Tummy troubles are no fun for your dog — or for the person cleaning up the messes. Sometimes an upset stomach is a one-off thing that resolves itself quickly (like when they eat something questionable from the trash). But other times it can last a day or more, which can mean something a little more worrisome.
If your dog has had multiple episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, there’s a possibility that they could become dehydrated which, in turn, can lead to other health complications — or worse. To help you know what to look out for, we’ve described some of the signs of dehydration and how to know when it’s time to call your veterinarian.
Why Is Hydration Important?
Of all the nutrients your dog needs for survival, water is the most important. Dogs can potentially live for weeks without food but for only days without water. Water is the main component of healthy cells, blood and the fluid that protects and cushions the spinal cord and brain; in addition, water has several essential roles throughout the body, including regulating body temperature, lubricating and cushioning joints, and aiding food digestion and absorption.
Dehydration is all about an imbalance in supply and demand — the body loses more fluid than it can replace. If your dog has an upset stomach, they can lose fluid through vomiting or diarrhea. Additionally, if they’re not vomiting but are feeling nauseous, they may not feel like drinking. This means they are not replacing the fluids they are losing.
If your dog becomes dehydrated, their electrolytes can become unbalanced, disrupting the normal function of body systems. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to organ failure or death.
How much water your dog needs to maintain water balance in their body depends on their size, diet, age and activity levels, and the environmental conditions. A rule of thumb is that a healthy dog should be drinking about 0.5 to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. So a 50-pound Australian shepherd should be drinking around 25 to 50 ounces or about 3 to 6 cups of water per day.
Signs of Dehydration
Severe dehydration can be life threatening, so make sure you contact your veterinarian if you are concerned that your dog might be dehydrated and require veterinary care. Signs of dehydration include lethargy (not wanting to move around or play), thick saliva, sunken eyes, panting and a dry nose. Below we have listed some of the ways you can check at home if your dog is dehydrated. Of course, your veterinarian is the best person to determine if your dog is dehydrated, so when in doubt, check with them.
- Feel for sticky gums: If your dog is comfortable with you touching their mouth, carefully touch their gum tissue. In a healthy dog, the gums will be moist enough that your finger slides off the gum surface. If your finger sticks to your dog’s gum tissue, they may be dehydrated.
- Make a Skin Tent: Gently pull up on the skin at the nape of your dog’s neck. If your dog is hydrated, the skin should immediately snap back in place. If they’re dehydrated, the skin will take longer to return to its original shape.
Encourage Your Dog to Drink — Slowly
If you believe your dog is dehydrated, it’s important to try to rehydrate them, but you shouldn’t force them to drink. If your dog has been vomiting, wait a few hours after the last vomiting episode before you offer them water. This will help give their stomach time to reset. Offer them a small amount of water only — gulping large amounts of water could cause them to vomit again.
For small dogs, start with about a quarter cup of water every two hours and half a cup during the same time for medium to large dogs. Another general guideline is 1 teaspoon of water per pound of body weight every 2 to 3 hours. You can also replace water in their bowl with ice so that they can only drink small amounts of water as the ice melts.
If your dog is showing no interest in drinking water, you can try adding a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth to the water to make it a little tastier. Once they can hold down water, you can try offering them a small amount of solid food (unless your veterinarian has recommended that you wait longer).
When to Seek Veterinary Attention
Some dogs may benefit from subcutaneous or intravenous fluids at the veterinary clinic — particularly if they are severely dehydrated or are a young puppy, a senior dog or have a preexisting health problem. These dogs can quickly develop complications from dehydration, so they should be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible if they show signs. As well as rehydrating your dog and treating any electrolyte imbalances, your veterinarian will treat the cause behind your dog’s dehydration and upset stomach.
If your adult dog has been healthy but has had diarrhea for two days or has other symptoms along with diarrhea, it’s time to call your veterinarian. Similarly, if your dog has been vomiting multiple times in one day, vomits for more than 24 consecutive hours, has other symptoms or it appears the vomiting is related to toxicity, you should contact your veterinarian.
Keeping your dog hydrated is essential for keeping them healthy. If you suspect your dog’s tummy troubles have led to dehydration, call your veterinarian for advice. Hopefully with some at-home or in-clinic fluid therapy, your dog will be back to chasing balls and asking for belly rubs in no time.
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