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How to Recognize Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

How to Recognize Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

Like humans, dogs can become dehydrated and it can be serious. 

Learning how to recognize the symptoms of dehydration in dogs can save your dog’s life. This is especially important if you are out on the trail and far away from a veterinarian.

What Causes Canine Dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when your dog loses more water and electrolytes than they are taking in. 

When this happens, the flow of blood and fluids through the body slows down, which reduces the delivery of oxygen to organs and tissues.

Your dog loses fluids naturally throughout the day through urination, defecation, panting, breathing, and evaporation through the paws. 

On a normal day, they replace what they lose through eating and drinking.

During a hike, where you’re outside of your usual home routine, your dog may not be replacing those liquids like they are at home.

Severe dehydration cases can result in organ failure, unconsciousness, and even death.

Typical causes of dehydration include illness, persistent vomiting and diarrhea, fever, and insufficient intake of fluids, which is the main cause of dehydration on the trail.

Hot Temperatures

Hiking or running in hot weather can quickly lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion, which can be very serious. If you’re going to be out on hot days, follow these tips for keeping your dog cool when the temperatures soar.

High Altitude

Hiking in thinner air causes dehydration more rapidly, so it’s important to consume more water than you usually would on a lower altitude hike.

Keeping your dog well hydrated will also help prevent altitude sickness in your dog.

Long Periods of Exercise without Drinking Water

If you’re going to be out for several hours or doing a high intensity activity, like [trail running], be sure to do so on a trail with ample water access or stop regularly to offer your dog water. 

I follow the same guidelines for hydrating my dog as I do for myself while running, by taking small sips every 10 to 15 minutes. This method keeps you from reaching the point when you are thirsty and need water. Now, a dog might not want water that frequently. That’s ok. Use the timing as a reminder to offer your dog water.

How Much Water Do Dogs Need?

Dogs require anywhere from ½ oz to 1 oz per pound of body weight daily. 

This figure varies, depending on the amount of exercise your dog gets per day, as well as the temperature and environment. 

Puppies and pregnant or lactating dogs require more water. 

If you feed your dog raw or wet food, they likely won’t drink as much water directly from the bowl, as these are more hydrating foods.

Infographic titled Signs of Dehydration in dogs, featuring panting dog and accompanying text indicating various signs to note

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

Knowing the signs of dehydration in dogs will help you determine more quickly whether your dog may be dehydrated. 

Understanding what to look for can also prevent dehydration before it becomes an emergency.

These are some early symptoms of dehydration in dogs:

  • White, or dry and sticky gums
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dry nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heavy panting

Signs of severe dehydration include: 

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive panting 

If you suspect that your dog is experiencing dehydration, you can perform the skin elasticity test. 

Gently pinch together some skin in between your dog’s shoulder blades, raise it up and release. If it releases quickly, then your dog is hydrated. The skin on dehydrated dogs, however, will slowly fall back into place.

You can also test for dehydration through a capillary refill test on your dog’s gums. Press your finger against your dog’s gums and release. If the color returns to pink quickly, then your dog is well-hydrated. If it stays white, then that is a sign of dehydration.

What to Do if Your Dog is Dehydrated

If your dog is displaying signs of shock, heatstroke and/or excessive dehydration (sunken eyes, collapsing, vomiting), then you’ll want to seek veterinary treatment as soon as you can.

Of course, that’s not easy when you’re several miles deep into the woods.

So, what to do?

Stop hiking or running and find some shade. Take a break and assess your dog’s condition. Test your dog for severe dehydration with the tests mentioned above.

Offer your dog small amounts of water every few minutes. Don’t allow them to chug water. This can cause choking, pneumonia, or gas, which can lead to vomiting, and thus more dehydration.

Head back to the car and get to the vet. Severe cases of dehydration require IV fluids so it is important to get your dog to the nearest clinic as soon as possible in order to begin the rehydration process.

Can I Give My Dog Electrolytes?

We often hear about the importance of electrolytes for humans, especially athletes, but did you know that electrolytes are also naturally occurring in dogs, too?

