeping them happy and healthy. As hotter days are just around the corner and many of us opting for longer walks and even trips to the beach, there is no time like the present to understand how to identify dehydration in your dog.

According to the Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club, signs of dehydration may include:

  • Reduced energy levels or lethargy
  • Dry/warm nose
  • Dry, sticks gums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting with and without diarrhoea
  • Panting
  • Dry and sunken eyes

Your dog’s urine can also be a key indicator of dehydration. If it is a darker hue of yellow and evener strong in smell than usual, it is likely your dog is dehydration so provide them with increased fresh, clean water and at more regular intervals.

How to Test for Dehydration

Unfortunately, our dogs cannot simply tell us when they are dehydrated and needing water, so it is up to us as responsible pet owners to provide our pets with clean, fresh water on a regular basis. During warmer months or particularly with dogs with thicker coats, testing for dehydration can help prevent any unnecessary harm to your four-legged friend.

One common test recommended by veterinarians is the skin tent test. This involves pulling a small amount of your dog’s skin (usually between the shoulder blades) and then releasing. Just like us, skin elasticity can change with dehydration and thus your dog’s skin should bounce back immediately if they are hydrated. If is takes a little time for your dog’s skin to bounce back, then give them access to fresh water immediately.

Another test that can be used to indicate if your dog is dehydrated is through your dog’s gums. Dry and sticky to touch gums indicate a need for water. Also, you can check their gums for capillary refill time. Simply press their gum line which should turn white and then instantly pink again. If this process takes some time, it indicates that your dog is dehydrated and requires water.

Common Causes of Dehydration in Dogs

Canine Dehydration is an excessive loss of water in the body often caused by insufficient consumption or gastrointestinal problems (such as vomiting or diarrhoea). Insufficient water consumption is usually caused by a lack of water provided by an owner (particularly on days where temperatures are hotter than usual).

One of the main causes of dehydration, particularly during the warmer months of the year is heatstroke. This is when dog’s are exposed to temperatures of 41C – often by being left in hot cars or spending too much time in direct sunlight. Overweight dogs and those who are brachycephalic (short muzzled/flat-faced such as pugs and French bulldogs) are more prone to heatstroke so ensure they stay at home or in cool areas during times of intense heat.

Vomiting & Diarrhoea

If your dog experiences any tummy troubles such as gastroenteritis, fluid is lost from vomiting and diarrhoea and thus dehydration can occur if electrolytes and fluid is not replaced. Often your vet will recommend a course of treatment if they believe your dog is extremely dehydrated after a period of gastrointestinal upset.

Chronic Illness

There are also some illnesses that can inevitably lead to dehydration in your dog. Chronic illnesses in your dog such as Cushing’s Disease and Diabetes, can often become dehydrated even with the illness causing increased water consumption.


If your dog suffers with any illness that increases the likelihood of dehydration, it is vital to always have water readily available and feed them a wet diet which is higher in water content than dried kibble to increase their consumption of fluids.

Prevention & Management of Dehydration

No matter what time of year, it is vital to always keep your pet cool and hydrated. As one of the main causes of dehydration, a lack of access to fresh water is something that can be easily prevented. Feeding times may differ between size, breed, age or even the household routine for some dogs but access to water should always be constant and managed.

dog dehydration

Maintain a Regular Water Supply

Ensure your dog has fresh, clean water every single day and dependent on how much your dog drinks – this should be replenished when quantity is low. Never continue to top up stagnant water as this can often lead to tummy upset in your canine companion. For dogs who are lucky enough to sleep upstairs with their humans, place a bowl of clean, fresh water on either the landing or bathroom so your dog have access to water in the major places they relax and feel comfortable.

Does your dog tip or scoop water out of their bowl? Try investing in non-slip or weighted bowls that prevent excessive spilling meaning there’s no excuse they can’t have a tasty drink at the ready.

Encourage Water After Exercise or Play

For active breeds or those with thick, dense coats – overheating usually occurs after episodes of intense play or exercise. During long walks or trips to the park for fetch – carry water with you at all times if you far from home or out for longer periods of time. If you are lucky enough to live close to your dog’s favourite exercise spot then encourage a drink as soon as your dog enters the home as this can help start the cooling process without the need of excessive panting and drooling.

Keep Them Cool

One of the most important factors to remember during the warmer seasons is always keeping your dog cool. Avoiding taking your dog for a walk between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its hottest. Provide shaded areas in gardens and outdoors if you plan on taking your dog out and about in the sun.

Seek Veterinary Advice

If you believe your dog is suffering from any of the dehydration symptoms mentioned above and isn’t retaining any fluids, it is vital to seek veterinary advice immediately. Any prolonged gastrointestinal upset, lethargy and even confusion can be indicators you dog has severe dehydration and needs care immediately.

Dogs will be given IV fluids to support their recovery and discuss with you ways of preventing dehydration in the future.

Avoid Dehydration in Dogs

Dehydration is a doggy dilemma we can all help prevent. With the major causes being insufficient access to fluids – ensuring your dog’s bowl is heaped with H20 is the best way of preventing the symptoms mentioned earlier.

Unable to communicate when they are too hot and thirsty, be sure to keep an eye on dehydration symptoms, particularly excessive panting, and dry noses, as these are initial indicators your dog is desperate for a drink. Using both the skin and gum test can also help identify dehydration and if you believe your dog is dehydrated more than usual – always seek support and guidance from your vet.

So, with Spring and Summer just around the corner, keep your dog happy and healthy with access to water at all times of the day.

(Article source: Soopa Pets)

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