Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
How to Rehydrate a Dog
If your dog has been vomiting repeatedly, your main focus should be re-hydrating your dog. Many dog owners are concerned about their dogs not eating when their stomach is upset. However, the real, main issue of vomiting is not drinking. Dogs can survive without eating for several days, but lack of water is what can kill them fast.
What Exactly Is Dehydration in Dogs?
As with humans and other animals, it happens when the body is deprived of sufficient fluid. This happens when dogs refuse to eat or drink for some time, are exposed to heat, develop a fever, vomit repeatedly or have diarrhea, or even worse, vomiting and diarrhea at the same time. Left untreated, dehydration has the potential to cause organ failure and possibly death.
Generally, dehydration takes place when the dog is losing more fluids than what is absorbed. This means the dog may vomit loads of fluids but may be unable to regain the amount lost. This creates a problematic imbalance in fluids and electrolytes which, as mentioned, can lead to disastrous effects. Compared to adult dogs, small puppies can get dehydrated fairly quickly.
The process of rehydrating your dog can be done at home for mild cases, but there are times when it will be necessary to see your vet to get him re-hydrated. In the following paragraphs, we will look at how dogs can be rehydrated, signs of trouble, when to see the vet, and what the vet does to help your dog get those fluids back in check.
Signs of Dehydration in Dogs
There are several signs of dehydration you must learn to recognize. Of course, ideally, you should do your best to prevent your dog from getting to this point. We will look at how to prevent dehydration in the next paragraph. Let's take a look now at the signs depicting a dehydrated dog.
Signs of Dehydration in Dogs
- Reduced skin elasticity. Water helps skin stay healthy and elastic. A dehydrated dog's skin will not spring back normally when lifted. To learn how elastic your dog's skin is normally, get into the habit of lifting the skin in a tent over the shoulder blades and back when your dog is healthy. Watch how quickly it springs back when you lift it. Normally, in a well-hydrated dog, this skin springs back immediately. In a dehydrated dog, you will see a delay, or in severe cases of dehydration, the skin may remain lifted. *Note: older dogs may have less elastic skin and in obese dogs, the skin may appear to spring back quickly due to fat, another good reason why it's good practice to learn how your dog's normal skin elasticity looks like when he's healthy. Also, keep in mind that a dog who is dehydrated may still have elastic skin. A dog who is less than 5 percent dehydrated may not show any signs of trouble by pulling the skin up and watching how fast it springs back, better off relying on other signs of dehydration such as those listed below.
- Dry, tacky gums. When a dog is well hydrated, the gums are lubricated by a constant flow of saliva so the gums to the touch will feel slick and wet. In a dehydrated dog, the gums appear dry and sticky.
- Gum color. A dog who is healthy will have nice, bubblegum pink colored gums. See your vet at once if your dog's gums are white or very pale pink, or dark deep red.
- Lower Eyelid color. Some dogs have darkly pigmented gums which makes it hard to tell if they are pale and they may not turn white when pressing for capillary refill time. In this case, it helps to take a look at the color of the lower eyelid. Simply place your finger just below the eye and pull the lower eyelid down so that you can see the inner pink membrane. Again, it's best to know your dog's normal color when healthy so you can tell the difference quickly.
- Capillary refill time. Normally, a dog’s gums quickly return to their normal color after you press your finger against them (normally within 2 seconds), with dehydration it takes longer.
- Sunken eyes. When a dog is well hydrated the eyes appear bright and normal. In a dehydrated dog, the eyes appear sunk in because the eyes recede into the eye socket.
- Concentrated urine. The urine in a dehydrated dog will appear much more concentrated than in a hydrated dog.
- Lethargy. When you call your vet and tell your dog has been vomiting for a while, he'll likely ask you if your dog is still bright and alert. Lethargy is a sign that your dog is not feeling well and can also be a sign of dehydration.
- Increased heart rate. Learn what your dog's normal heart rate is. In dogs, it should be anywhere between 70 and 160 beats per minute. A quick way to measure your dog's heart rate is by placing your fingers on the dog's femoral artery, counting the beats for 15 seconds and then multiplying by 4.
How to Re-hydrate Your Dog After Vomiting
If your dog is vomiting repeatedly and is unable to re-hydrate, either because he is refusing to drink or every time he drinks he vomits again, your best bet is to play it safe and take your dog to the vet. At times, the vomiting will not subside until the underlying cause of the vomiting is addressed. For instance, in the case of a dog with an intestinal blockage, you can try to hydrate as much as you want, but there's no way you can solve the issue without having your dog undergo surgery to remove the source of the blockage! The same goes for other serious causes of vomiting that need to be addressed by a vet. Also, keep in mind that at times, signs of dehydration may not be readily recognized and only the vet may accurately assess the dog's level of dehydration.
Helping your dog re-hydrate may get tricky if your dog's stomach is still upset. Gulping large amounts of water may cause further vomiting and dehydration. For mild, self-limited vomiting you can try the following protocol to help your dog re-hydrate.
Protocol to Help Your Dog Re-Hydrate
- Wait until your dog has stopped vomiting for at least 2 hours.
- Give water very gradually and slowly. Start off by giving one or two tablespoons every 15 minutes. If your dog vomits the water offered, you may try again in a couple of hours, but this time give ice cubes. If the dog still vomits, see your vet immediately.
- If your dog kept the water down well, it's time to replenish your dog's lost electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium) by giving clear liquids such as unflavored Pedialyte 50/50 with water (preferably)or 50/50 water and chicken broth with no onion or garlic.
