When dogs are ill, getting them to drink adequate amounts of water is absolutely crucial for their health and recovery. Dehydration makes dogs feel even worse and can quickly become dangerous if left unchecked. However, nausea, sore throats, loss of appetite, and other symptoms often accompany illness and may prevent a sick dog from drinking enough on their own.
As a dedicated pet owner, you must closely monitor their hydration, entice drinking through various means, and assist them with getting water if needed. It takes diligence and creativity, but with the proper techniques, you can keep your sick pup well-hydrated. This complete guide covers everything you need to know.
Why It’s Absolutely Crucial for Sick Dogs to Stay Hydrated
Dehydration is very dangerous for dogs and can exacerbate illness. Here’s an in-depth look at why hydration is so vitally important when your dog is sick:
- Vomiting, diarrhea, fever all deplete fluids and electrolytes from the body. Replenishing these losses is essential to recovery.
- Lack of energy and appetite in sick dogs often results in not consuming enough water. Their drive to drink decreases significantly.
- Certain illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, infections, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and liver disorders increase the risk of dehydration. These conditions impair the body’s ability to hydrate itself properly.
- Medications like diuretics, laxatives, steroids, and anti-seizure meds can dehydrate your dog as side effects. Close monitoring of water intake is needed.
- Advanced age can diminish a dog’s sense of thirst. Elderly dogs are prone to dehydration, especially if unwell.
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling all directly result in fluid losses that must be replaced. These symptoms are common in sick dogs.
- Elevated body temperature from fevers causes heavy panting and sweating, which depletes water reserves rapidly.
Severe dehydration has dire consequences and can cause organ failure, seizures, coma, and even death in dogs if not treated promptly. That’s why monitoring hydration is a critical part of nursing a sick dog back to health. Don’t underestimate the importance of drinking enough.
Recognizing the Signs Your Sick Dog is Dehydrated
It’s vital to watch for these symptoms of dehydration in your ill dog and seek veterinary help right away if you notice them:
- Dry, sticky gums and eyes – Have your dog blink and examine the moistness of eye and gum tissue. Dryness indicates dehydration.
- Loss of skin elasticity when pinched – Gently pinch and release the skin over your dog’s shoulders or back. The skin should immediately snap back. If it stays tented, dehydration is likely.
- Sunken, bloodshot eyes – Dehydration causes the eyes to appear shrunken inwards and red.
- Weakness, lethargy, collapse – Low energy, wobbly standing, and fainting episodes point to fluid loss.
- Increased heart rate, panting – The body tries to compensate for fluid deficits with a faster heart rate and panting.
- Little or no urination – Concentrated, dark yellow urine and infrequent urination are problematic. Healthy dogs should pee 4-6 times a day.
- Loss of appetite, vomiting – A disinterest in food and vomiting are not directly caused by dehydration but can worsen it.
Don’t delay getting veterinary assessment and treatment if your dog shows these serious red flags. Timely hydration is vital to recovery.
Levels of Dehydration in DogsDehydration occurs in stages and can rapidly worsen. Recognizing the level can guide treatment approaches:
- Slightly dry mucus membranes
- Skin tenting 1-2 seconds
- Lethargy, sunken eyes
- 7-10% fluid loss
- Dry gums, sunken eyes
- Skin tenting 2-4 seconds
- Rapid heart rate
- Weakness, refusal to eat/drink
- 10-15% fluid loss
- Very sticky gums, white/blue tinge
- Skin stays “tented”
- Low blood pressure, rapid heart rate
- Collapse, extreme lethargy
- 15-20%+ fluid loss
Catching dehydration early, in the mild stages, allows successful homemade treatment with increased drinking. But moderate or severe dehydration constitutes a veterinary emergency requiring professional IV fluid therapy and hospitalization.
Reasons a Sick Dog May Refuse Water
There are several reasons why a dog who feels unwell may refuse to drink adequate water:
- Oral or throat pain – discomfort in the mouth or throat makes drinking painful. Your dog may shy away from the water bowl after taking a drink. Check their mouth for injury or inflammation.
- Nausea – an upset stomach coupled with nausea prevents a dog from drinking. They may drink a small amount then walk away from the water bowl. Look for signs of nausea like lip licking.
- Stress – being in an unfamiliar environment can cause stress that inhibits drinking. A stay at the veterinary clinic or boarding facility may result in decreased water intake. Make water easily accessible in multiple quiet locations.
- Lack of exercise – lethargy and weakness prevents the dog from accessing water easily. Your immobile or weak dog needs you to bring water to them frequently.
- Decreased sense of smell – upper respiratory infections can inhibit the dog’s ability to smell the water, lowering their interest in drinking. Let them see and hear the water to spark interest.
- Kennel cough – this upper respiratory illness can make drinking uncomfortable due to throat irritation. Offer warm water and small amounts at a time.
Determining the reason for water refusal can help you address the underlying cause while also utilizing the below tips to encourage hydration.
10 Easy Tricks to Get Your Sick Dog to Drink More
Getting a sick dog to stay properly hydrated can be very challenging. Dehydration can happen quickly in ill dogs and have devastating effects. That’s why taking proactive steps to entice your sick pup to drink plenty of fluids is so important. This comprehensive list outlines simple but effective tips and techniques to keep your dog well-hydrated.
