Is my dog dehydrated?

Is My Dog Dehydrated?

By isak, July 27, 2015

Signs of Dehydration in Dogs

Dehydration occurs when the total body water is less than normal. Usually it involves loss of both water and electrolytes, which are minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium. Dehydration is caused by either a lack of food or water intake or an increase in water loss through illness or injury. A fever further increases the loss of water.

When there is not enough body water, fluid shifts out of the body cells to compensate, leaving the cells deficient in necessary water. This leads to dehydration. The severity of the dehydration is based on the magnitude of these body water shifts. Dogs lose fluid through: breathing, panting, elimination, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and evaporation through the feet and other body surfaces. Dogs replenish fluid by drinking water or other liquids and by eating moist foods.

A good general guideline is that a healthy dog should drink between ½ and 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day.

Beginning Signs

  • Visibly tired
  • Slowed pace/ Less animation
  • Excessive panting, signs of warmth
  • Changes in attitude (i.e. appears more apprehensive) Eyes appear sunken and lack moisture
  • Dry mouth, gums, nose

Intermediate Signs

  • The skin loses elasticity- Pinch a little skin between your thumb and forefinger on your dog’s back. When you release it, it should pop back into place immediately. As the tissue under the skin loses moisture, the skin moves back more slowly. In extreme cases, the skin doesn’t pop back.
  • Delayed capillary refill time – Place your index finger firmly against the gums so that they appear white. Remove your finger and see how quickly the blood returns to the gums. The time it takes for the gums of a dehydrated dog to return to their pink state will be slower than normal.
  • Rectal temperature remains greater than 105° F

Final Signs

  • Weak in the hind end
  • Wobbly and unsteady on feet

Pinch Test for Hydration

One way to assess hydration in an animal is to lift the skin over the animal’s shoulder and watch how fast it goes back to its normal position. In a normal, healthy animal, if the skin between the shoulders is lifted up and then released, the skin will pop back to its normal position immediately.

In dehydrated animals, there is less fluid in the skin and it is less elastic. When lifted off the back, the skin of a dehydrated animal will not immediately fall back to its normal position. If a pet has lost 6-8% of its normal fluid, there will be a definite delay in the skin returning to its normal position. If the pet is 10-12% dehydrated, the skin will actually look like a tent and not go back to its normal position. Signs of shock may be evident. If a pet is over 12% dehydrated, it is an extreme emergency.

Other ways to assess dehydration are to examine the mucous membranes (gums); they should be moist. In a dehydrated animal, the eyes may appear sunken in. In very dehydrated animals the heart rate may be increased, but the pulse would be weak.

Tips To Avoid Dehydration

Maintaining a constant fluid level is as important in dogs as it is in humans.

  1. Dogs lose a lot of water while panting. Leave two or three bowls filled with water around the house, so that he gets enough to drink.
  2. If he has not had a good drink for a long time, start re-hydration slowly … allowing your dog a few sips every few minutes. Overdrinking after a dry spell can quickly lead to vomiting and he may end up losing more fluids than he had.
  3. Don’t let your dog drink excessive amounts of water after a strenuous exercise session.
  4. Wait a few minutes after your dog has exerted in very heavy exercise and then allow frequent but small amounts every few minutes.
  5. If your dog is showing some signs of dehydration, give him electrolyte mixed in water. While water helps in replenishing a lot of nutrients, electrolyte can do the job more quickly.
  6. Dogs who have gone a long time without water have a problem holding it down. So let him lick ice, he hydrates himself with licking the ice.
  7. If your dog refuses to drink for any extended period of time, consult your veterinarian immediately!


Blood tests such as a complete blood count and biochemistry profile are important to try to find the underlying cause of the dehydration but may not reveal if dehydration is present.

The most important tests are a packed cell volume and total blood protein test. These tests are done on a blood sample and can help reveal if dehydration is present. If the packed cell volume and total protein are elevated, dehydration is present.

Determining the concentration of the urine can also help determine if the pet is dehydrated and if the kidneys are affected.


The treatment for dehydration is to supplement the body with fluids. It is often not possible for an ill pet to ingest sufficient water to correct dehydration. Fluids are typically administered as an injection. The most efficient method of rehydration is through intravenous fluids. This requires hospitalization as well as an intravenous catheter.

Fluid replacement is done slowly to allow the body to compensate and slowly replenish tissues starved of fluid.

This document is reprinted from the Humane Society of Harrisburg area and is being provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as veterinary counsel. If you think your dog is dehydrated, seek veterinary counsel immediately.


  1. Scott says:

    My mother n law took one of our puppies then brought it back 2days later, its whiney weak and won’t eat or drink, its don’t know what to do don’t have the money for vet and scared to let it around the other dogs

    • isak says:

      Keep it separated from the others until you determine the problem. It is very important that you keep the puppy hydrated even if you have to force feed it water/pedialyte through an oral syringe every couple hours. Same with feeding. You can force feed Gerber’s Baby Food #2 (it’s just meat and water; NO onions or garlic). And keep an eye on your other pups because 2 days is not a lot of time for such symptoms to develop unless the pup has maybe eaten something it shouldn’t have and has a blockage. If that is the case and it does not pass within a day, you should see a vet as this could become life-threatening.

      Have the pups been treated for worms?

  2. Connie says:

    We live in rural Missouri, and a cat has adopted us. We are in the process of getting her shots,and appt is set for getting her spayed. She is an outside cat,but interacts a lot with our dog, who does come indoors. So, we have a flea\tick collar on the cat, and it is working on the front part of Kitty’s body,but she keeps getting ticks on her butthole – Lots of them. We take them off and in a day or two they are back again. We tried Pet Armor, but the cat disappeared for days after we put it on her, so we have not done that again.?

    Is there anything that can be put on her butthole – hopefully a spray – to keep these ticks off of her butthole?

    • isak says:

      Do you use topical flea meds on your dog? If so — and depending on the brand — you could use that same topical on your cat. Here is a post about doing that and what the appropriate dosage would be. The thinking is that in general, flea meds are dosed over a wide range of weight — like 22-44 lbs and 44-88 lbs, etc. By applying what you need closer to the specific weight, you might find you have some left over which you could use for Kitty. Note that Advantix should NEVER be used on cats. Or maybe that’s where the Pet Armour came from? Sounds like she did have a reaction to it.

      You could also try vinegar and water: add 1 cup of water to a spray bottle, followed by 2 cups of distilled white vinegar. Ticks hate the smell and taste of vinegar, and will be repelled by this ingredient alone.

      However, what is the source? Is there a specific place she is going that she is getting this ticks on her? Do they come from someplace she is sleeping? If so, sprinkle diatomaceous earth along that area. It is harmless to her, but will kill the ticks. You can apply it lightly to her, but she will likely lick it off when she grooms. It will not hurt her to do that and it may help if she has internal parasites.

      Good luck. And congrats on being adopted! 🙂

  3. kendra says:

    My puppy have a layer of skin off need help i dont have money tell jluy yo brinv him so need to care for him at home

    • isak says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by a layer of skin off. Is this a shallow wound or a deep wound? Is it a large area or a small area?

      In general, you will want to flush it out with warm water to clean any germs from it, then cover it with an antibiotic ointment like neosporin. Keep an eye on it and repeat this process 1-2 times a day.

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