It’s that time of year—summer has come, the temperatures are hot, and we all want to take our pups out to play in the beautiful weather. With the temperatures rising every week, it is of utmost importance to make sure your pet stays adequately hydrated. Dog owners should be aware of the signs of dehydration in their dogs and how to check for dehydration, especially dogs that are active and spend time outdoors in the summer sun.
Dehydration can make your dog tired, weak, and lead to organ failure or death if untreated. Just like with people, a dog’s body is composed mainly of fluids. When enough of these fluids are lost from panting, playing, or running in excessive heat, and not enough water is consumed to make up for these losses, your dog will start to become dehydrated.
Your dog will not only be deficient in fluids, but will also lose necessary electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, and potassium. These electrolytes are vital for normal bodily function, and your dog will begin to feel bad as these are depleted from their body. With mild dehydration, the signs may be very subtle; however, as the dehydration worsens, the signs can become very apparent and detrimental to your dog’s health. Here are common signs of dehydration in dogs and how you can check their hydration status.
SIGNS OF DEHYDRATION
- Excessive panting
- Dry mouth/gums
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Elevated heart rate
HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR PET IS DEHYDRATED
Skin tent test: Normally, if you pull up on your dog’s skin it should quickly snap back into place. As your dog becomes dehydrated, the skin loses some of its elasticity and does not snap back into place like it normally would.
- Gently pinch the skin behind and between pet’s shoulder blades and lift up (as in a tent) and immediately release it.
- If the skin snaps back against the body in less than 1 second, your pet is properly hydrated. If it takes longer than 2 seconds for the skin to snap back against the body, your pet may be dehydrated.
Gum color and tackiness: Another method we use to evaluate dehydration is checking your dog’s gums. Normally, they should be pink and feel slick/slimy/wet. If the gums are “tacky” (sticky/dry feeling), this can be indicative of dehydration. If your dog’s gums are very pale or white or very bright/dark red, this is of great concern.
Capillary refill time: In addition to checking the gums for tackiness, we also perform what is called the capillary refill time test.
- Pull back pet’s upper lip and find the gum line above their teeth. Gently press with your finger or thumb on the gum and release. The gum will Blanche and turn white.
- The pink color of the gum should return within 2 seconds. If it takes longer than 2 seconds this can indicate dehydration
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG’S DEHYDRATED
First and foremost, make sure your pet has access to water immediately and get them out of the hot weather as quickly as possible to slow down the dehydration. Don’t let your dog drink too much water too quickly as this can cause them to vomit, which can be counterproductive. Let them drink for a short period, remove the water, and wait a minute before offering them a little more if they are drinking excessively without stopping.
If you are concerned your dog may be dehydrated and they are showing any of the signs listed above, or if their skin tent, gum tackiness, or capillary refill time is abnormal when checking them as mentioned above, then I strongly recommend transporting them to the nearest veterinarian. Your vet will evaluate their hydration status and give them fluid replacements if they are indeed dehydrated.
Dogs with mild dehydration can be treated by your vet with subcutaneous fluids. Dogs that are more severely dehydrated need an I.V. catheter for your dog to receive I.V. fluids until their fluid balance has been restored. Your veterinarian may perform bloodwork to evaluate how dehydrated they are and check their electrolytes. Your veterinarian may use special fluids or electrolytes added to their fluids to help balance their electrolytes properly. Once your pet has been adequately hydrated and their electrolyte balance restored, your veterinarian will send them home!
HOW TO PREVENT DEHYDRATION
First and foremost, make sure your dog has access to water at all times. I always recommend that my clients carry a water bottle and a bowl at all times. For those of you that are runners or don’t have a bag with you, they have nifty bowls that fold up and fit in your pocket or attach to your water bottle. In addition, I recommend limiting activity during the middle of the day when the weather is very hot, as this makes it very easy for your pet to become dehydrated or have a heat stroke. Your pet should always have access to shade whether in your yard, the dog park, or walking around your neighborhood. When your dog gets too hot, they will seek shade, and they should always have access to this. If you notice your dog going toward the shade or trying to lay down in the shade, then it’s time to give them a break and let them cool off!
If your pet has been sick with vomiting or diarrhea, it makes them much more likely to become dehydrated quickly, so I recommend greatly limiting activity in the heat until their stomach issues resolve. If you feel hot and thirsty, your dog definitely feels the same way, so make sure to offer them water any time you stop for a water break. Don’t force them to continue exercising if they are trying to stop to lay down and catch their breath.
With the proper planning and knowledge you can easily monitor your dog’s hydration status and help prevent them from getting dehydrated!