Dehydration goes beyond your dog being a little thirsty. It can quickly become a life-threatening condition. Dogs who lose the ability to replace electrolytes and water in their bodies can exhibit symptoms that range from panting and constipation to seeming a little off or going into shock.
When your dog's bodily fluids become lower than ideal, he is low on water and electrolytes, which include minerals such as potassium, sodium and chloride. While lack of water or food can cause dehydration, abnormal water loss inside the body can do it even when water and food are readily available. Injuries, illness or excessive panting from overexertion or hyperventilation can trigger fluids from the body cells to shift into the bloodstream, leaving your dog with symptoms of dehydration. Dogs most sensitive to dehydration include pregnant and nursing dogs, elderly dogs and diabetic dogs.
The Stages of Dehydration
If your dog is beginning to dehydrate, it may be easy to overlook the subtle signs. He may seem a little lethargic and want to rest. His attitude may seem off, and he may be unusually anxious or standoffish. Look for excessive panting and dry nose, mouth and gums. His eyes may appear sunken and less glossy from lack of moisture. As dehydration advances, his skin will lose elasticity and he will become wobbly, especially in the hind end. Veterinary intervention is crucial in advanced stages of dehydration to ensure a full recovery.
Testing for Dehydration
Do a couple of simple tests at home to see if your dog is in the intermediate stages of dehydration or beyond. Pinch up the skin on your dog's back, then release it. If it snaps back into place immediately, he is not seriously dehydrated and may just need a drink of water. On dehydrated dogs, the skin goes back into place slowly, or, in extreme cases, not at all. For the second test, press your finger firmly against his gum so the area around your finger turns white. Remove your finger and note whether pink coloring returns almost immediately or takes several seconds. The slower the color reappears, the more dehydrated he is.
What to Do
If your dog is moderately to severely dehydrated, intravenous fluids administered by your veterinarian will provide the best outcome for your dog. You can offer a mildly dehydrated pet a dog-safe electrolyte formula before you go. Avoid commercial products designed for humans as they may contain xylitol, a sweetener that can cause poisoning in dogs. Veterinarian Kaetheryn Walker recommends an easy-to-make electrolyte formula: Just add 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 quart of purified water.