Signs and Treatment of Dehydration in Dogs

Picture of a black Great Dane

Water is by far the most important component of living beings, especially mammals. Did you know that water makes up about 60% of an adult dog’s body and up to 80% of a newborn puppy’s body? Dehydration can be just as dangerous to humans as it is to our pets.

In this post, we’ll look at the clinical signs of dehydration and how you can tell whether your dog is suffering from this potentially life-threatening problem. We’ll also look at the reasons why dogs can end up dehydrated, what you can do about it, and when it’s time to take your dog in for a checkup.

What Is Dog Dehydration?

Dehydration is a somewhat common but dangerous condition that can result from your canine friend not drinking enough water and electrolytes. Most dogs that experience this lose fluid but can’t replenish it in due time. If it is left untreated, dehydration can lead to severe organ damage, and it can even cause death.

Dehydration results in a loss of electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and chloride, and these minerals play an important part in how your Fido’s body functions. They balance the body’s pH, facilitate muscle function, move nutrients into the cells, and they also regulate nerve function.

The organ that can be affected by dehydration the most is the kidney, and dogs that are severely dehydrated almost always end up suffering from kidney failure.

What Causes Dehydration in Dogs?

First of all, it’s worth noting that not all dogs are as predisposed to becoming dehydrated as others. Some breeds, such as Yorkies, Chihuahuas, or Pekingese are more exposed to it as their body overheats quickly. Puppies and senior dogs, as well as nursing ones, are also more exposed to dehydration.

Dogs lose water through saliva, breathing, and ‘going to the bathroom.’

The first and obvious cause of dehydration in our canine companions is lack of water. Dogs can quickly become dehydrated if, for example, you take them on a long walk and forget to take a portable bowl with you and a bottle of water.

Your pooch can also knock his water bowl over when you aren’t at home, in which case he isn’t going to have enough water left until you get back home from work. On particularly hot days, it’s a good idea to keep several water bowls throughout your home so that in case something happens with one, there is at least another that has enough water in it.

Dogs can also get very excited about some activities from a walk in the park to play or a hike. In these situations, they can simply forget to drink water.


Dehydration happens when your dog vomits, has diarrhea, or has a fever. If a dog has sustained an injury, he might not even be able to drink water on his own, in which case he would have to get fluid therapy.

On the other hand, dehydration can be a sign of other, more dangerous conditions, from heart disease to kidney failure and diabetes.

Signs and Testing Your Dog for Dehydration

The typical signs of dehydration in dogs include dry gums, loss of skin elasticity, lethargy and weakness, and sunken eyes. But there are different symptoms depending on the phase of dehydration a dog is in.

Early signs

Moderate dehydration

  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sunken eyes

Severe dehydration

How to test your dog for dehydration

You can use your thumb and forefinger to pinch a bit of skin on your dog’s back or the top of his head. If your canine buddy is well-hydrated, the skin springs back almost right away. However, if the skin has lost some moisture, it will move back into place more slowly.

In severe dehydration, it doesn’t spring back or does so very, very slowly. That is the moment you have to get your dog to the veterinary clinic as fast as possible.

Treatment of Dehydration in Dogs

If the vet discovers that your dog is dehydrated, your pet is going to receive fluid therapy, most likely intravenously. However, the severity of the dehydration needs to be established so as to choose the right treatment and to also find the potential cause.

Sometimes, the reason can be more or less obvious — such as heat stroke or an upset stomach. In other cases, though, particularly if your dog has sustained an injury, the cause of the dehydration might not be as apparent. Your dog could be losing blood due to internal bleeding, and blood contains important electrolytes, as well.

In these situations, the vet will perform a series of tests such as an ultrasound scan, an X-ray, and, of course, blood tests.

If you are suspecting that your dog is dehydrated, but you realize that it’s nothing that serious and you don’t have to take him to the vet, there are ways you can help him. Thirsty dogs might not be able to drink enough water because they might tend to vomit.

You can get your dog interested in water in the warm season by offering him some ice. Licking ice is a good way to drink some water. Clear chicken broth is far more palatable to dogs compared to plain water, so you can use that.

Adding electrolytes to your dog’s water will make it a lot more difficult for him to become dehydrated, especially if he has been exposed to this problem in the past. In any case, get pet-safe electrolytes and make sure you ask your vet about this before you decide to add any to your dog’s water.

Preventing Dehydration

To stay healthy and thrive, dogs need to drink a good amount of water every day. One of the easiest ways of making sure that your Fido doesn’t become dehydrated is to ensure that he or she has access to fresh water all the time and no matter what.

We’ve already mentioned that you might want to place two or more water bowls throughout your house and outside. But you should also check that the water is not dirty, that it’s not frozen, or that nothing has gotten into it.

After all, it needs to be safe to drink, too. It’s true that dogs aren’t as picky with their water as cats are, but they still enjoy fresh water the most.

In the summer, if your dog tends to spend a lot of time in the yard or just outdoors, you can invest in a dog fountain and teach your canine friend how to use it and where to find it.



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