- Your goal is to give your dog 1 cup of water per 40 pounds of body weight every 2 to 3 hours explains Bethlehem Vet Hospital, and you should gradually increase the amount after 12 hours.
- If 12 to 24 hours go without vomiting (usually young dogs are fasted for 12 hours, older dogs for 24 hours), you can then offer bland food. I like to add a bit of water or broth to bland food and make a baby-food-like consistency to provide further hydration. Try giving 1/2 cup per 50 pounds every 1-2 hours. If at any time your dog vomits after eating, try again in another hour using less food, but see your vet if the vomiting doesn't subside.
- Increase the amount fed, make it less moist and give it less frequently over the next day or two. For example, from ½ cup given every 2 hours, you can try giving a cup every 3 or 4 hours, explains veterinarian Jon Rappaport.
- Gradually add your dog's regular kibble to the bland diet over a couple of days until the kibble totally replaces the bland diet.
When to See the Vet
When is it time to see a vet? Ideally, you should play it safe and see your vet when vomiting isn't an isolated episode, if your dog exhibits other symptoms, and/or if you suspect he is losing more fluids than what he is getting back. At times, dogs cannot be successfully hydrated at home, no matter what. This happens when the dog cannot keep water down, is vomiting repeatedly, has an underlying cause that needs to be addressed and has reached a state of dehydration that can no longer be helped at home.
Re-Hydrating Your Dog at the Vet's Office
As mentioned, if your dog's vomiting wasn't an isolated event, and you suspect your dog is dehydrated, it's best to play it safe and see the vet. At times, your dog may be unable to drink enough water to correct the situation. At the vet's office, your vet will determine your dog's level of dehydration based on clinical signs and possibly a blood test (the blood becomes more concentrated in dehydrated dogs), and he/she will supply fluids either under the skin (subcutaneously) or intravenously. In this latter case, your dog will need to have a catheter inserted and he'll need to be hospitalized. This is because the fluid replacement must be done slowly so you can allow your dog's body to compensate. Your vet may also run several tests to determine the underlying cause of the vomiting.
Vets categorize the level of dehydration by looking at clinical signs and other findings. Generally, there are several levels of dehydration. Following is a rundown of them.
Levels of Dehydration
- 5 percent dehydration: this is a very mild form of dehydration where the skin springs back normally into position immediately. The loss of skin elasticity is very subtle and can be barely detected.
- 6 to 9 percent dehydration: affected dogs will have a noticeable delay when the skin is pulled up. They may also have sunken eyes and dry gums.
- 10 to 12 percent dehydration is characterized by skin that stays lifted until you smooth it into a normal position. The heart rate is elevated, the eyes are sunken and the pulse is weak.
- 12 to 15 percent dehydration needs aggressive emergency care as the affected dogs are in a life-threatening situation where they can collapse and even die.
Depending on your dog's level of dehydration, your vet may decide to use one type of fluid over another. The concentrations of sodium, chloride and potassium may vary. Generally, dogs dehydrated up to 5 percent can be treated through oral fluid administration by providing water and electrolytes. If the dog is more dehydrated than that, oral fluids may not be able to meet the dog's fluid intake needs. Dogs who are 6 to 8% dehydrated require Subcutaneous (SQ) Fluid Administration. Greater levels of dehydration do best with Intravenous (IV) Fluid Administration.
For Further Reading
- Bland Diet Recipes for Dogs
A time may come when your dog may benefit from a bland diet. You can easily prepare a bland diet for dogs by following these simple steps.
- The Best Pet Automatic Feeders for Pet Owners
Automatic pet feeders for dogs The hustle and bustle of everyday life has certainly caused humans to take short cuts in just about every aspect of their life, in order to make things easier. Microwaves deliver meals under three minutes, dishwashers..
- Why is My Dog Smacking his Lips?
If your dog keeps smacking his lips, most likely he's not doing it as a form of entertainment. Learn more about some possible causes for lip smacking in dogs.
- Dog Health: Why is My Dog Vomiting?
This article addresses common causes of dog vomiting and a guide to help pinpoint the problem. If in doubt, see your vet as vomiting in dogs can be caused by serious problems.
- Dog Health: Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs
What is canine pancreatitis? Why does the dog's pancreas get inflamed? What are treatments for pancreatitis in dogs? Learn more about this debilitating condition.
- Vet-Approved Dog Upset Stomach Home Remedies
Is your dog upset stomach becoming a problem? Learn some effective vet-approved natural home remedies to treat your dog's upset stomach at home. Easy to make dog bland diet recipe, straight from your kitchen's pantry!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Adrienne Gaines on April 22, 2019:
My 2yo will not drink water. I took him to the vet and they gave him sub fluids. He still is refusing to eat or drink water. Its been about 48 in three hours
Ruan on March 30, 2019:
My pitbul give birth to 9 babies 1 was bord dead and ons was not breathing buy aftet 2 hours the 1 started breathing but the day after its almost looks like it losing breath and doesn't drink from the mother i give the puppy formula milk but it keeps on getting weaker and colder what can i do to help the puppy to stay alive
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 25, 2018:
Donna, if the diarrhea is not get better, a vet visit is in order.
Donna Thompson on January 14, 2018:
My dog has been having diarrhea for two days now what to do
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 02, 2013:
Repeated vomiting can be scary especially when the dog cannot keep down water. Been there several times and often our vets found dogs dehydrated when the owners were sure they were not!
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on September 02, 2013:
Excellent hub. I tend to panic when my dogs get sick, especially since they are in their senior years. This is a good bit of advice here. Thank you for posting!