Whether caused by illness, exposure to heat, or a simple lack of fluid intake, dehydration must be addressed immediately and, left untreated, can cause multiple health problems including organ failure and death. It is very easy for a dog to become dehydrated; easier than many pet owners realize. Fortunately it is also easy to prevent dehydration in dogs and it is very important to do so.
Dehydration is an excess loss of bodily fluids. It most often involves the loss of water and minerals such as sodium, chloride, and potassium; collectively called electrolytes. Dehydration in dogs can be caused by illness (especially if the dog has a fever), exposure to extreme heat, and a number of other factors. A dog’s natural act of panting causes a loss of fluids and can result in dehydration if they are not replaced. Remember that dogs lack sweat glands to keep them cool. They pant in an effort to regulate their body temperature. A panting dog is a hot dog.
The best way to prevent dehydration is to make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water available. The dog should always have at least one full bowl of water available at all times and, if the dog has the run of the house, bowls in various locations may be appropriate. If you live in a dry climate dogs should be kept indoors as much as possible, especially in the hot summer months. When they are outdoors it is imperative that dogs have an available supply of fresh water. Moist foods also help maintain appropriate levels of bodily fluids in dogs. Dry foods are important for a dog’s dental health, but moist foods are a good idea as well.
If you suspect that your dog is dehydrated, get it some water immediately and then get it to the vet. Signs of dehydration can include a lack of elasticity to the skin, dry and sunken eyes, and a dry mouth and nose. Dehydrated dogs will also experience a delay in capillary refill time. To test for this, pull the dog’s lip away from its gum (gently) and press a finger against the gum until the area whitens. Release your finger and the color should return to the area almost immediately. A delay could be an indication of dehydration.
Lots of water is the best way to replace fluids, but a severely dehydrated dog should not be allowed to take in large amounts at once. This will result in vomiting and a further loss of fluids. Instead let the dog drink small amounts over a period of time. Electrolytes can be replaced with a hydrating solution. Pedialyte, a water and electrolyte product sold for infants is suitable for dogs as well. Of course any dog that seems dehydrated or refuses to drink should be seen by a vet to determine appropriate treatment and whether the dehydration is a symptom of some other ailment.
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