How to Rehydrate a Sick Dog

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When dogs get sick, they can sweat, vomit, and develop diarrhea. All of these can lead to dehydration, which causes a domino effect of other health problems. Your dog can also get dehydrated from playing too hard, especially in the sun, or from not drinking enough while indoors in a dry apartment or house. Knowing how to spot signs of dehydration and how to get your dog to start drinking enough to get better will help you avoid more serious problems and a trip to the vet.


Dehydration can cause serious health problems.

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What is dehydration?

Dehydration is a lack of fluids in the body, with a lack of water to the muscles causing a variety of problems. In addition to muscle issues, dehydration affects your dog's cells. Cells perform myriad important functions. If they begin to dehydrate, this can interfere with everything from brain function to muscle use to decreased organ function to nerve problems.


Causes of dehydration

When dogs lose more fluids than they take in, there can be one main cause or a combination of reasons. Water exits the body though sweating, panting, urinating, defecating, and bleeding. Causes can include overexertion, sickness, a dry home or apartment, and a lack of eating and drinking.


If your dog is taking a medication, that can also lead to dehydration. Ask your vet if dehydration is one of the side effects of the medication. Dogs with health problems, like diabetes, can also suffer from dehydration.

Signs and effects of dehydration

Your dog can also get dehydrated from playing too hard, especially in the sun.

Look for one or more signs of dehydration to see if your dog might be dehydrated:


  • Sweating on the body

  • Sweating on the paws

  • Panting

  • Dry mouth

  • Dry nose

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Thick saliva

  • Poor skin elasticity

When dogs get dehydrated, they can experience a variety of health problems, including:


  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Decreased cell function
  • Headaches
  • Kidney stress

Long-term dehydration can be the result of more serious health issues, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer.


Liquids and electrolytes for dogs

Water is the best hydration fluid, but in some cases, your pet might need more than that. That's because when your dog loses fluids, they include important electrolytes that help with cell, muscle, organ, and brain function. Important electrolytes for dogs include sodium, potassium, calcium, and chloride.


Depending on why your dog is sick, rehydrating can be a tricky proposition. Contact your vet to see how serious your dog's dehydration is. In some case, you'll need to take her to the clinic to have the vet administer an IV to get your dog properly hydrated. In other cases, your vet might recommend a commercial hydrating drink (some human fluid replacement drinks, like Pedialyte, work well). Your dog might do fine with a moist, nutrient-rich dog food as well.


You might think that giving your dog a salt tablet or adding salt to her water will help, but it might be too much with the sodium sitting in her stomach and absorbing incoming water, making it take longer to get into her bloodstream. It can also lead to sickness. Since dogs don't lose as much salt as humans, you can try making your own electrolyte drink with other ingredients.

Make her water appealing

One way to keep dogs drinking is to make sure they have plenty of cool, clean water available. If you'll be gone long hours at work each day, consider buying a stainless steel bowl with a water fountain. The water will continue to circulate without dust collecting on the top. The noise will remind your dog that the bowl is there with fresh water and will attract him.

If you can't clean your dog's food bowl after each meal, at least clean it daily. If you don't have a circulating water bowl, clean it each night instead of just refilling it.

Your dog may prefer a circulating water bowl.

If you take your dog out during hot weather, bring cool water in a thermos. Look into buying a collapsible dog bowl that you can set down, pop up, and fill with water. Water bottles with a spout let water leave the bottle slower than through a completely open bottle, making it easier for your dog to lap up the escaping water.