Dehydration in dogs and cats…not just a summer problem

Temperatures are cooling in most areas of the country. Even here in Arizona our mornings and evenings are finally pleasant.

So you probably think you don’t have to worry about your pet becoming dehydrated at this time of year. It’s true that heat is less of a factor now that the summer is winding down, but it isn’t only heat that causes dehydration.

According to the Mayo clinic, dehydration is when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water to carry out its normal functions.

Other things besides heat can cause that to happen.

The body needs water for all biological processes including circulation, digestion and waste removal. Water is critical to the overall health and well being of your pet.

What causes dehydration?

Yes, dehydration can be a problem for our pets when they are active in the heat and don’t consume enough water. But what if your dog isn’t eating or drinking enough because they are ill and feeling lethargic? They may not be taking in enough fluids and they can become dehydrated.

Reduced water intake is not the only cause of dehydration though. Increased fluid loss can cause it as well.

Our pets naturally lose fluids when they pee, poop and breathe but other things cause fluid loss.

When our pets have diarrhea, are vomiting, or are panting excessively they lose water and can become dehydrated.

Kidney failure, diabetes and other illnesses that cause pets to urinate in large volumes can also cause dehydration.

Dehydration can result in serious health problems for our pets. Be aware of changes in your dog’s drinking habits and their urine output. And know the signs of dehydration.

How do I know if my pet is dehydrated?

If your pet is dehydrated, you will know it if they have:

Sunken eyes


Loss of appetite

Dry mouth


Elevated heart rate

Decreased skin elasticity

If you think your pet may be dehydrated, you can check skin elasticity by pinching a little skin on the top of their head. If it returns to its original position immediately, they aren’t dehydrated but if the skin stays pinched for a while, that’s a problem.

If your dog is extremely thin or fat, their skin may stay “tented”. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dehydrated.

If your pet is showing signs that they are dehydrated, they should see the vet to determine the cause. Serious underlying health problems can lead to dehydration. You want to diagnose a problem quickly.

A pet that suffers from a kidney disorder, cancer, or hyperthyroidism is most at risk of becoming dehydrated. And elderly pets or nursing pets are at greater risk also. A diabetic pet that isn’t carefully monitored may also have problems staying safely hydrated.

How much water should your pet consume?

A dog needs 1 ounce of water for each pound of body weight per day to stay healthy. They will get some of their water from their food.

If you feed your pet a dry food diet, they will need to drink more because dry food, dog or cat, is only about 10% water…while canned food can be as much as 80%. The moisture content of your pet’s food can be found on the label.

Cats are different than dogs. Cats are not inclined to drink but they also don’t need nearly as much water as a dog.

A cat needs between 5 and 10 ounces of water a day. Because cats don’t have a strong thirst drive, canned food tends to be better. They’ll get almost 80% of their water requirement from their food, so they won’t have to drink as much to get what they need.

If you feed your cat a dry food, they will drink more but not enough to offset the difference between the water content in wet vs. dry food.

Steps you can take to prevent dehydration

It isn’t hard to prevent dehydration in a healthy pet.

  • Provide clean water at all times. Change it frequently to keep it fresh, and clean the bowl daily to eliminate biofilm, which can be dangerous.
  • If you have a cat, place multiple bowls around the house and away from their food. Cats often won’t drink from a water bowl that’s too close to its food.
  • If your pet is recovering from diarrhea or vomiting, give small amounts of water at regular intervals.
  • When travelling, be sure to provide regular access to water, especially after flying.
  • Avoid chaining your dog outside. If they get tangled, they may not be able to reach their water bowl.
  • Monitor water intake. Call the vet if you notice any significant changes.

In a pet that has health issues, you have to monitor their water intake closely enough to notice changes. And call the vet immediately if things seem different.

Water is a critical and often overlooked nutrient in your pet’s diet. It’s important to give as much thought to providing the right amount of water for your pet as the right amount of food.

Has your pet ever become dehydrated? Tell us about it in the comment section above.

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