How to tell if your dog is dehydrated

We all know when we’re thirsty and desperately need a drink, but how would you know if your dog was on the verge of dehydration? Dehydration in dogs is common, but it can be life threatening, so read on to learn how to keep you dog safe and well by knowing the key signs to look out for. It is possible to get dehydrated in summer and winter, this article will help you recognise early signs.

How to tell if your dog is dehydrated

Check their gums ….

  • Colour – A dog’s gums should be pinkish-red, smooth and moist. If they are not, they could be going into shock or showing signs of dehydration. Deep red sticky gums are an indication of dehydration and in the heat can be an early sign of heat exhaustion.
  • Capillary refill time – In a healthy animal, if you push down on their gums quickly and then release your finger, the colour should return almost immediately (in 1-2 seconds). The time it takes for the colour to return is known as the capillary refill time if the colour is slow to return, it could indicate that the animal is extremely dehydrated or showing signs of shock.

Back of neck –  Pinch the skin on the back of their necks.  If your dog is well hydrated, the skin should spring back when you release it. As skin loses moisture, it takes longer to move back into place – and in the most severe cases of dehydration, it fails to spring back at all.

What you can do to prevent your dog getting dehydrated?

  1. Make sure your dog has access to plenty clean water at home, on walks and when travelling
  2. Always make sure the water they are drinking is fresh.  Remember to have a bottle of water with you on the beach, as drinking sea water will make your dog ill.  Also, in winter, puddles may contain antifreeze.  This tastes sweet and appealing to dogs, but is also extremely poisonous for them, so be extra careful
  3. Clean your dog’s water bowl daily to prevent bacteria forming and make sure it is regularly topped up
  4. Avoid exercising your dog too much in hot weather
  5. Never leave your dog alone in a hot car

In the summer – rapid and heavy panting could mean they are over-heated – You should watch out for signs of heat exhaustion, particularly if your dog is panting rapidly/heavily and appears distressed on a hot day or after exercise. Short nosed dogs (like boxers and pugs), older dogs and overweight dogs are particularly susceptible to becoming overheated and out of breath when exercising.

If you think your dog is suffering from dehydration and they fail to recover quickly – please take them to the vet as urgent attention may be needed.

First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course or take our online course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

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