Electrolytes include minerals such as sodium, chloride, and potassium and are responsible for important bodily functions, such as pH balance and nerve function.

You can give your dog electrolytes, but not in the same way you drink them yourself. There are electrolytes made specifically for dogs, but it’s not really necessary to bring along on outdoor adventures. Some human electrolytes contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. 

My recommendation is to carry a single-use pack of a dog-specific electrolyte in your pet first aid kit and avoid giving your dog a sip of your personal electrolyte mix. This way, you’ll avoid two emergencies.

Keeping Your Dog Hydrated during Hikes

Understanding how much water your dog consumes regularly will help you gauge whether or not they are consuming more or less than usual. 

Remember that the weather conditions, temperature, environment, and distance traveled also play a factor into the amount of water your dog needs to drink.

Here are a few ways to ensure your dog stays hydrated on your outdoor adventures.

When I Drink, You Drink, We Drink

Since dogs can’t tell us when they’re thirsty, it’s up to the handler to provide water regularly. A good rule of thumb is to offer your dog water every time you stop to drink.

Bring Your Pup Their Own Water Bottle

When I pack water for a trail run or hike, I always count my dog as another person and add water accordingly. This means my dog gets his own water bottle.

During longer excursions without access to water, Sitka carries a water hydration pack from Ruffwear that holds two 0.6 liters bladders for water. If we have water access, then I will also bring a filter, like the Katadyn Be Free.

Keep a Dog Travel Bowl Handy

I have a ton of collapsible dog water bowls from Dexas attached to all of my packs. This way, I never forget to bring a water bowl. 

If we’re trail running, then I bring the Quencher water bowl from Ruffwear. It packs down into a tiny size and easily tucks into my running vest or Sitka’s hydration pack.

I also make sure to attach them somewhere I can reach them more easily. The bigger the struggle to reach the dog bowl, the less frequently I remember to offer my dog water.

Pro tip: Forgot to bring a water bowl for your dog? You can use a poop bag in a pinch! 

Drinking from Natural Water Sources

Like humans, dogs can get giardia, or worse Leptospirosis, so if you doubt the water source, don’t let your dog drink from it. 

In general, I let Sitka drink water from a flowing river in the mountains, as long as it is away from agricultural areas and livestock. I’ll also usually allow him to drink from alpine lakes, but don’t allow it in lakes or rivers closer to urban populations, and never from puddles.

What if Your Dog Won’t Drink Water?

Some dogs just don’t like to drink water or maybe they prefer to drink a lot at once. This can be problematic during activity, especially in warmer temps.

There are a few different tricks you can try to entice your dog to hydrate, even if they don’t want to.

Make it a Cue

Whenever I offer my dog water, I ask “are you thirsty?” It doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll drink, but I think it creates a bit of a Pavlov effect or trigger in the brain to want to drink water.

I also use the phrase to see if my dog is thirsty. If water is limited or you’re tired of pouring water only to have your dog refuse it, try using this phrase to see if your dog shows interest in drinking.

Offer an Alternative to Water

If your dog is picky with drinking water, then you can try an alternative like bone broth or unflavored, sugar-free coconut water. 

Honest Kitchen makes a powdered bone broth for dogs that is great to bring along on hikes if you have a dog that won’t drink water.

Entice Your Dog to Drink Water

If your dog really won’t drink water, you can try to entice them by tossing food or treats into their water bowl, one at a time. They’ll be forced to consume some water every time they get a treat.

Go slowly, as this can encourage them to take in extra air and lead to gas.

Pre-Hydrate Your Dog

Add water to your dog’s meal before you leave for the hike to get plenty of water in them ahead of time.

If you feed them kibble or freeze-dried food, you can add enough water to make it a bit of a soup, just be cautious if your dog is a fast eater, as it can cause bloat or gas.

The best way to avoid dehydration is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place! Check on your dog regularly, especially on hot days or if it’s going to be a long day and stop frequently to offer your dog water.

Know the early signs of dehydration in dogs and always err on the side of caution if you suspect that your dog may be dehydrated.

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