Although dehydration in dogs is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition, it often goes misdiagnosed or the owners recognize a number of alarming symptoms in their pets but fail to track them down to the source of the problem.
Mistaking dehydration for thirst or vice versa is one of the 10 mistakes every dog owner makes at some point in their pet’s life. While it is true that responding to the body’s sensation of thirst is one way to stay hydrated, the two are not necessarily correlated.
Dehydration is often the result of an imbalance between the loss of water and the water intake in your dog’s body. The condition aggravates when the blood volume decreases considerably and the body resorts to pulling fluids out of the cells, causing a drop in the number of electrolytes which sustain the functioning of all the organs and systems.
Because of the loss of fluids, the circulating blood volume reaches a dangerously low level. This, in turn, prevents the oxygen from reaching vital organs and tissues and can, therefore, be irreversible unless immediate care is provided.
While dehydration is a serious condition which requires a veterinarian’s care and supervision, it is every owner’s responsibility to be informed as to how to tell if a dog is dehydrated and to take immediate action to prevent fatalities.
What causes dehydration in dogs
More often than not, dehydration occurs not because of a medical condition but due to completely preventable errors on the owner’s behalf. It is important to be aware of the situations which pose a risk to your dog’s health so that you can take the necessary steps in order to avoid them and create the optimum conditions for your dog to thrive.
Dogs can lose body fluids very quickly if left outside in dry or hot weather without properly rehydrating at regular intervals. If you are wondering how to keep your dog cool in the summer heat, you can start out by investing in dog houses for hot and cold weather. Another common cause of dehydration is the failure to rehydrate your dog properly during strenuous physical activity.
There are cases, though, when this is the result of a more serious health problem which needs to be addressed specifically by a doctor. Such diseases can include inflammation or irritations along the dog’s gastrointestinal or urinary tract. Viral or bacterial infections, foreign objects within the digestive tract, ulcers, diabetes or severe burns are only some of the afflictions which can lead to fluid loss and dehydration.
It is equally important to watch out for your dog’s symptoms right after an episode of diarrhea or a bout of vomiting, as these can very easily decrease the level of fluids in your pet’s body.
Is my dog dehydrated?
One way to determine whether your dog is dehydrated or in shock is by performing a skin test aimed at checking for loss of skin elasticity. To do this you will need to pinch the skin between your dog’s shoulders and assess how long it takes for it to return to its normal position.
In a healthy dog, the skin will immediately get back to the natural position because of its elasticity. However, if your pet is dehydrated, you will notice a delay and in more severe cases, the skin will stay in a tent shape without returning to normal altogether.
It is always safe to assume that if your dog has experienced episodes of severe diarrhea or vomiting, he or she has most likely lost a significant amount of water and needs to be rehydrated on an urgent basis to prevent further complications. This calls for particular attention in the case of small puppies or geriatric pets, as they are especially prone to dehydration.
To make sure you do not miss any sign that something may be wrong with your pet, check for other symptoms of dehydration. This includes examining the gums and nose, which should be moist in healthy dogs but can dry out when dehydration occurs.
Other signs to look out for include lethargy or panting, loss of appetite, an accelerated heart rate coupled with a low pulse, a sudden loss of body weight or eyes that appear to have sunk into the sockets. If you notice any alarming signs, the best thing you can do for your pet is to immediately take it to the veterinarian for a set of tests and an authorized diagnosis.
How to treat a dehydrated dog
It is always easier to prevent your dog from reaching the point where it needs special care to counter the effects of dehydration on its body. Do this by ensuring there is always fresh water available in a place your pet can easily reach the bowl, and make sure to provide plenty of liquids in the summer or during intense physical activity.
To encourage your dog to drink more water during the day, place several bowls around the house or yard. Make sure the water is always fresh and clean by replacing it and replenishing whenever needed. Another trick you can use is adding flavored soup to the water or drugstore electrolyte tablets.
In addition to this, you should always feed your dog specific food which has an appropriate level of moisture and offers just the right nutrients for his or her breed, age and weight.
In addition to this, it is vital to know when to head for the veterinarian’s office, as well as what to give a dehydrated dog in order to re-establish the water and electrolyte balance in its body. Mild cases can be treated by providing your pet with plenty of water and solutions which contain electrolytes, to replace the lost fluids.
Higher levels of dehydration require a specialist checkup in order to rule out potentially fatal underlying causes and to establish a treatment plan. The veterinarian will administer intravenous fluids for a period of one to two days, during which time your pet will need to be kept under supervision.
Depending on the cause and symptoms of dehydration, some pets may need to be administered antibiotics in case of bacterial infections, anti-nausea medication, or painkillers.