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What is Dehydrated?

Dehydration is simply a deficiency of water in one’s body, but the causes can be complex. Your dog needs to consume a certain amount of fluids every day to eliminate waste material from its body, maintain proper digestion and circulation, and generally stay healthy. A dehydrated dog may appear to be tired, depressed, lack appetite, and can have sunken eyes or white gums that don’t spring back when pressed with your finger. If a dog’s urine is yellow or darker in color, the urine is concentrated, possibly because the dog is dehydrated. Check to see if your dog is dehydrated by gently pulling up the skin over its shoulders. If your dog is adequately hydrated, the skin will spring back to its normal position, but if dehydrated, the skin will move back into place slowly. 

  • Age
  • Overexertion and overheating
  • Illness (such as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, kidney failure, pancreatitis, diabetes)

Because proper hydration is crucial for your dog’s overall well-being, symptoms of dehydration must be addressed immediately.

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Why Dehydrated Occurs in Dogs

Dogs become dehydrated when they either lose excessive fluid, typically through panting, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, or they fail to take in sufficient fluids. If there is not enough water in a dog’s body, the body will extract water from its cells, which leads to depletion of electrolytes and malfunction of the dog’s entire system. A dog vomits or has diarrhea when its digestive system is disturbed. This can happen when the dog has ingested garbage, poison, rotten meat, or even just table scraps to which its digestive system is not accustomed. Dogs can become dehydrated for three main reasons: age, overexertion, and underlying illness. 


The digestion and overall systems of puppies and older dogs are more delicate, making them more susceptible to dehydration. Both older and younger dogs can dehydrate more quickly than a normal adult dog, and it can be more difficult to detect dehydration in puppies because they have less subcutaneous fat, so their response to skin tenting is not as predictable. With very young puppies whose eyes have not yet opened, one cannot observe sunken eyes, and it can be difficult to inspect their tiny mouths for dehydrated gums. Take care to keep the diets of puppies and senior canines healthy and consistent, and always keep fresh, pure water nearby and easily accessible. 

Overexertion and Overheating

A dog engaged in strenuous physical exercise, especially in warm or hot weather, needs to be able to replenish its fluids regularly. Dogs can quickly overheat in hot weather, and will need to drink enough water to replace fluids lost through panting. 


Dehydration can be a sign of a serious underlying condition. If a dog has clean, fresh water available yet still exhibits signs of dehydration, or pants for longer than 30 minutes, you should take your dog in for a veterinary examination. 

Dogs suffering from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis engage in acute vomiting and produce intense bloody diarrhea that looks like raspberry jam. The cause is unknown. This is more likely to affect very small dogs, such as the Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Miniature Pinscher, Schnauzer, and Poodle. Vomiting and diarrhea deplete the body of necessary fluids, and require swift replacement to avoid shock and death.

Kidney failure is a very common, but also very serious condition in which the dog’s kidneys stop working. It can affect dogs of any age, sex, or breed. Acute kidney failure is the result of an injury or eating something toxic, while chronic kidney failure often occurs with age. Kidneys are the body’s filter, and tell the body how much water it needs. When the kidneys stop working properly, the body no longer gets proper information about how much water it needs, and toxins can build up, which cause the dog to be more thirsty and need to urinate more often. 

Pancreatitis is the result of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas activating while still in the pancreas, causing the pancreas to become inflamed. Pancreatitis usually afflicts mature dogs of over five years of age, especially if they are overweight. Miniature Schnauzers have a special likelihood of developing pancreatitis, and it is also common in such small dogs as Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles, and Dachshunds. 

Diabetes is caused by the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin. It is more likely to occur in middle-aged overweight female dogs. Insulin is used to carry glucose to the body’s cells. When insulin is not produced by the pancreas, glucose becomes concentrated in the bloodstream, possibly leading to organ failure, blindness, and death. Dogs suffering from diabetes may exhibit excessive thirst and urination, caused by the body’s attempt to reduce its glucose concentration. A dog releasing more fluid that it takes in can become dehydrated.

What to do if your Dog is Dehydrated

Dehydration related to age, overexertion, or overheating does not necessarily require medical treatment, though any suspected case of dehydration should be carefully examined. You may need to proactively encourage geriatric dogs or puppies to drink by keeping water close to them and carefully supervising their fluid consumption. Make sure your dog’s water is always clean and pure, and wash and refill their water bowl with clean water daily. If your dog has recently been exposed to excessive heat or physical activity, encourage it to drink fresh water.  

If your dog’s dehydration symptoms do not subside within a day or so of normal drinking, or if the dog refuses to drink, you should take your dog to the veterinarian. Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and diabetes are all medical emergencies and require immediate veterinary evaluation and treatment. 

The bloody diarrhea associated with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis can produce severe dehydration, which leads to death if not aggressively treated with intravenous fluids. Steroids can be used with a dog that has gone into shock, and if the dog has lost much blood, it may need transfusions of blood or plasma, as well as antibiotics for possible infection. Food and water should be withheld, to be gradually reintroduced 24 to 48 hours following treatment. 

Kidney failure is treated with hospitalization for IV fluid therapy to flush the kidneys. Acute kidney failure will also require antibiotic treatment. For both acute and chronic kidney failure, the dog’s amount of drinking and urination will need to be monitored for the rest of its life. There is no cure for chronic kidney failure, but it can be alleviated with home treatment using subcutaneous administration of lactated Ringer’s solution.

While mild pancreatitis can be treated, under veterinary guidance, with a low-fat diet and pancreatic enzymes, severe inflammation of the pancreas will require hospitalization, during which food and water will be withheld for three to four days, giving the pancreas time to rest. Treatment during hospitalization will include intravenous fluids and medication to relieve nausea and pain.

Beginning with veterinary evaluation and instruction, a diabetic dog can be treated at home with insulin injections, a high fiber diet given on a regular schedule, and regular exercise. Overweight and underweight dogs will need to attain a normal healthy weight. You will need to do regular blood glucose readings as instructed by your veterinarian to assess the insulin’s effect, working to achieve the proper dose for your dog.

Prevention of Dehydrated

You should always provide any dog with clean, fresh water, taking care to wash the water bowl daily. Your dog should drink one ounce of water per pound of body weight every day; for example, a 50 pound dog should drink 50 ounces of water per day. If your dog is recovering from an illness involving vomiting, diarrhea, or any dehydration-related illness, you should monitor its water intake very carefully. Check your dog’s mouth regularly to make sure there are no sores or injuries that might discourage regular drinking. Always bring adequate fresh water and a portable bowl when engaging in outdoor activities with your dog, such as games, hikes, and running.

Cost of Dehydrated

The cost of treating dehydration depends on the cause, and can vary widely. Regularly providing fresh clean water is free. The average treatment cost of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is $1100. The average national expense for treating pancreatitis is $2200, the cost of diabetes treatment can be $3000, while treating kidney failure may average $4000.