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Is your dog drinking enough?


Ahhhh! A refreshing river on a summer's day

I recently looked at how humans can avoid becoming dehydrated on long, hot summer walks. This time, I focus on our canine walking companions – how to make sure our dogs get enough water, the symptoms to watch out for and what to do if he or she does become dehydrated.

The problem with dogs, of course, is that they can’t tell us when they need water; as owners, we have a responsibility to make sure they’re getting enough. There are several signs of dehydration in dogs that we can watch out for. These include:

Dry gums

Dull, sunken eyes

Excessive panting

Excessive drooling

Listlessness

Weakness

Elevated heart rate

Collapse

There are a couple of simple tests you can use to see if your dog is dehydrated. First off, there’s the ‘skin tent’ test. Pinch some skin on their shoulder and then release it. Assuming your dog isn’t old or overweight – or one of those wrinkly breeds, such as a shar pei – the skin should spring back almost immediately. If there’s a delay, your dog is probably dehydrated. If the skin doesn’t return to normal, then the situation is more serious and your dog needs veterinary help.

The ‘skin tent’ test can be used to show hydration levels

Another test involves checking your dog’s ‘capillary refill time’. Sounds technical, but it’s not; it’s a simple test often used by vets to check an animal’s health status. All you need to do is press on your dog’s gums. This will cause them to lose some of their normal pinkiness. After releasing the pressure, if your dog is well hydrated, a healthy colour should return within one or two seconds. The gums should also feel moist, not dry or tacky.

If you’re worried about your dog’s hydration levels, you should consult your vet immediately – treat it as an emergency. If caught promptly, dehydration can be easily reversed using a drip to replace fluids and electrolytes at a gradual pace. Hopefully though, things won’t get that serious...

On average, dogs need a daily intake of about 55-65ml of water per kilogramme of body weight. That means my terrier Jess, who weighed in at 7kg last time she saw the vet, needs about 385-455ml on a normal day. If we’re out on a long walk though, particularly in hot weather, she’s going to need more than that.

So, what can we do to make sure our pets don’t become dehydrated? The most obvious thing is to make sure they have enough water. Most dogs will happily drink from rivers or streams when they’re out on a walk, but it’s worth remembering that our pets are susceptible to the same bugs and parasites that we can pick up from water, as discussed in my last blog. A moving water source is always better than a stagnant pool. Carry a collapsible bowl or some other form of easily-accessible water container so that your dog can share your water if he or she needs to. It’s particularly important to take along some fresh water if you’re going to the beach: salt water will make your dog sick.

Watch for signs of over-heating such as excessive panting. Other than peeing and pooing, panting is one of the main ways that dogs lose water. (Although they do sweat from their paw pads, they don’t lose as much as we do through sweating.) So, if your dog is panting more than normal on a walk, they’ll be dehydrating faster than normal. In this case, it’s an idea to find somewhere shady where you can both have a good, long rest – and a drink, of course. It doesn’t need to be a big drink; in fact, drinking small amounts of water at frequent intervals is better than binge drinking.

If it’s very hot, you might want to consider less strenuous exercise or taking your dog out during the cooler times of the day – early morning and late evening. Owners of overweight dogs or flat-faced breeds, such as boxers and pugs, need to be particularly cautious when temperatures soar.

One last thing... I’m not a vet – just a dog owner who’s done a bit of reading up on the subject. The information provided here should not be regarded as a substitute for veterinary advice. If you think your dog is dehydrated, consult your vet immediately.