high and dry: the dangers of dehydration

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Young Labrador dog drinking water out of bowl | the dangers of dehydration for pets
Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Sep 21 2013

Just like people, animals are about 80% water; it is essential in maintaining normal body functions from digestion to energy production to immunity and even ridding the body of wastes and toxins. Your pets require an adequate amount of water consumption in order to maintain the appropriate balance with the amount that is being lost through temperature regulation, waste removal, etc. When they lose more water than they take in, they can become dehydrated.

Causes of dehydration in pets

Dehydration can be caused by a number of factors affecting your pet’s health, or can be triggered by an isolated situation like excessive exercise. Here are the most common causes of the condition:

Exercise without an adequate water supply

Make sure if you are exercising with your pet (going for a run, throwing a ball, going for a long walk or hike, etc.) that you take an extra supply of water just for them. Be sure to offer this water frequently so that your pet can maintain their internal environment and regulate their temperature.

Vomiting and/or diarrhea

If your pet is experiencing multiple episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea, they are unlikely going to be able to consume enough water to replenish these losses. This is a good time to seek veterinary care.

Chronic illnesses

Conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure, infectious diseases, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, cancer, etc. can make it difficult for your pet to keep themselves adequately hydrated. Make sure you monitor their water intake carefully, and keep your vet updated on how things are going.

How can you tell if your pet is dehydrated?

The clinical signs of dehydration include lethargy, sunken eyes, loss of appetite/water consumption, dry mucous membranes and a decrease in skin elasticity. Your veterinarian can determine the severity of the dehydration with a combination of a thorough physical exam and bloodwork. This bloodwork can also help to determine the underlying cause of your pet’s current ailments. Depending on the underlying cause, further diagnostics such as radiographs, ultrasound, or further blood tests may be warranted.

Treatment

Depending on the severity of the dehydration, and the underlying cause, your vet may recommend subcutaneous or intravenous (IV) fluid replacement. Subcutaneous fluids are given with a needle just under the skin (sort of like a vaccine, only a lot more substance). Your pets body can then absorb this fluid and make sure it is dispersed to the appropriate places within the body.

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Intravenous fluids are given through a catheter placed into your pet’s circulatory system. This is a more direct and much faster way to replenish fluids. This type of fluid administration requires your pet to be hospitalized. With an IV catheter in place, your vet is also able to give any necessary medications to help treat the underlying cause of the dehydration.

Dehydration is a common and potentially severe health condition that affects our pets. Keep a close eye on how much water your pet seems to consume in a normal day. If you notice this amount changing (either an excessive increase or decrease in water consumption), make sure you let your veterinarian know. If caught early, many conditions are likely to be treatable. And remember: dehydration is just as likely and just as dangerous for our feline friends as our canine companions!