Preventing Summer Dehydration in Pets


Preventing Summer Dehydration in Pets

Water is the most abundant nutrient in the human body, making up 55-60 percent of our composition and is found in abundance in every one of our cells.  It serves as medium for all essential cell metabolism and watery fluid bathes the outside of cells and tissues transporting vital nutrients and removing waste products.  Water is a necessary component for lubricating joints, digestion and maintaining body temperature.  It is essential that appropriate amounts of water are consumed to maintain these life functions and to make up for loss associated with waste removal, perspiration and respiration.  Dehydration occurs when water loss exceeds water intake and is most likely to happen during the hot summer months.

For our pets, dehydration can occur more quickly for several reasons.  First, dog and cat bodies are composed of 75-80 percent water, making them more susceptible to dehydration and its’ effects.  Second, pets get hot faster than people.  Dogs and cats do not have sweat glands in their skin, so their only method of cooling is to pant.  On a 90 to 95-degree day, there is only a 5 to 10-degree temperature differential between their breath and the air for heat exchange, making this is a less effective cooling method.  Pets also do not ask for a glass of cold water when they are hot, leading to increase body temperature and further dehydration.  And finally, dogs that are especially eager to please frequently will not stop an activity to drink until it is too late.

Remember, dehydration can occur indoors during the summer if temperature gets very high, you do not have air conditioning, or the power fails.  Pets most at risk for dehydration are the elderly, the very young, and those with pre-existing conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and obesity.  Breed predispositions to overheating and dehydration include flat-faced dogs and cats because of their congenital respiratory difficulties as well as heavy coated breeds such as Huskies, Shepherds and Chow Chows.

You and I can recognize our own dehydration as a dry mouth, water craving, headaches and irritability.  And, by the time we recognize these signs we are already 2-3 percent dehydrated.  Since our pets do not talk to us, we must be very vigilant for the following signs of dehydration.

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia) – The gums do not feel moist to the touch but are dry and sticky
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weak pulses
  • Heavy, dry panting
  • Dry, red eyes
  • Decreased capillary refill time – Put pressure on the gums with your finger, when they blanche white, remove your finger. The color should return within 1 second.  With dehydration this will be prolonged.
  • Loss of skin elasticity (tenting) – With your thumb and forefinger, lift the skin over the shoulders and let go.  In a hydrated pet, the skin will drop down quickly, in a dehydrated pet it will drop slowly or remain “tented”. 
  • Sunken eyes (severe dehydration)
  • Shock (severe dehydration)
  • Collapse (severe dehydration)

The earliest symptoms will not occur until your pet is at least 5 percent dehydrated.  Life threatening dehydration occurs at 10-12 percent, so it is important to look for and recognize these signs early.  If you are concerned that you pet is dehydrated, contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic for help.  Moderate to severe dehydration requires prompt medical care.

As with any illness, prevention is always best.  Here are some suggestions to help prevent summer dehydration.

  • Always provide plenty of clean water.  Change it frequently to ensure freshness.  Wash your pet’s water bowl every day to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Use a water bowl with a wide or weighted bottom to prevent your pet from knocking it over.
  • Monitor your dog’s water intake.  Generally, minimum maintenance requirements for dogs is at least one ounce of water for each per pound of body weight per day. Cats, because of their evolutionary desert heritage require less, usually 5-6 ounces per day. This requirement will double or triple with heat and exercise.
  • Exercise your dog early in the morning or evening hours to avoid the most intense heat of the day.
  • Be sure to take along water and a water bowl wherever you go.  Do not rely on natural water sources being available.  Plan on their water requirement being double or triple their maintenance requirement.  A collapsible canvass bowl works well and is convenient to pack and carry.
  • Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise.  Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the ball or frisbee long after it is time to slow down and rest or take a drink.  If your dog is preoccupied with something else (other dogs, a tennis ball, etc.) or too excited to drink, cut your outing short for the sake of preventing dehydration.
  • Provide water access frequently. When out in the heat, be sure to provide a water stop, for you and your dog, at least once every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Steer pets away from drinking in ponds, pools, or out of the toilet, as these can be a source of bacteria and chemicals.

As much as we love to bring our pets, especially dogs, everywhere with us, remember when temperatures are soaring, your pet’s well-being may be best served by being left at home.  Being a good pet owner is not about spending every minute with your pet, but about making appropriate choices to keep them healthy and safe.


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