dog running on trail, dehydration in dogs
Pet Health Questions and Answers

Signs of Dehydration in Dogs – All You Need to Know

When your dog isn’t drinking enough water each day or they lose more fluid than they’re taking in, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration arise as a result of an imbalance of electrolytes in the body and almost every organ system can be affected. Dehydration in dogs can cause serious organ damage and even death can occur if left untreated.

Table of Contents:

Causes of Dehydration in Dogs

Mild cases of dehydration are fairly common in dogs, just like in people. Circumstances like not eating enough food or drinking enough water, hot weather, and increased panting can effect your dog’s hydration levels and often are easily resolved. Many times the remedy is as simple as giving your dog fresh water. 

It’s also possible that an underlying issue could be the cause. Something as simple as an upset stomach, or as serious as kidney disease, a urinary or intestinal blockage, or other issue.

dog resting on couch, dehydration in dogs
There are a number of reasons your dog may not be drinking water

Here are some other reasons why your dog may not be drinking water:

  • Pain
  • Heat stroke
  • Fever (hot ears) from an underlying illness
  • Loss of fluids from vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive panting
  • Excessive urination (resulting from kidney disease or failure and diabetes)

In these more serious scenarios, recognizing the signs of dehydration in dogs can be life-saving. If you believe your dog is suffering from any of the above issues and they’re exhibiting changes in drinking habits or urination, it’s critical that you contact your veterinarian immediately. 

How Long Can A Dog Survive Without Water?

Did you know that water makes up over 70% of your dog’s body weight? So, to say that keeping your dog hydrated is important would be an understatement. 

Dogs need water every day. However, in most circumstances, a dog can go several hours, approximately 6-10, with no water without suffering drastic consequences. If your dog knocks over his water bowl while you’re at work, usually he’ll be fine until you get home and can provide fresh water. This applies if he’s indoors and in good overall health. 

You should never leave a dog outside without water, especially in warm weather. And even if your dog is kept indoors, do not intentionally leave your dog without water because you’re afraid they may pee in their crate or in your home.

dog resting on bed
Contact your vet if your dog hasn’t drank water in 24 hours

Dogs can typically survive up to three days, or 72 hours, without water. However, after 24 hours the symptoms of dehydration will present and each moment beyond that could cause irreparable damage to your dog’s organs and even cause death. 

Here’s what your dog may experience each day he becomes more dehydrated.

Day 1

If your dog has gone all day without water, his energy levels may decrease. As your dog becomes more dehydrated, he may pant heavily in order to cool himself down.

At this point you may be able to rehydrate him by offering fresh, cool water and moistened food in small doses. This can be in the form of adding water to dry kibble, or giving him wet food. It’s important to do this in small doses so that your dog can be hydrated and cool his body gradually. 

Besides bringing him clean water to drink and moisture-rich food, you might dab his gums with a clean, wet washcloth to encourage him to drink. 

Day 2

After two full days without water, you’ll likely notice more severe symptoms in your dog, including weakness and lethargy. You may notice other behavioral changes as well. Keep your dog in a calm and quiet space in your home while you continue to hydrate him. 

If your dog is unable to drink water and you’re unable to get them to move from their location, take them to the vet immediately. The same is true if your dog is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting. This is a medical emergency.

Day 3

By this time, if your dog has had no water or moistened food, your dog is likely in critical condition. It’s possible that your dog won’t be able to walk far or at all on his own. He will be severely dehydrated and in desperate need of emergency veterinary care. Kidney failure becomes a real possibility at this point.

Swift intervention is necessary to prevent organ damage and death. The safest way to replace your dog’s lost fluids at this stage is with IV fluids.  

How Much Water Does a Dog Need Every Day?

In general, dogs need to drink one ounce of water for every pound of body weight each day, according to PetMD. So, if you have a 10 pound dog, your dog should be drinking at least 10 ounces of water per day. That’s just a little more than a cup. Dogs that are very active and dogs that are nursing may require more. 

pug panting, excessive panting
Excessive panting is a sign of dehydration

Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

Since dogs can’t always communicate their needs, recognizing the symptoms of dehydration in dogs can help a pet owner identify the issue before it becomes life-threatening. The following are some of the signs and symptoms:

  • Dry nose and sticky gums
  • Sunken eyes
  • Reduced energy/weakness
  • Excessive panting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Loss of skin elasticity

How to Tell if Your Dog is Dehydrated

A common method for checking dehydration in dogs is the skin elasticity test. Using your thumb and forefinger, gently pinch the loose skin around their scruff (back of the neck and above the shoulders) and raise it up. If well-hydrated, the dog’s skin will quickly spring back when released. A dehydrated dog’s skin is less supple and will take longer to move back into place. In severe cases, the skin may not return to its original position at all. 

Another good method to check for dehydration is to inspect your dog’s gums. A healthy dog’s gums should be pink and moist. When you press on their gums, the color should return immediately. If the dog’s gums are dry, sticky, or the color doesn’t return immediately, your dog may be dehydrated. 

Treating Dehydration

If you feel that your dog may be dehydrated, encourage him to drink plenty of fresh water. However, if they’re suffering from an underlying illness or injury, drinking more water may not be enough to compensate for the loss of fluids. 

beagle drinking water
Keep fresh water around

Your dog’s electrolytes may need to be replaced if they aren’t taking in enough water. Electrolyte imbalance happens when fluids containing the electrolytes are drawn out of the cells in the body. This imbalance can affect the kidneys, liver and other organs. And in the worst cases, it can even cause death. 

