Whether you’re traveling during the summer or spending time at higher elevations, becoming dehydrated can be a problem for you and your pet. Sunny days, soaring temperatures, high humidity, and lots of time outdoors can lead to trouble. Recognizing the symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke in dogs will allow you to watch your pet and act quickly if he starts to get sick.
Traveling and taking a break from your normal routine makes it more difficult to monitor whether your pet is getting enough water or over-exerting himself. Whether you’re driving in the car, romping at the dog park, playing on the beach, or hitting the trail, be sure to have plenty of water and give your pup lots of opportunities to get a drink.
Even with your best efforts, dogs get excited and might not want to stop their activities long enough to stay hydrated. In those cases, leash your dog for short breaks and encourage him to drink. And always keep an eye on him for any signs that he’s not feeling well.
What is Dehydration in Dogs?
Dehydration occurs when a dog does not have enough water in his body. Dogs’ bodies are about 90% water, and normal activities like panting and drooling decrease a their fluids. Just a 10% drop in fluid levels can result in serious dehydration.
Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs
Dogs can’t tell you when they’re thirsty, so having fresh, cool water available to them at all times is a good idea. Still, sometimes they get busy fetching, hiking, or treeing squirrels and forget to stop for a drink. If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to take quick action to protect your dog:
- Sunken eyes
- Too much or too little urination
- Dry, sticky gums
- Lack of skin elasticity, meaning if you pick up your dog’s skin at his neck and then release it, it should pop back into place. In dehydrated dogs, the skin will remain in a ridge and the longer it stays that way the more severe the dehydration.
If you think your dog might be dehydrated, the primary objective is to get him more fluids.
- Move him to a shady, cool location to try to reduce the panting.
- Provide him with cool water, perhaps mixing in salt-free chicken broth or Pedialyte to encourage him to drink.
If your pup is severely dehydrated, it can be a critical emergency. Call your veterinarian or find the closest emergency veterinary hospital so that IV fluids can be administered.
Preventing Dehydration in Dogs
The best way to prevent dehydration is to make sure your dog ingests plenty of water. Always have enough water for you and your dog – when you’re hiking, he can even carry his own in a doggy backpack! And remember to take frequent breaks to get a drink.
What Is Heat Stroke in Dogs?
Heat stroke in dogs is an extremely dangerous condition that occurs when a dog can no longer maintain his normal body temperature (around 101° F) by panting. Heat and humidity increase your dog’s temperature, and at 106°F his internal organs can begin breaking down. At that point, you only have minutes to cool him, or he could suffer permanent organ damage or die.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Often people don’t recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and lose critical treatment time. Very humid days – even if it’s not all that hot – can also be problematic, so watch your dog for these signs:
- Excessive panting
- Pale gums and a bright red tongue
- Anxious or staring expression
- Disorientation and confusion
- Increased heart rate and pulse
- Thick saliva
- Difficulty breathing
Treatment for Heat Stroke
Time is of the essence if your dog is experiencing heat stoke. Don’t panic and follow these steps:
- If you’re outdoors, move your dog into the shade.
- If you’re indoors, move him to a place with air conditioning or put him in front of a fan. The air flow will help him to cool himself.
- Put him in a bath, pour, or gently hose cool water on him. Ice packs shouldn’t be used because you can over-cool him.
- Provide him with some water, but don’t allow him to drink to the point of vomiting.
- Massage him gently and flex his legs to encourage circulation.
- Monitor his temperature with a rectal thermometer and contact the nearest emergency veterinarian.
- When your dog recovers from the heat stroke, schedule a thorough examination with your veterinarian to rule out organ damage.
Factors Increasing Chances of Heat Stroke
Something as unique as your dog’s temperament can elevate his body temperature. For example, a pet that is anxious, excited, or frightened, or one that barks excessively, is more likely to get heat stroke than one that is calm or quiet. Also, dogs with short noses, like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shar-Pei are more likely to have heat-related problems, because they have less tongue area to dissipate heat. Other factors that can play a part in heat stoke are:
- Direct sunshine
- High humidity
- Lack of a breeze
- Health and weight of the pet
- Thickness of the dog’s coat
- Availability of fresh water
- Recent feeding
Preventing Heat Stroke
Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – so here are some ways to avoid heat stoke:
- Do not leave your pet alone in the car
- Minimize outdoor activities on hot and humid days
- Exercise in the early morning and late evening when the temperatures are cooler
- Keep your dog in a cool part of the house, like the basement or a room that is air conditioned
- Make sure your pets always have access to clean drinking water
- When your dog is outside be sure he has shade, gets a breeze, and consider a kiddie pool for him to cool off
It’s disappointing to have your plans thwarted by the weather. But no activity is worth risking your pet’s health! Dehydration and heat stroke in dogs are serious conditions that no pet owner wants to face. When it’s too warm to safely play outside, find yourself a nice fan and enjoy a good nap.
Disclosure: I am not a veterinary professional. If you suspect that your dog might be suffering from dehydration or heat stroke, call your veterinarian immediately.