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How to Spot Signs of Dehydration in My Dog

The nicer weather is upon us, and while most dog owners are aware of the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars, they aren’t always so aware of the signs of dehydration in dogs that can occur for various other reasons.

What is Dehydration and Why is it a Problem for Dogs?Learn To Spot Dehydration In Your Dog

Most of us will be able to grapple back to secondary school science and understand, basically, that dehydration is what happens when a body is losing more fluid than it is taking in. It’s exactly the same principle for dogs.

In humans, we are quite familiar with the signs. Our mouths feel dry, we’re thirsty, and ultimately we’ll get a headache. We need fluids, and good amounts of them. It’s precisely the same for our dogs.

It’s what’s going on behind the scenes that we really need to understand.

Water is vital for a range of functions including temperature regulation, lubricating joints, carrying nutrients to where they are needed, eliminating waste and much more.

Dogs, like humans, both lose and gain water throughout the day. They lose water through breathing, urinating, defecating, panting and to some degree, evaporation.

A dog with easy access to water and a balanced diet, on a normal day, and in normal health, will have no problems with dehydration.

The problem comes when your dog, through activity, heat exposure, or ill health, is using more water than they are taking in. This results in a loss of important electrolytes and dehydration occurs, which at best will leave your dog very uncomfortable, and at worst can lead to kidney and other organ failure.

Signs of Dehydration in Dogs

Therefore, it’s important to be on the look-out for signs of dehydration in dogs. You need to be looking for dog-specific signs, not thinking about the human signs of dehydration which you are familiar with.

Catch dehydration early, by spotting the signs, and it can be dealt with rapidly before it becomes a significant problem. You need to look out for:

  • Panting more than usual
  • Lethargy and lowered energy levels
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sunken eyes which look drier than usual
  • Dry nose accompanied with dry or tacky-feeling gums
  • Reduced skin elasticity

As well as visual cues, you can gently pinch your dog’s skin. In a well-hydrated dog, the skin will spring back quickly. In a dehydrated dog, the skin will take longer to return to normal.

Do this anyway at a time when you know your dog is healthy and well-hydrated and then you’ll have a baseline to refer to.

Why Might a Dog Become Dehydrated?

The cause is always a lack of water. Why there is a lack of water can be due to various factors:

  • A shortage of drinking water appropriate to weather and activity levels: has your dog had plenty of access to fresh and clean water all day?
  • The dog is unwell: dehydration can be a symptom of vomiting and diarrhoea illnesses or more serious conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease.

It’s important to be aware that certain dogs are at particular risk of dehydration. These include nursing dogs with a litter, young and old dogs, and some toy breeds.

What to do if You Suspect Your Dog is Dehydrated

If you’ve spotted the signs of dehydration, what should you do?

In mild cases, the effects of dehydration can quickly and easily be reversed by offering your dog some water to lap up. This should be your first port of call.

However, if the signs of dehydration are more marked, or the reason behind the dehydration is illness or heatstroke (more than mild dehydration due to heat and activity), then you should take your dog along to the vet for a check-up immediately.

Their treatment will depend on why your dog is dehydrated, but they will look to work with the underlying cause.

How to Prevent Dehydration in Dogs

The simplest thing you can do to prevent dehydration in your dog is to ensure they have regular, and preferably constant, access to fresh, clean water. Your vet can advise on the amount of water your dog should be drinking as a matter of course.

This means it is worth having a portable bowl and bottle of tap water with you on longer walks, or in the car if you go out for shorter walks. Also make sure they have an appropriate and balanced diet. If you’re in doubt, then pay a visit to the vet.

It’s also important to consider dehydration when it comes to how your dog is cared for when you’re not with them. This includes when they are being looked after by a 3rd party while you’re at work, or away from the house.  

You need to ensure that you use a reputable dog day care where your dog will have plenty of access to water, including on walks where necessary. If you choose to use a dog walker, make sure that part of their responsibility is also checking and, if necessary, refilling water bowls.

At The Wag Club we ensure all dogs in our care, both at day care and as part of our dog walking service, have access to fresh, clean water. To arrange responsible care for your dog call our Muswell Hill branch on 020 8365 2226 or our West Hampstead branch on 020 7435 4111.