Many cases of pets suffering from dehydration are being regularly presented to vets during summer season. A female Labrador Retriever, aged four years was suffering of dehydration due to persistent diarrhoea and vomiting. The dehydration was corrected by injecting Ringer’s lactate daily as slow intravenous infusion along with a course of antibiotic, antiemetic and multi-vitamins and liver extract. The dog showed uneventful recovery within five days.
Dehydration: causes & effects
Dehydration is the deficiency of water or fluid in the animal’s body ultimately leading to low circulating blood volume. This condition is frequently encountered in pets especially during some specific disease conditions which lead to decreased intake of water or excessive loss of fluid or water due to some specific disease conditions. The decreased fluid intake and excessive fluid loss leading to dehydration is common in pets especially during summer season when there is high rise of environmental temperature. In general, fluid loss from either urinary tract or digestive system is responsible for dehydration.
Some common disease conditions of digestive and urinary tract in pets like diarrhoea, vomiting, inflammation, infection and ulcers of gastrointestinal tract, excessive salivation, panting, kidney disorders, gastrointestinal obstruction, failure of endocrinological system and ingestion of toxic substances are also responsible for dehydration. In diarrhoea the waste products of digestion are excreted so rapidly and, therefore, there is inadequate time for absorption of fluids and this subsequently leads to excessive fluid loss and dehydration.
“Fluid loss can be due to strenuous exercise in hot humid weather and being confined without shade and fresh water in hot weather. Those suffering from cancer and infectious diseases are at risk and elderly dogs, pregnant and nursing dogs, diabetic dogs may also be prone,” adds Dr Thyagaraju and Dr Amritha Sanjay.
Dehydration leads to decreased volume of blood and low total intracellular fluid. Blood is responsible for carrying oxygen to different body tissues and, therefore, low blood volume will lead to decreased oxygen supply to body tissue and it also impairs the process of waste removal from the body.
Symptoms of dehydration in pets
- Dull & lethargic: The first noticeable sign of dehydration is the appearance of lethargy and dullness in otherwise alert and active pets.
- Pinch test: There is loss of elasticity of skin of the animal. The skin of the animal will appear wrinkled due to loss of fluid and dryness. If you pick a pinch of skin over the neck or back of a healthy pet and release, it will immediately be restored into its normal position. But in dehydrated animals, it will take time for the fold of skin to return to its normal position.
- No intake: The pet will go off food and will refuse food and water. The heart and pulse rate will be increased.
- Dry mouth: The gum and mouth of the animal will appear dry and sticky against its normal appearance of wet and slippery. If you press on the gum with your finger, the pink mucous membrane of the gum will become white for sometime and will resume its pink colour as soon as the pressure is released. In case of dehydrated dogs this time for return to normalcy (i.e. pink colour appearance) will increase. This is called slow capillary refill time.
Prevention and treatment of dehydrated pets
- Pets should not be allowed exposure to extreme hot climate as this may cause severe dehydration and heat stroke.
- The dehydrated dog should be kept indoors at cool location and should have access to cool drinking water but the dog should not quickly drink a lot of water as it may induce vomiting and further dehydration. It should be given in small quantity and at regular and frequent intervals.
- If the dog refuses to drink water, pieces of meat should be added to it to make it more tempting for the dog.
- Ice cubes should be offered during hot climate.
- The pet should be given electrolyte solution orally 1/4th cup every half an hour and at least 6-7 cups every 12 hours. Various electrolyte preparations are available in the market in powder form which should be freshly prepared after dissolving in palatable drinking water. Odourless preparations should be preferred as the dog may refuse if the electrolyte contains marked odour/flavour.
- If the dog is suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting or any other systemic disease, veterinarian should be immediately consulted for proper diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.
- In severely dehydrated pets, vets normally treat it by intravenous injection of electrolytes and fluids. The fluid should be administered slowly over a period of 24-48 hours. This is called dehydration replacement volume rate. The patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, pulse, blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine should be regularly monitored.
Main causes of dehydration
“The main causes of dehydration are gastroenteritis – vomiting and diarrhoea; water deprivation; inability to drink water due to painful condition of mouth and fluid loss can be due to overheating in hot weather. Dehydration is a serious problem; take him to a veterinarian immediately. Most of the cases I receive are Gastroenteritis and loss of appetite and I prefer administering intravenous fluids like normal saline and Ringer’s solution.”
–Dr Rajendra Borole
Tips for preventing dehydration in pooches
- Water is essential to all living beings that depend on proper daily fluid intake to maintain appropriate health. 80 percent of the dog’s body is made up of water. It dissolves natural and unnatural substances and serves as the root of all biological processes like circulation, digestion and waste removal.
- Provide clean fresh water at all times and also do not forget to clean his water bowl every day.
- Monitor your dog’s water intake. If he is not drinking enough water, consult your vet.
- Ensure that you buy a heavy bottom water bowl so that he doesn’t topple it over. Or you could even use a top up bowl.
- While travelling or exercising with your pet, ensure that he drinks sufficient water.
- Keep your pet’s walks short. Try to avoid letting your dog out to ‘do their business’ during the hottest part of the days.
- Since our dogs do not wear running shoes, their paws can get burnt on the hot pavement and the body fluids would get depleted quickly. It’s best to take them out early in the morning or late in the evening.
- Never chain or leave the dog outside in the hot sun.
- Never leave your pet in the car in hot weather conditions. This could lead to yet another complicated heat stroke.
–Dr Thyagaraju and Dr Amritha Sanjay
Dehydration: treat immediately
“We sweat from top to bottom. But do you know our companion has to rely on his nose, feet and open mouth panting to regulate the body temperature? So, their body cools much slower than ours, thus get dehydrated faster. A depressed canine with loss of appetite, sunken eyes, diarrhoea, dry mouth, nose and gums and even vomiting can be signs of dehydration. Contact your veterinarian immediately if the pinch test or any other signs of dehydration is suspected. Remember every minute counts in dehydration.”
–Dr Shajahan Waheed
Dehydration: not season-specific
“In puppies, viruses like parvovirus, distemper and corona virus cause fatal gastrointestinal upsets like vomiting and diarrhoea which lead to loss of essential electrolytes and body fluids causing dehydration. In adults, kidney and liver failure, if untreated, leads to dehydration. Also pyrexia (high body temperature) due to infection or heat stroke leads to dehydration.
Pets can even be dehydrated in winter too, especially due to parvovirus in unvaccinated pups. I once encountered a patient wherein a stray dog had a huge wound on the thigh which got dehydrated solely because of fluid oozing out of the wound profusely.
Dehydration can be prevented by preventing all factors that can lead to pet getting exposed to causes of dehydration. Regular vaccination, cool environment, regular blood profiles of pets above eight years of age and round the clock access to fresh drinking water are some of the ways to beat it. In case of dehydration, immediate steps would be to replace lost fluids orally. If the pet is not vomiting, then electrolytes rich solution like Electral should be fed orally until the pet gets medical help. If the pet is showing disorientation, he needs to be put on drips immediately.”
–Dr Tina S Giri
(Dr Manish Kumar Shukla is Assistant Professor, Animal Reproduction, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, College of Veterinary Science & AH Kuthulia, Rewa and with inputs from Dr Shajahan Waheed, BVSc & AH, Calicut; Dr Thyagaraju and Dr Amritha Sanjay, Animal Care Trust, Bengaluru; Dr Tina S Giri, MVSc (Medicine), Pet Set Go, Ahmedabad; and Dr Rajendra Borole, Veterinary Surgeon, Sudha Pet’s Clinic, Pune.)