Published on June 9th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin0
Preventing Dehydration in Dogs
Dehydration in dogs is an acute condition which occurs when a canine’s body does not contain enough water and essential electrolytes to properly function. Both of these substances are vitally important to the dog’s circulatory, digestive and excretory systems. A shortage of them will result in these systems being unable to do their respective tasks. This condition can become very serious in only a short space of time, which is why it is so important for owners to make themselves aware of the possible dangers.
What are the causes of dehydration?
Dehydration, put simply, occurs when dogs lose more fluid than they replace. As such, factors which contribute to the condition can be grouped into two categories: those which cause a dog to lose fluid, and those which prevent the dog from taking more fluid on.
Slow water loss
During hot summer days, dogs tend to lose water in much the same way that humans do. While they do not sweat (or at least not to the same extent), they lose water by panting, a process which uses water as a medium through which to conduct heat from inside their bodies to outside. This loss of fluid can cause the dog to become dehydrated.
Sudden water loss
Water loss because of heat tends to happen over a long period of time – typically over the course of a few hours. There are, on the other hand, some situations in which a dog can also lose fluid quickly. The symptoms for this typically come in the form of vomiting, diarrhoea or blood loss. If a dog should suffer from any of these ailments, then it is important to address it immediately.
Disease-driven water loss
There are a few diseases which interfere with the body’s metabolic processes and thereby bring about a loss of fluid. These might include those diseases which affect the kidneys. This sort of dehydration can occur even during cold weather and where the dog does not display any other symptoms.
Lack of available water
As well as factors which cause the dog to lose fluid, there are also those which cause them to not consume enough to maintain a healthy level. The most obvious is the availability of water – if a dog doesn’t have anything to drink, then they will eventually become dehydrated.
For this reason, dogs which are lost are at greater risk of dehydration, as they may not be able to find a source of water. But equally at risk are housebound dogs who have not been left enough water. Sometimes a bowl of water might become undrinkable even if it is left out: if the bowl is knocked over or frozen solid and the dog cannot locate an alternative source of water, then chronic dehydration may occur. These problems can be addressed, respectively, by investing in a heavy bowl with a weighted bottom and by moving the bowl indoors during the winter.
More Disease Problems
Just as there are some illnesses which inhibit a dog’s ability retain water, there are some which inhibit its ability to take more on. Most obvious are those which physically prevent your dog from drinking. If your dog is unable to move to the water bowl, perhaps because it is suffering from long-term osteoarthritis, then it will be less inclined to drink. This is particularly problematic in instances where the bowl is positioned high up on a ledge, so that the dog cannot easily access it.
Other conditions can bring about a loss of appetite. A dog may feel physically sick every time it attempts to drink – which will deter such attempts. If your dog is showing an unwillingness to drink, then it may be because of a serious underlying condition; they should be taken to a vet for a proper examination as soon as possible.
What are the Symptoms of Dehydration?
Dehydration is a condition which has a number of different symptoms. This can make it quite easily identifiable, particularly if you already aware of the danger.
The most obvious of these symptoms is that the dog’s skin will begin to dry out. This will be especially noticeable in areas around the dog’s mouth, gums, nose and eyes, but it will also occur on the skin beneath their fur. Another early sign of dehydration is a loss of energy. As their body becomes less and less able to deliver oxygen to the muscles, the dog will start to become visibly lethargic. In extreme cases they will struggle to keep their footing – particularly in the hind legs, which are often larger and more metabolically demanding. This may even lead to the dog collapsing.
Such extreme cases should be treated as medical emergencies – there is a very real danger that it can be fatal if not addressed straight away. For this reason it is important to prevent the condition from deteriorating this far in the first place.
There are a couple of simple tests which one can perform in order to judge whether a dog is dehydrated.
A dog’s skin will start to lose its elasticity as the animal becomes dehydrated. Pinch a section of the skin, and release it. In a healthy dog, the skin should return to its natural position instantly. In a dehydrated dog, this will occur more slowly. In cases where the dehydration is particularly severe, the skin will not return at all.
Dehydration will slow the flow of blood within your dog’s capillaries (the tiny vessels which carry blood to your dog’s cells). This can be easily tested for by pressing your fingers against your dog’s gums. This will cause them to turn white, as the blood flow will be restricted. After you remove your finger, the gums should turn quickly pink again as the blood returns. In a dehydrated dog, however, this will occur a great deal more slowly.
How do I prevent dehydration?
The best way to combat the threat of dehydration is to ensure that your dog has a ready supply of clean water available. Ensure that there is a bowl out so that the animal can drink as and when it pleases. Ideally, you should fill multiple bowls, just in case one of them should empty, or become otherwise unappealing.
If a dog should become dehydrated, then they should obviously be given water. It is important, however, that this be done as gradually as possible. If a dehydrated dog is given a lot of water in a short space of time, they will probably vomit – and this will lead to further loss of fluid. The same is true of dogs who have just completed strenuous exercise – they will want to drink a lot in a short space of time, and must be prevented from doing so. Instead, give them a small amount every few minutes. It is sometimes suggested that this be done by allowing the dog to lick ice, but it is far preferable to simply fill the dog’s bowl with small amounts by hand. This will allow you to monitor the dog’s condition.
Where dogs are severely dehydrated, or have trouble holding down water when it is given to them, then they should be taken to a vet as a matter of urgency.
How is dehydration treated?
A vet will treat a dehydrated dog in two ways. Firstly, the fluid lost must be replaced; secondly, the underlying cause of the dehydration must be addressed.
The easiest way to replace lost fluid is orally. This is not always possible, however. Sometimes the dog will not want to drink. Equally, even dogs that do will sometimes be unable to keep the fluid down. Such cases call for alternative methods of rehydration.
There are two common ways of achieving this. Subcutaneous treatments deliver fluid through a needle to just beneath the dog’s skin. This fluid will then be absorbed into the dog’s body. This process is a slow one, occurring over many hours and in some cases the dog’s needs are more urgent. In such cases, intravenous treatments are preferable; these involve injecting fluid directly into the animal’s veins.
As well as giving the animal more fluid, any treatment must also address the root cause of the problem. If this is not done, the dehydration will just reoccur. It may be that the contributing factors were environmental, in which case the treatment may consist simply of being more vigilant with your dog, particularly during sunny days and when they are exercising and by ensuring that they have sufficient access to fluids, that way they can drink whenever they see fit to do so.
If the dog has vomited, then the vet may prescribe medication to settle the dog’s stomach. If there is a more serious condition behind the dehydration, like a chronic kidney disease, then this will obviously need to be treated in order to prevent the dehydration from reoccurring. This treatment will depend entirely on the disease in question; it is for this reason that it is vital to identify any underlying causes, and to keep your vet in the loop about it all.