Is My Pet Dehydrated?

One of the more common reasons people give us a call, is when their pet may not be feeling well and they might have some other symptoms including some GI distress. They often just want to know “how sick is my pet?” and “should I be worried about them more?”

One of the first things we talk about is, is your pet getting dehydrated? If we don’t correct that, they can spiral and become in need of more aggressive veterinary care. To start we can check their behavior. A pet that is getting dehydrated is probably also getting a little depressed or lethargic. This looks like your pet laying around and not interacting with you as much. Another behavior change they might demonstrate is seeking out water more. So, if they are going to your water glass on the table, or if they are heading to the commode in the bathroom they might be feeling a little dehydrated. You might want to think about looking for those kinds of signs and symptoms first.

On the pet themselves, you can check a couple of things. We use these next techniques every day in our exams to help determine how hydrated the pet is. We start by checking their gums. Any mucous membrane will do, but we generally lift up the lip and look at their gums. Their gums should be a nice healthy pink color, and they should be kind of shiny and moist. Their gums should be slick enough that your finger kind of slides across the gums. This indicates  that your pet has enough moisture. Once we start getting a tacky gum, when we touch it and the finger sticks a little bit, it’s likely that means your pet is getting a little dehydrated. Tacky gums usually mean your pet is about 5% dehydrated. That’s just the first sign that you can pick up on clinically from a pet besides those behavior changes.

The next thing you can check is the scruff of their neck. You can grab at the scruff of their neck and pinch it up. We call this a skin tent. You can tent the scruff of the neck up and release it. When you release it, it should go right back down, almost immediately, in a well hydrated pet. When your pet is starting to get really significantly dehydrated, that skin tent is going to stay up, and slowly go back down. As it slowly goes back down, it gives us an idea of how dehydrated your pet can be. That can be anywhere from about 8-15% dehydrated, which is severe dehydration.

A couple of other signs that are probably beyond what you can check at home, but a vet would be able to see is when your pet is getting really sick and they might be getting some sunk in eyes or your pet may not be producing any urine. Those kinds of things become a severe, almost emergency situation, if your pet is that dehydrated. So, if you do have any questions about the signs and symptoms your pet is showing, by all means, go see your veterinarian.

Something that you can do to ensure that your pet doesn’t get dehydrated is making sure that they have some fresh, clean water on a very regular basis. If it’s hot outside, they need to have a high level of access to water. Think a couple of bowls in a clean, dry environment. Make sure that you take those bowls and clean them on a regular basis as well, so they don’t get deterred from using them.

If you take all of this into consideration, you’ll be a lot better prepared in case your dog or cat does get sick. For more information on this and other topics, please visit the video blog on our website.

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