For people and dogs alike, water has a critical role to play when it comes to virtually all bodily functions. If your dog does not take in enough water, particularly on a warm day or during vigorous exercise, dehydration may come on quickly.
Dehydration can lead to serious health issues and even death, so it is important to know the signs of dehydration, how to treat it, and what you can do to keep your dog hydrated.
Table of contents
- Why is water so important for dogs?
- What is dehydration?
- Causes of dehydration
- Signs of dehydration
- What to do if your dog is dehydrated
- What you need to know about electrolytes
- Tips for staying hydrated
- How much water does your dog need?
- Can your dog have too much water?
- Bottom line on canine hydration
Why is water so important for dogs?
Just like humans, dogs need water to keep their body systems functioning smoothly. Water moisturizes the air in the lungs, transports oxygen and nutrients to cells, protects organs and joints, helps eliminate waste from the body, and supports nervous system function. Staying hydrated supports everything from digestion and brain activity to blood flow and breathing.
Water also helps your dog regulate their body temperature. While dogs sweat through their paw pads, they also cool down by panting, evaporating water in the form of saliva from their tongues.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration can be very dangerous in dogs. When a dog becomes dehydrated, they lose more water and electrolytes than they take in through eating and drinking.
When fluid levels and blood flow decrease, organs and tissues do not receive the oxygen they need to properly function. Additionally, without enough water to help regulate body temperature, dehydrated dogs can easily become overheated and suffer heatstroke.
Severe cases of dehydration can lead to kidney failure and loss of consciousness and can be fatal.
Causes of dehydration
Dogs naturally lose water throughout the day by breathing, defecating, urinating, and panting. In addition to panting, dogs also regulate their body temperature by sweating through their paws.
Dehydration in dogs can also occur due to excessive fluid loss associated with fever, heatstroke, diarrhea, and persistent vomiting. Unfortunately, these are often signs of other underlying health issues that need to be treated in order to address dehydration.
Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may be suffering from an illness that is causing excessive fluid loss and dehydration.
Signs of dehydration
It is important for dog owners to be able to identify signs that their dog may be dehydrated. Monitor your dog for the following common symptoms of canine dehydration
- Loss of skin elasticity – The skin of a healthy, hydrated dog should bounce back into place if lifted or gently pulled. Life some skin at the back of your dog’s neck—if it falls slowly and forms a tent shape, this may be a sign that your dog is dehydrated.
- Dry or sticky gums – Without enough water, dogs’ gums become dry and sticky. Check your dog’s gums to see if they are moist and slick, or on the drier side.
- Dry nose – Although a dry nose does not always indicate a serious problem, dehydration is likely to dry out your dog’s otherwise cool, wet nose.
- Thick saliva – The more hydrated your dog is, the more fluid and waterier their saliva will be. A dehydrated dog will likely have thick saliva that forms ropes when they drool.
- Lethargy – It is common for dogs suffering from dehydration to have low energy.
- Loss of appetite – Eating less can be a serious problem for dehydrated dogs because they will not be taking in any water from their normal diet. This can lead to a vicious cycle of dehydration.
- Panting – Excessive panting can signal dehydration. Without enough water in their body, your dog is not able to properly regulate their body temperature, so they go into overdrive trying to cool themselves down.
- Severe dehydration: Sunken eyes, shock, collapse – More advanced cases of dehydration can exhibit dull or sunken eyes. Dogs may go into shock or collapse, which can be fatal.
What to do if your dog is dehydrated
Canine dehydration is a serious health issue that should be addressed by a veterinarian immediately. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, be sure to call your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital as soon as possible.
Rehydration following severe dehydration typically requires intravenous fluids administered by a veterinarian.
If you notice signs of dehydration in your dog, your veterinarian may recommend that you attempt to offer small amounts of water or ice. Closely monitoring water intake and keeping servings small is crucial. Too much water could make your dog vomit and further exacerbate dehydration.
What you need to know about electrolytes
In addition to loss of water, dehydration also results in loss of important electrolytes like chloride, potassium, and sodium. These essential minerals help move nutrients to cells, regulate nerve and muscle function, and balance the body’s pH.
Your veterinarian may provide severely dehydrated dogs electrolyte fluid replacement with products like lactated ringers solution. So, what about giving your dog common human electrolyte replacement products like Pedialyte at home?
It is important to emphasize that electrolyte fluid replacement solutions should only be given to dogs under the guidance of a veterinary professional. This is particularly true for products developed for humans, like Pedialyte.
According to Great Pet Care, small amounts of the classic, unflavored Pedialyte solution are generally safe for dogs on a short-term basis. However, the high sodium and sugar contents of products like Pedialyte, especially flavored versions, can worsen gastrointestinal upset and negatively impact some cardiac and endocrine conditions. Again, be sure to consult your veterinarian.
Tips for staying hydrated
It is clear why you should keep your furry friend hydrated. Here are some helpful tips for preventing dehydration in dogs and encouraging your dog to drink enough water:
- Always provide your dog with an easily accessible and ample supply of clean drinking water—keep that bowl filled and in a place your dog can get to!
- Serve water at room temperature.
- Wash water bowls often, and make sure water is always clean and fresh.
- Place several water bowls in different areas of your home so your dog has easy access whenever and wherever they want.
- Reward your dog with a treat or praise after they drink water to reinforce the behavior.
- Flavor your dog’s water with a small amount of bone or chicken broth to make drinking more appetizing.
- Add water to your dog’s food or include wet food in their diet so they increase their water intake without even trying!
- Offer your dog ice cubes.
How much water does your dog need?
How do you know how much water your dog needs to stay hydrated and healthy? According to experts from the Veterinary Emergency Group, dogs typically require between ½ to one ounce of water per day for each pound of body weight. So, a 40-pound dog should drink between 20 and 40 ounces of water each day.
It is not that simple, however. Water intake depends on several factors, including your dog’s size, weight, health, medications, activity level, and the outside temperature.
Dogs who are very active, live or play in hot weather, are lactating, or only eat dry food need to drink more water than others. If your dog likes vigorous exercise and or spending time in the sun, make sure to give them plenty of water.
Some medications have the potential to make your dog more vulnerable to dehydration. Ask your vet about the medications your dog is on, and whether they pose a dehydration risk or affect your dog’s ability to regulate body temperature.
Puppies generally need more water than adult dogs—about a half cup every two hours! Monitor your puppy closely to make sure they are getting the water they need and ask your veterinarian for guidance.
Can your dog have too much water?
You want to make sure your dog is drinking enough water, but not too much. Over-drinking—polydipsia—and urinating too much—polyuria—can be signs of serious and potentially life-threatening health issues in dogs. Drinking too much can indicate that your dog may have hormonal disorders such as diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, fever, or an infection. Certain medications can cause increased thirst as well.
Monitor your dog for the following signs of polydipsia and potential underlying health issues. Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Loss of coordination and staggering
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive salivation
- Pale gums
Bottom line on canine hydration
Keeping your dog hydrated is crucial for their health and happiness, as dehydration can be dangerous and pose serious health risks. Be sure to provide your dog with plenty of easily accessible water, particularly when exercising or outside in the sun. Monitoring for signs of dehydration and getting your dog veterinary attention as soon as possible if they are dehydrated can save their life.
Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an educational resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.