Dogs and Hydration: Everything You Need to Know

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Do you have a thirsty pup? A really clever dog might bring you his empty water bowl when he's dying for a drink. However, most pup parents have to rely on more subtle clues that their dogs can use a drink. It's especially important to cue in on those thirst clues when exercising with your dog.

How to Tell if Your Dog Is Thirsty

According to Dr. Jerry Klein, a chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club (AKC), the average dog needs a minimum of one ounce of water each day for every pound he weighs. Of course, that amount varies by age, activity level, and weather. If your dog is running or doing other activities, he'll need more. 

Couch potatoes may drink less. Puppies drink more for their body weight than most adults because they play so hard. Elderly dogs and those on certain medications may have different water needs. It's best to discuss their particular needs with your vet.

Dr. Klein suggests testing your dog's skin elasticity to make sure she's staying properly hydrated. You can do that by gently grabbing some of the loose skin over her shoulder blades, lifting it up, and then releasing it. The skin on a well-hydrated pup will instantly spring back into place.

If she's dehydrated, the skin will form a 'tent' and then slowly drop back into position. If you perform this test before a doggie run, you'll have a baseline to compare with later. Another sign of a thirsty pooch is not panting even when the weather is hot. After all, panting uses up precious moisture a thirsty pup can't afford to lose! Unfortunately, it also sets her up for a heat emergency...

Beyond Simple Thirst

Dehydration and hyperthermia (heat exhaustion or the even more deadly heatstroke) kill dogs just as easily as they kill humans. Don't let your precious pooch be a victim! We suggest that you know these danger signs and what to do if your dog is displaying them:

  • Breathing faster than normal or panting constantly
  • Excessive drooling or drool that is thicker than usual
  • A hot and dry nose
  • Sunken eyes
  • Abnormally-colored gums (gray, purple, bluish, or bright red)
  • Gums that are dry and sticky  instead of wet and slippery
  • Muscle tremors, shivering or shaking
  • A pulse rate that's faster than normal
  • Weakness when standing up or walking
  • Vomiting, an abnormally soft stool, or a bloody stool
  • Difficulty urinating or passing a smaller amount than normal
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness (difficulty walking in a straight line or bumping into objects)
  • Seizures

If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, get him into a cooler location immediately. Then wet him down thoroughly with cool (not cold!) water, especially around his ears and paws. Set up fans to blow on him and take his temperature every few minutes.

Once his temperature drops down to 103°, stop wetting him down and turn off the fans. Offer him a small amount of lukewarm or barely cool water to drink and call your vet for further instructions.

Give Hard-Working Dogs a Drink!

You may not realize it, but when you take your dog for a run you're giving her an important job to do. Dogs take their jobs very seriously — whether that job is guarding your home, herding sheep, playing fetch or going for a run with their best friend. 

Since your pet is working hard during your run together, it's up to you to make sure she's staying properly hydrated. You'll also want to make sure she's drinking that water in a safe manner and at the right time.

First, make sure he's well hydrated before you start. Adding a little broth to his water bowl a couple of hours beforehand can encourage him to drink more in preparation for your run. Just make sure there's not too much of that tasty water in his bowl. Your pet won't enjoy his run if he has a belly full of water sloshing around with every step!

Every mile or so, or whenever your dog is panting hard, offer your four-legged running partner a small drink of cool water. Give him just enough to wet his whistle. Too much water when your dog is hot can cause an upset stomach or even bloat. 

Gulping large quantities of water either shortly before, or soon after, exercising increases the risk of your pet developing life-threatening bloat. Frequent, small amounts are much safer for your hard-working dog.

There are several products available to make giving your pet a small drink of water easier while on a run. Try a dog water bottle with a fold-down cup or a people bottle with a pop-up spout that lets you control how much water your pooch gets.

Another option is like the spout on a rabbit water bottle. The spouts designed for dogs attach to a regular disposable water bottle. Just like a rabbit, your dog will get a dribble of water for as long as he licks the roller ball in the spout. 

Cooling Down Your Dog

You wouldn't go for a run without the proper warm-up and cool-down, would you? Well, neither should your dog! End your run, hike, or other exercises with a casual walk until your dog's heart rate slows down and he is no longer panting hard. This will probably take anywhere from several minutes to maybe half an hour.

The amount of time will depend on how strenuous your hike was, how vigorous that Frisbee game was, or how fast you were running with your dog. If it's really hot out, your pooch will probably appreciate a cold, moist towel draped over his shoulders to help him cool off.

After Your Run... 

She'll likely be ravenous after all that vigorous activity. Don't do it! Feed her a full meal, that is. Give her a few small snacks to tide her over while she finishes cooling off — one at a time, please!

After she's cooled off and has had plenty of water (remember — small amounts at a time), give her approximately half of her regular meal. Wait half an hour or so and then give her the rest, along with as much water as she wants. Being cautious and taking your time will help prevent that dreaded, and often deadly, bloat. 

If you'd like to learn more about these amazing animals we call our best friends, visit our Dog Blog or send us a woof. We always love to hear from our fellow dog lovers!

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