Dehydration is the loss of normal body fluids including water and electrolytes. The body’s cells are now deficient in the necessary water needed to perform vital functions. Dehydration can cause permanent kidney damage, heatstroke, shock as well as damage the circulatory system. Untreated dehydration can lead to death in a matter of hours.
There are three ways dehydration can occur. There is a reduced fluid intake, an increase in fluid losses or a combination of both.
1. Reduced fluid intake.
a. Their water source is unavailable or unclean.
b. Stressful events and travel reduce your pet’s desire for water. Stressful events include holiday gatherings, moving and additions to the family.
c. Dogs and cats require a diet that is 70% moisture. Most dry foods are between 8 and 12% moisture. If supplemented foods and water do not make up the other 60%, then your pet may be living in a state of dehydration. This continual dehydration damages the kidneys. Kidney failure is the number one cause of death in cats and the number two cause for dogs.
2. Increased fluid losses.
a. Overexertion and panting due to heat or exercise.
b. Medications can cause your pet to urinate frequently.
c. Illnesses, diarrhea, vomiting or fevers.
d. Excessive drooling. These can a particular breed issue or an allergic reaction.
e. Large wounds or burns.
f. Recuperating pets need more fluids than normal.
g. Kidney disease and diabetic pets are unable to retain fluids and they urinate frequently.
Young, older, immune-compromised, pregnant and nursing pets are more susceptible to dehydration. When signs of dehydration are apparent, it’s important to go to your vet immediately.
Signs of dehydration include:
1. Skin loses elasticity. The “pinch test” is a quick way to check for dehydration. Pull up the skin like a tent and let it fall back down. It should return to its original position immediately. This is not an accurate test for obese pets as their skin is already stretched to capacity.
2. Lethargic or depressed.
3. Sunken eyes.
4. Dry, tacky gums.
5. Increased heart rate.
6. Slow capillary refill time. Normal capillary refill time is two seconds.
7. Tremors in back legs.
While physical findings can point to dehydration, it cannot determine the extent. A complete blood count, packed cell volume and total blood protein tests are needed to determine extent, cause and check for kidney damage. A complete biochemistry profile is recommended.
Dehydration is measured in percentages:
1. Less than 5% is considered mild dehydration. The stretched skin will return to normal quickly. This is not an accurate test on obese pets.
2. Between 6 and 9%. There is a noticeable delay in skin returning to normal position, eyes can be sunken and the gums dry. This range can cause significant health problems in cats.
3. Between 10 and 12%. The skin does not return to normal, eyes are very sunken, pulse is weak and the heart rate is accelerated. This will cause significant health problems in dogs and can be fatal in cats.
4. Between 12 and 15%. This is life threatening for dogs. They will be in shock and most likely unconscious.
5. 15% is death.
It does not take long for your pet to go from 5% to 15% and any delay in treatment can be fatal.
In mild cases of dehydration, as determined by your vet; you can give your pet fluids by mouth or into the cheek pouch with a syringe. You can use Smart Water of UNFLAVORED Pedialyte instead of water as they will help to replace lost electrolytes. Do not use flavored Pedialyte or Gatorade as they contain artificial sugars. In more serious cases of dehydration, the pet needs immediate veterinarian intervention and treatment. The vet will determine the proper rehydration dosage using IV fluids. This pet will need monitoring at the hospital. Your vet will also determine and address the cause leading to dehydration. It bears repeating, untreated dehydration can lead to death in a matter of hours.
There are steps to reduce your pet’s risk of dehydration. Provide fresh, clean water for them at all times. Replace their water with Smart Water or unflavored Pedialyte during stressful events or when traveling. Give water before and during any activities. Provide your pets with a moisture-rich diet. Remember, prevention is always better than treatment.