By Gary Richter, MS, DVM, CVA, CVC, GDVWHM, Holistic Veterinary Care, Oakland, CA
Summertime is here and that means outdoor fun and activities for the whole family—including our pets! While there is nothing better than spending the day outside with our dog, it is important to remember that dehydration can lead to serious medical issues in pets.
Dehydration, or a depletion of water in the body, is generally caused by a combination of excessive water loss and inadequate water intake. For healthy dogs, the most common scenario that leads to dehydration is water loss through excessive activity and overheating coupled with not enough drinking.
When hiking, remember that dogs will go with you regardless of if they are getting tired, hot, or dehydrated. They are our companions and they push themselves to keep up even if they need to rest. Make sure to take rest and water breaks for your dog as well as yourself. Having your dog become dehydrated and overheated on a hike when you are miles away from help is a recipe for disaster.
The effects of dehydration can be as mild as signs of tiredness and lethargy or as serious as collapse and organ failure. Dehydration is also commonly coupled with hyperthermia (overheating) which also can be life threatening.
If you feel your dog may be showing signs of dehydration, the first thing to do is to offer him water and get him into the shade to rest. If the dehydration is mild, a little time and water will work wonders. Once he is feeling better, it is time to head home for the day. In more severe cases such as if your dog seems mentally dull, will not drink, or has collapsed, get them to a veterinarian immediately.
The great news is that dehydration is easily prevented in dogs. The key is to follow the same rules we should follow for ourselves. For us humans, when we are exercising, the rule is: if you are thirsty, you are already getting dehydrated.
The goal is to drink frequently and before you get thirsty. Just like us however, our dogs frequently get so focused on their running and playing, they forget to stop to rest and drink. This is where we, as humans, have to be their conscience. We have to make sure to carry enough water for the dog and offer it to them frequently. How frequently they need to drink somewhat depends on what their activity is and how hot it is outside. A good rule of thumb is to give the dog water as often as you should be drinking water.
Lastly, never, ever leave your dog in the car when it is warm outside. Even in the shade with the windows open a little, temperatures in cars can reach well over 100 degrees in a matter of minutes. At these temperatures, dehydration and overheating is life threatening. If it's warm, please leave your dog at home or take him with you when you get out of the car.