Signs of Dehydration in Dogs: How to Recognize and Prevent It

| Updated: November 12, 2023
Bernese mountain dog outside panting next to a bowl of water

Dehydration is a severe condition that can affect dogs of any age, breed, or size. It occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in, resulting in reduced blood volume and impaired organ function. Various factors, such as lack of access to fresh water, excessive heat, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, or diabetes, can cause dehydration. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to shock, coma, and even death.

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Dehydrated


The most common signs of dehydration in dogs are:

  • Loss of skin elasticity: To test this, gently pinch the skin on the back of your dog’s neck or between the shoulder blades. If the skin snaps back quickly, your dog is well-hydrated. If the skin stays in a tent shape or returns slowly, your dog is dehydrated.
  • Dry or tacky gums: The gums of a healthy dog should be moist and pink. Your dog may be dehydrated if the gums are dry, sticky, or pale. You can also check the capillary refill time by pressing your finger on the gum and then releasing it. The gum should return to its normal color within two seconds. If it takes longer, your dog may have poor blood circulation due to dehydration.
  • Sunken or dry eyes: The eyes of a dehydrated dog may appear dull, sunken, or red. Their tear production may also be reduced, resulting in dry or crusty eyes.
  • Lethargy or weakness: A dehydrated dog may have low energy levels and show signs of fatigue, weakness, or collapse. They may also have a decreased appetite or refuse to eat.
  • Panting: Panting is a normal way for dogs to cool down. Still, excessive or rapid panting can indicate dehydration, especially if the dog is not exposed to high temperatures or physical activity. Panting can also increase water loss through evaporation, causing them to become more dehydrated.
  • Reduced urination or constipation: A dehydrated dog may produce less urine or have difficulty urinating. The urine may also be darker or more concentrated than usual. A dehydrated dog may also have hard or dry stools or have trouble defecating.

Breeds at a Higher Risk of Dehydration in Dogs

Any breed of dog can suffer from dehydration, but small dog breeds are more likely to become dehydrated than others – so they may need extra attention.

Breeds such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, Pugs, and Shih Tzus (to name a few), are at an increased risk for dehydration because of their small size. Their tiny bodies often have a lot of energy to expend, which results in water loss, and they can’t store water like a bigger dog can.

Similarly, puppies of any breed, have the same dehydration risks because they have a lot of energy and their bodies aren’t developed enough to regulate temperature as well as they will be able to as adults.

Other dogs with an increased risk are older senior dogs, overweight dogs, and nursing mothers.

Dehydration has been credited as one of the most common preventable causes of death in military dogs and other working dogs. They will often over-exert themselves to the point of severe dehydration or heat stroke. Working in hot, humid areas will further compound this risk.

Causes of Dehydration in Dogs


Dehydration in dogs occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in, resulting in a reduced blood volume and impaired organ function. Dehydration can have various causes, such as:

  • Lack of water intake: This can happen if a dog doesn’t have proper access to water or won’t drink enough. You should always provide your dog with constant access to clean and fresh water and change it regularly to prevent bacterial growth. You can also add some ice cubes or low-sodium chicken broth to the water to make it more appealing.
  • Excessive heat: Dogs can lose a lot of water through panting, especially in hot weather or after exercise. Panting can also make your dog thirsty, so make sure to offer them fresh water frequently. You should also avoid leaving your dog in a car or a confined space without ventilation, as this can cause heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea: These can cause a rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes, which are essential minerals that regulate the body’s functions. Various factors, such as infections, parasites, food intolerance, poisoning, or stress can cause vomiting or diarrhea. If your dog has persistent or severe vomiting or diarrhea, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Illness or fever: Some diseases or conditions can cause dehydration in dogs, either by increasing the water loss or decreasing the water intake. Some common diseases that cause dehydration in dogs include kidney disease, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, liver disease, gastrointestinal disorders, certain cancers, and more. If your dog has any signs of illness or fever, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, or abnormal behavior, you should consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Puppies, senior dogs, nursing mothers, and toy dog breeds: These groups of dogs may have an increased risk of dehydration, as they have higher water requirements or lower water reserves than other dogs. Puppies and senior dogs may also have weaker immune systems or less developed kidneys, making them more susceptible to dehydration. Nursing mothers may lose a lot of water through lactation, and toy dog breeds may have a higher metabolic rate and surface area, resulting in more water loss.

Dehydration in dogs can be a severe and potentially life-threatening condition, so it’s important to recognize the signs and provide adequate water intake. If your dog is dehydrated, you should try to rehydrate them at home or take them to the vet, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

How to Prevent and Treat Dehydration in Dogs

The best way to prevent dehydration in dogs is to provide them with constant access to clean and fresh water.

If your dog is showing mild signs of dehydration, you can try to rehydrate them at home by offering them small amounts of water every few minutes. If they are reluctant to drink on their own, you can also use a syringe or a dropper to squirt some water into their mouth gently.

Avoid giving them too much water at once, which can cause vomiting or stomach upset. You can also give them some electrolyte solutions, such as Pedialyte, to help replenish the lost minerals. However, you should always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplements or medications.

Beagle receiving IV fluid treatment
Beagle receiving IV fluid treatment
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

If your dog is showing severe signs of dehydration, such as shock, coma, or seizures, you need to seek immediate veterinary attention. Your dog may need intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, or other treatments to stabilize their condition and prevent organ damage. Your veterinarian will also perform some tests to determine the underlying cause of the dehydration and prescribe the appropriate treatment.


Prognosis of Dehydration in Dogs

The prognosis of dehydration in dogs depends on the underlying cause, the severity of the condition, and the timely treatment. Dehydration can cause damage to internal organs, such as the kidneys, the heart, and the brain, and lead to severe complications, such as shock, coma, and even death.

The recovery time of dehydration in dogs varies depending on the individual case, but generally, dogs can recover within a few days if they receive proper care and hydration.

However, some dogs may have permanent damage to their organs or require long-term medication or dietary changes. Therefore, it is essential to prevent dehydration in dogs by providing them with constant access to clean and fresh water, especially in hot weather or after exercise.

You should also monitor your dog’s water intake and output and report any changes to your veterinarian. By doing so, you can help your dog stay healthy and hydrated.


Article Sources

BuzzPetz uses high-quality sources like medical journals, peer-reviewed studies, and statements from veterinarians to support the facts in our articles.

Otto, Cynthia M et al. “Evaluation of Three Hydration Strategies in Detection Dogs Working in a Hot Environment.” Frontiers in veterinary science vol. 4 174. 26 Oct. 2017, doi:10.3389/fvets.2017.00174

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