Dehydration in Dogs and Cats

Dehydration happens when the body loses too much water.   Hopefully, by now, most of us know that on a hot day our pets need access to plenty of fresh drinking water and shade from the sun and heat.  Likewise, on very cold days, fresh water must be checked regularly, or a heated water bowl can be used to prevent freezing.

Common illnesses like vomiting and diarrhea or an injury can also cause dehydration.  More serious causes can include diabetes, kidney disease, major burns or injuries that cause blood loss, and toxins if ingested. 

Signs of Dehydration in Dogs and Cats


How to Check Your Pet for Dehydration

The first sign of dehydration is the loss of the skin’s elasticity.  Dogs and cats have extra loose skin on the tops of their heads and at the bases of their necks – the scruff – that is easy to grab.  When you pinch that skin between your thumb and index finger and then release it, it should spring back into a normal position immediately.  The skin at the top of the head is more likely to show this effect, so you may want to test there first.

If your pet is dehydrated, that skin will not bounce back immediately.  With moderate dehydration, the skin will go back slowly, and in severe cases, the skin will remain standing up in a ridge even after you have released it.  In either case, immediate first-aid and veterinary care is required.

Just like in people, dogs and cats are made up of 80 percent water.  It is in every cell and organ in their bodies.  Maintaining a proper water balance in your pet is vital for their major organs, such as the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys to function.  Water also helps to lubricate your pet’s joints, cushion his spinal cord, keep his digestive tract ‘moving’ and maintain his normal body temperature.

You now know how important water is for your pet’s health and how to check him for dehydration.  You also know some of the signs of dehydration, but did you know that many of those symptoms i.e., rapid heartbeat, excessive panting, dry or pale gums, can be indicative of other problems as well?  Knowing how to check all of your pet’s vital signs, like Heart Rate, Respiration, Responsiveness, temperature and Gum Color/Capillary Refill time can not only help you catch dehydration early but guard against other ailments as well.