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10 Common Signs of Dehydration in Dogs

Kathryn Copeland

June 20, 2021

Dehydration is a dangerous condition for any living creature that relies on water to survive. Water is an essential substance that keeps the body healthy and functioning normally. Dehydration can actually lead to kidney damage and failure, loss of consciousness, and eventually death, so it’s vital that your dog always has access to fresh water.

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Causes of Dehydration

Dogs lose water every day by sweating through breathing, panting, defecating, urinating, and through their paws – yes, dogs sweat through their paws! They need water to help keep the balance in their bodies, which is necessary for their survival. Water helps to regulate their body temperature, lubricates their joints, cushions internal organs, and aids in digestion.

The obvious cause of dehydration is not enough water. However, it can also occur through an illness with a fever or through diarrhea, vomiting, and heatstroke. Additionally, toy breeds, senior dogs, lactating mothers, and puppies are all quite susceptible to dehydration.

If your dog has any health conditions such as certain cancers, diabetes, or kidney disease, dehydration may occur.

Some dogs also might not drink as much water as they should or on exceptionally hot days when they are so busy playing that they lose a lot of water. All of these scenarios can lead to dehydration, so we’ll take a look at 10 of the most common signs of canine dehydration.

chihuahua drinking water


1. Loss of elasticity in the skin

This is the easiest way to test your dog for dehydration. Gently grab some skin in between your dog’s shoulder blades, lift it up, and then release it. A dehydrated dog’s skin will take much longer to fall back into place. In contrast, if your dog is well-hydrated, the skin will spring back into place immediately.

It’s recommended that you try this test out on your dog even when you know he’s well-hydrated, as it will give you an idea of what is normal and what is not.


2. Sticky and dry gums

This symptom is the other way you can test your dog for a physical sign of dehydration. Check to see if your dog’s gums feel dry and sticky. While doing this, you can press your finger on the gums and watch how quickly the color returns. A well-hydrated dog’s gums will only stay white where you pressed very briefly, while a dehydrated dog’s gums will take much longer to turn back to pink.


3. Thickened saliva

Mastiff-
Image Credit: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock

This sign is similar to the previous one. Saliva that is stickier and thicker than usual can be an indication that your dog is dehydrated.


4. Dry nose

Similar to dry gums, a healthy dog’s nose should only be slightly dry or moist. If your dog’s nose is completely dry, this is just one symptom of dehydration.


5. Panting

siberian husky panting
Image Credit: finchfocus, Shutterstock

All dogs pant, but if your dog seems to be panting excessively or breathing too quickly in short bursts, this is another sign of potential dehydration and/or heatstroke.


6. Loss of appetite

Loss of appetite on its own is not an indication associated specifically with dehydration, but it is if it is in conjunction with some of the other symptoms on this list, it could be a sign.


7. Wobbly and uncoordinated

If your dog seems wobbly and loses his balance quite easily, this could potentially be a symptom of dehydration.


8. Less energy

Malchi sleeping
Image Credit: RonnySchoene, Shutterstock

A dog that is lethargic and seems to lack his usual energy might be having issues with his health. Again, like many of these symptoms, a lethargic dog isn’t necessarily dehydrated unless it’s alongside some or all of these signs.


9. Dark urine

A healthy dog’s urine should be a pale and translucent yellow, but if your dog is dehydrated (or has issues with his kidneys), the urine may appear a very bright or dark yellow.


10. Eyes that are sunken in and dry

This symptom tends to occur in the later stages of dehydration, and at this stage, your dog could go into shock and collapse.

Saint Pyrenees
Image Credit: audreyelizabeth, Shutterstock

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Treating Dehydration

If your dog is experiencing mild dehydration, you need to provide him with clean water as soon as possible. Water with electrolytes would be very helpful but check with your vet first.

But if the dehydration is moderate or severe, you must bring him to your vet immediately as this is considered an emergency situation.

Your vet will assess your dog’s current condition and determine how much fluid is required to rehydrate him. This will be accomplished with fluids either subcutaneously (under the skin) or with an IV. The more dehydrated the dog, the slower the fluid needs to be replaced, and it will require a stay in the clinic for monitoring.

The vet will also want to check your dog for the cause of the dehydration if it’s suspected that he has an underlying health condition.

Preventing Dehydration

dog drinking from a water bottle

The obvious solution is ensuring your dog always has access to clean water at all times. Make a point of bringing a portable dog bowl with you when you take your dog out, particularly on hot days or when you know your dog is going to be overexerting himself.

If your dog seems to be picky about his water, some dog owners give their dogs ice cubes or will flavor the water with a broth. Try speaking to your vet about how much water is appropriate for your dog on a daily basis and keep track if you’re concerned. The general rule of thumb is that a dog needs a minimum of 1 ounce of water for each pound of his weight every day.

You can also look at making some changes to your dog’s food in order to increase his water intake. For example, if you are not giving your dog any canned food as a part of his diet, consider adding some in for the extra water content. You can also add water or salt-free broth to his dry kibble. Remember, however, that anytime you make a change in your dog’s diet, do so very slowly, or it may cause stomach upset.

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Conclusion

Dehydration is a very serious problem, and there’s no doubt that you want to ensure your pup’s ongoing health. Having a much better understanding of why providing access to clean water is so vital and recognizing the signs of dehydration is an integral part of dog ownership.

You’ll want to prevent and stop it before it becomes a life-threatening situation. Always monitor your dog’s health and behavior and get in contact with your vet if you suspect your dog is struggling with any form of dehydration.

See also: Summer Safety Tips for Dogs: 6 Scenarios to Be Careful In


Featured Image Credit: wriemis, Shutterstock

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.

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