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Dehydration in Dog: Causes, Symptoms, treatment

Dehydration in Dog: Causes, Symptoms, treatment

What is Dehydration?
When the water level in the body is insufficient, the body compensates by drawing water out of its cells. This results in a loss of electrolytes, such as potassium, chloride, and sodium, and can affect many of the body’s systems, including muscle function. Severe dehydration can cause illness, and can eventually lead to death if left untreated. Treatment can be as simple as giving your dog access to clean water, or undergoing fluid therapy in a clinic, and is often successful if caught in time.


Dehydration is a loss of water that is beyond what the body takes in, causing the water level in a dog’s body to drop below normal. There are many ways a dog can lose water from his body, such as panting, vomiting, fever, and a decreased intake of water or food. Often, an underlying condition or illness will cause the dog to lose his appetite, thirst or energy level, which then leads to a state of dehydration.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs
Symptoms that your dog may be dehydrated include:

  • Panting excessively
  • Fast breathing that is short and staccato-like
  • Dry nose, mouth, and gums
  • Sticky mucous membranes
  • Tired and sluggish appearance
  • Slowed activity level and responses
  • Apprehensive behavior
  • Dulled mental activity
  • Altered consciousness level
  • Sunken or dry eyes
  • Dull corneas
  • Lack of skin elasticity
  • White gums that linger when pressed
  • Loss of balance
  • Wobbly walk
  • Weak rear end
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weak pulse
  • Heart rate above 140
  • Decrease in urine output
  • Dark urine
  • Increase in urine odor
  • Hypovolemic shock, or shock occurring from fluid loss

Causes of Dehydration in Dogs
Dehydration is caused by:

  • Decrease or lack of food intake
  • Decrease or lack of water intake
  • Excessive panting or breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Perspiration through paws and other body areas
  • Illness, such as kidney disease, diabetes and some cancers
    Injury, such as burns

Some dogs that are more prone to dehydration include:
Young dogs
Small breeds, such as Chihuahuas
Older dogs
Nursing dogs

Diagnosis of Dehydration in Dogs
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from dehydration, use the skin test. Skin becomes less elastic when moisture levels are low. By lifting a small piece of skin on your dog’s back, you can test its elasticity. When released, if the skin falls back slowly into place, instead of snapping back within 1-2 seconds, then your dog may be dehydrated. Another test is to press a finger to your dog’s gums until that area turns white. When released, that area should turn right back to pink. If it takes longer, your dog may be suffering from dehydration.

At your veterinary clinic, a thorough exam may help to determine if your dog is truly dehydrated. Your veterinarian will also determine if there is an underlying condition causing your pet to avoid food or water intake, or the dehydration itself. Be sure to tell your veterinary caregiver of any symptoms that you have noticed, as well as any other odd or different behaviors. Blood samples may be taken and tested. A urinalysis may be done to determine the effect of the dehydration on the kidneys. Other tests may be used that are specific to a suspected condition that may be at fault, and can range from X-rays and CT scans, to tissue and fluid samples.

Treatment of Dehydration in Dogs
The main treatment for dehydration is to give your dog the fluids he needs. First, your veterinarian will calculate how much fluid your dog has lost in order to prescribe the appropriate amount of fluid therapy.

Mild dehydration can be treated with access to clean water, and your dog will often drink on his own. But acute moderate to severe dehydration can debilitate your dog, and he may not be able to easily drink on his own.

Fluid therapy is generally administered slowly through injection, either subcutaneously or intravenously. An IV is the most efficient method to rehydrate. This will need to be done in a clinic with a catheter, and is closely monitored. Fluid taken in too quickly can have negative results.

Dehydration left untreated can cause shock, illness, and can even result in death. If an underlying condition or illness has been found that has contributed to the dehydration, a treatment plan will be constructed with your veterinarian that is appropriate to that condition.

Recovery of Dehydration in Dogs
Recovery of dehydration has a good prognosis if treated soon enough. If you notice signs of dehydration in your dog, slowly give him water with electrolytes to drink. If he can’t hold any water down, give him some ice to lick. If he stops drinking altogether, contact your veterinarian right away. To prevent dehydration in your dog, be sure that there is always available water for your dog to drink. Prevent your dog from drinking too much all at once after exercise. And be aware of the signs of dehydration, and your dog’s behavior.

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