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Dehydration in Dogs

Dehydration occurs when a dog's body isn't receiving enough fluids to make up for their water loss. When your dog’s internal water level is too low, their body compensates by drawing water out of its cells, resulting in a loss of essential electrolytes. Think of the last time you were dehydrated (we’re not judging): you may have felt lethargic, unfocused, or nauseated. As with humans, dehydration can impact your dog’s muscle function, appetite, focus, and energy levels. It can also be the result, or the beginning, of a more serious problem, which is why recognizing the signs is key.

SEE ALSO: A Guide to Dog Dental Care

Causes & Consequences

To best avoid dehydration, let’s focus on causes of dehydration. Factors can include insufficient water or food intake, heat, increased panting, illness, fever, diarrhea, or injury. Generally speaking, your dog requires at least one ounce of water per day for each pound of body weight. Additionally, an underlying problem, like kidney disease, may make a dog lose their appetite or cause excessive urination, which contributes to dehydration.

Minor dehydration can be common in dogs, but severe cases can be life-threatening. If left untreated, it can have serious consequences like illness or death. Fortunately, with mild cases, the remedy can be as simple as immediately giving your dog clean water. If you suspect that your dog is severely dehydrated, immediately consult your vet.

Since dogs can’t always communicate their exact needs to us, recognizing the symptoms of dehydration is essential.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Weak appetite
  • Reduced energy levels
  • Slow response
  • Loss of balance
  • Sunken eyes
  • Weak pulse
  • Excessive panting or rapid breathing
  • Dry nose, dry mouth, or dry gums
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of skin elasticity

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How to Check for Dehydration

A classic test for dehydration is to test their skin elasticity (also known as capillary refill time). Gently pinch the loose skin at your dog’s scruff (back of their neck, before the shoulders) before releasing. A well-hydrated dog’s skin will instantly spring back to its original position. In a dehydrated dog, however, the skin is less elastic and will take longer to fall back into place. A good rule of thumb: If their skin takes longer than two seconds to return to its original position, your dog may be dehydrated.

Another way to check for dehydration is to examine their gums. A healthy, hydrated dog’s gums are pink and moist. Tacky, dry, or off-color gums can be a sign of dehydration. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, press down on their gums. In a happy, hydrated dog, the color should return immediately.

Dehydration Prevention

  • Make sure that your dog has constant access to clean water. On walks, bring a portable water bowl and enough water for your pup.
  • Provide your pet with shade and shelter from overheating, which can cause a heat stroke.
  • During hot weather, go on walks in the early morning and after sunset.
  • Take it slow! Allow for lots of breaks and provide cold water. 
  • Avoid dog parks or group walks during the hottest hours of the day, as your pet may overexert themselves.
  • We recommend staying indoors during full-sun hours (between 9am and 7pm during the summer), but if your pup just can't wait, walk in the shade, and keep it under 5 minutes.

Observing changes in their behavior or fluid intake can help prevent issues from escalating.


If you notice signs of dehydration in your dog, provide fresh water for your dog to slowly drink. Taking in fluids too quickly can cause vomiting and further loss of fluid. If your dog stops drinking altogether or if you suspect severe dehydration, contact your vet immediately for emergency care. There your vet will assess your pet and possibly rehydrate them via intravenous fluids.

Think your pup might need veterinary help? Bring 'em to Bond Vet. Book now.

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