If your dog is vomiting, experiencing other signs of dehydration, or you suspect that your dog may have heat stroke, take him to the vet immediately. Your veterinarian will probably do a full exam to determine the extent of the dehydration and identify potential causes. Some causes are more obvious than others, like persistent vomiting or heat stroke. Others may require additional testing to get to the bottom of it. 

Some of the tests that vets perform on a dog with suspected dehydration include:

  • Urinalysis – Where the dog’s urine is analyzed for hydration status, diabetes, kidney disease, infections and other underlying conditions. 
  • Fecal Exam – An evaluation of your dog’s stool, usually under a microscope, for the presence of blood, mucus, intestinal parasites, or fungus.   
  • Complete Blood Count – A blood test that analyzes your dog’s blood, including their red and white cell count, for hydration levels, immune system status, infection, and anemia.

Since dehydration is frequently a symptom of a larger underlying problem, your vet may perform additional tests like x-rays or ultrasound, depending on your dog’s other symptoms. 

Your vet may administer intravenous fluids to replace lost fluids and prevent further loss. This is the most efficient way to rehydrate because it’s often not possible for an ill pet to take in enough water to correct dehydration. 

Oral electrolyte solutions, like Pedialyte, can be used if your dog is only mildly dehydrated, still interested in drinking, and can keep fluids down. Other treatments may include antibiotics, anti-nausea medications, and pain relievers. 

Is Pedialyte Safe For Dogs?

Most of us are familiar with Pedialyte. If not, it’s a popular medical-grade electrolyte drink for children and adults that can help replace fluids lost to vomiting and diarrhea. It can treat mild-to-moderate cases of dehydration in people. 

But what about dogs? Is Pedialyte good for dogs? Is it safe and effective? Here’s what you need to know. 

hands of owner petting a dog, is pedialyte safe for dogs
Dogs can have small doses of unflavored Pedialyte

As we mentioned, oral electrolyte solutions, like Pedialyte, can be used if your dog is only mildly dehydrated, still interested in drinking, and can keep fluids down. Most vets agree that unflavored Pedialyte is safe for dogs in small doses. 

However, Pedialyte isn’t formulated for dogs’ hydration needs and most human electrolyte drinks have a higher sodium content than is usually recommended for dogs. Furthermore, the extra sugar in Pedialyte can be harmful to diabetic dogs. Pedialyte for dogs with kidney disease, heart disease, or other illnesses that make them sensitive to sodium or sugar, should be avoided. 

Some dogs are pickier than others and will refuse Pedialyte. In this case, you may need to administer the liquid with a (needle-less) syringe by putting the syringe into the side of the mouth, between the cheek and gums. Be sure to administer the liquid slowly, to prevent your dog from choking or aspirating.

Bottom line: it’s best to talk to your veterinarian when you think your pet may be sick, or isn’t drinking enough water. They can help assess your pet, identify the problem, and advise you on the best course of treatment. Using Pedialyte is often recommended only when your pet has already seen the vet and it’s been determined to be safe for outpatient treatment. 

How to Encourage Your Dog to Drink More and Prevent Dehydration

The best way to prevent dehydration in dogs is to avoid it in the first place. Make sure your dog drinks plenty of fresh, cool water every day. If your dog isn’t big on drinking water, you might try letting them lick ice cubes or adding bone broth to their water dish to keep them interested. 

A few other ways to encourage proper hydration in dogs is to offer moisture-rich foods, such as canned dog food. Canned food can be added to dry kibble or fed on it’s own as a meal. You could also consider a food topper such as bone broth or fish stock that would add extra moisture. Both are known for their skin, joint, and digestive benefits.

retriever with long tongue
These tips can help encourage your dog to drink more

Offering fresh fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to add moisture to your dog’s diet as well as being a wonderful source of vitamins and nutrients. Just make sure to choose fruits and veggies that are safe for dogs. Berries, melons, apples, oranges, kale, and spinach are all good options. Always be sure to remove all of the seeds before offering these to your dog. 

You can even serve your loyal companion a doggy popsicle made with some low-sodium broth or homemade juice, made from infusing water with dog-safe fruits like apples. Again, be sure to remove all of the seeds before giving it to your dog. 

Frozen popsicle treats are best given on hot days, when your dog may need help cooling themselves down. They’re also a great for putting in a toy, like a Kong. 

None of the above options should completely replace fresh, clean water. You don’t want to discourage regular drinking habits. 

Some other steps you can take to prevent dog dehydration include:

  1. Clean your dog’s water dish every day in order to prevent bacteria from growing.
  2. Bring bottled water, or a travel bowl, with you when traveling or on a long walk, hike, or run. 
  3. Provide multiple water bowls with fresh water in the areas your dog spends most of his time. 
  4. Never leave your dog unattended in a car (see also ‘Is It Better To Leave Dog At Home Or In A Car – A Guide‘). 
  5. Don’t exercise your dog in hot weather.  

dog drinking for a water bottle
Keep bottled water for longer stretches of physical activity

We can’t always prevent our pets from getting sick, but providing them with plenty of fresh water, a healthy diet, regular bathroom breaks, exercise, and keeping them up-to-date on exams and vaccinations are all important steps to prevent dehydration. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”