Severely dehydrated dogs require immediate emergency care. If your dog shows signs of shock, heat stroke, or severe dehydration, call your veterinarian immediately, who will likely request that the dog be brought in so that the doctor can re-hydrate him with intravenous fluids.

After a rigorous game of catch, Sid, the usually frisky Labrador Retriever, is panting heavily. He has been playing in the hot sun for hours, but his water bowl is on the other side of the park. His nose and mouth are dry, and his owner notices that Sid appears lethargic. If Sid doesn't drink something soon, he may go into shock.

Vomiting, diarrhea, excessive panting, or playing in the scorching sun with no water can cause dehydration in dogs. The body loses valuable fluids and electrolytes that are essential in maintaining proper organ function.

When a dog's bodily fluid drops just five percent, you may begin to see signs of dehydration. The dog may be lethargic and his eyes, mouth, and nose may appear dry. His skin may lose its elasticity. In severe dehydration, your dog's eyes may appear sunken into his skull. He might show signs of shock, which include rapid heart rate, weak pulse, bright red gums and mucous membranes, weakness, shivering, listlessness, unconsciousness, and in extreme cases, death.

Dehydration Test

Perform the following tests to gauge whether or not your dog is properly hydrated:

  1. First test his skin's elasticity. With your thumb and forefinger, gently pinch your dog's skin between his shoulders, grasping just enough to lift it an inch or two from his body. When you release it, the skin should retract immediately. As the skin loses moisture, it loses its ability to pull back. In extreme cases, the skin does not pull back at all.
  2. Another method for determining dehydration is to check your dog's gums for capillary refill time. First, lift your dog's lip and look at the color of his gums. Next, press the gum with your index finger so that it appears white. Release your finger and watch how quickly the color returns, or how quickly the capillaries in the gums refill. The gums of a normal dog refill immediately, and the gums of a dehydrated dog could take up to three seconds to refill.

Slowly Re-hydrate

Severely dehydrated dogs require immediate emergency care. If your dog shows signs of shock, heat stroke, or severe dehydration, call your veterinarian immediately, who will likely request that the dog be brought in so that the doctor can re-hydrate him with intravenous fluids. If your veterinarian recommends it, offer the dog small amounts of water on the way to the clinic.

Offer a mildly dehydrated dog small sips of water every few minutes. You can also mix electrolyte replacement powder with the water or offer him pieces of ice to lick. Too much water too quickly, however, could cause him to vomit, exacerbating his dehydration. Contact your veterinarian for additional recommendations.

Preventing Dehydration

Offering your dog plenty of fluids will prevent dehydration, unless the condition is due to severe illness. Place several bowls of water around the house so that your dog can drink whenever he wants. If you're going to the dog park or for a ride, bring a portable bowl and bottled water with you.

After strenuous playing or exercise, offer your dog water in small amounts. Pour a little in his bowl, replenishing it every few minutes. No matter how tempting, don't let him drink too much too quickly.

Automatic water bowls, pet fountains, and hardware that attaches to an outside spigot are options for dog owners who work all day and aren't home to fill up the water dishes. Always offer your dog a bowl of clean, fresh water with every meal as a back-up.

If your dog refuses to drink for any reason for extended periods of time, contact your veterinarian immediately. As with humans, it's important for dogs to maintain their fluid levels for proper bodily function. A good rule of thumb: if you're out playing in the heat and you get thirsty, your dog is probably thirsty, too.