1. Offer cool, fresh water frequently
One of the easiest ways to promote drinking is to refresh your dog’s water bowl multiple times per day. Stale water that’s been sitting out can become unappealing. Dump and refill the bowl 2-3 times daily, more often in hot weather. Use cool but not icy water – extreme cold may deter drinking. Filtered water is ideal. Wash bowls thoroughly each day.
2. Try low-sodium chicken or beef broth
The smell of tasty broth can spark your sick dog’s interest and appetite for drinking more. Opt for low-sodium plain chicken or beef broths to avoid additives. Avoid onion and garlic flavors which are toxic for dogs. You can pour broth into their bowl, mix with water, or freeze into lickable broth ice cubes. Offer small amounts frequently.
3. Use wide, shallow dishes
Select a wide, shallow bowl or dish to make accessing water easier for your sick dog. The lower rim and wider surface allow drinking without having to fully lift their head up. This takes less effort for weak or nauseous dogs. Elevate the bowl if needed to further reduce strain. Ceramic, stainless steel and durable plastic bowls are good choices.
4. Add extra water to wet dog food
Canned wet food naturally has more moisture content and is more hydrating than dry kibble. You can add some warm water to dry food to soften it up, add palatability, and increase your dog’s water intake. Plain bone broth is another nutritious mixer. Avoid too much broth to prevent upset stomach. Use canned food or moisten kibble to boost hydration at meals.
5. Offer hydrating fruits and veggies
Some dogs enjoy eating fresh produce like watermelon, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, or pureed pumpkin. The high water content of produce coupled with nutrients can help ill dogs stay hydrated. Offer small pieces appropriate for your dog’s size. Monitor closely for any intestinal upset. Consult your vet on appropriate choices.
6. Try different water containers and bowls
Your sick dog may have preferences about what type of bowl or container they like to drink from. Offering variety gives them options. Try ceramic, stainless steel, plastic, elevated bowls, snuffle mats, puzzle toys with reservoirs, pet water fountains, etc. Having multiple stations around your home prevents traveling far. Observe what your dog is most drawn to and offer it consistently.
7. Use flavored electrolyte additives
Products like HydraCare add electrolytes and flavoring that encourage hydration in sick dogs. They help replace minerals lost from vomiting, diarrhea, kidney issues, etc. Use as directed on the product. Avoid if your dog has congestive heart failure. Introduce slowly mixed with water to avoid tummy upset.
8. Give subcutaneous fluids if vet prescribes
If your dog is severely dehydrated, your vet may prescribe administering subcutaneous fluids at home. Watch the vet closely to learn proper technique for the fluid bags, sites, needles, etc. This method is very effective for hydration, but only under veterinary guidance and supervision.
9. Elevate food and water bowls
Use a stand, small table or steps to raise your dog’s bowls 6-8 inches higher than ground level. This makes eating and drinking more comfortable by reducing strain on the neck andjoints. Less effort helps weak or elderly dogs drink more easily without excessive bending down.
10. Give smaller amounts more often
For some dogs, especially those feeling unwell, a large volume of water can seem intimidating. They may sip only a small amount or avoid it altogether. Offering tiny portions in small bowls frequently keeps fresh water in rotation. Make drinking a small effort.
Hydration Supplements for Sick Dogs
If your dog is still not drinking enough water after trying the above techniques, consider these supplemental hydration options:
- Pedialyte – The oral electrolyte solution formulated for human children can be given to dogs according to package instructions based on weight. Offer frequently via syringe or bowl for best results.
- Liquid diets – Prescription canned and liquid diets from your vet provide hydration along with nutrients. Make very small portions of wet food “soupier” with added warm water.
- Ice cubes – Offer crushed or small ice cubes for the dog to lick as a hydration supplement if interested. Avoid giving large cubes that could present a choking risk. Give only a few cubes at a time.
- Intravenous fluids – If your dog is severely dehydrated, your vet may administer IV fluids to restore hydration quickly and effectively. This may require a veterinary visit for outpatient treatment or overnight hospitalization.
It’s important to avoid overhydrating a sick dog just as much as dehydration. Too much fluid can lead to:
- Pale gums
- Loss of coordination due to electrolyte imbalances
Follow these tips to avoid overhydration:
- Never force or excessively syringe water into a dog’s mouth without veterinary guidance. This risks fluid aspiration into the lungs.
- Carefully monitor water intake and watch for signs of overhydration like vomiting or loss of coordination. Limit access if you observe these signs.
- Only use syringes/turkey basters to give a minimal amount of water frequently for a dog too weak to drink on their own. Give 10-20 mL per dose, depending on dog size.
Providing Water During Recovery
As your sick dog recovers, keep providing free access to fresh, clean water at all times. Change the water frequently and wash food/water bowls daily. Pour water into clean bowls rather than letting a dog drink directly from the tap to reduce pathogen exposure.
Make water easily available by placing bowls throughout your home. Continue offering flavorful mix-ins like broth or wet food as needed for picky drinkers. Monitor intake and signs of dehydration until your dog is fully recovered.
Preventing Dehydration in Healthy Dogs
To proactively prevent dehydration in healthy dogs:
- Provide unlimited access to clean, fresh water 24/7. Change water frequently.
- Offer water during/after playtime, walks, car rides and other activities. Bring a collapsible bowl when on-the-go.
- Feed canned and raw foods to increase moisture intake from the diet.
- Check water bowls for signs of excessive algae, dirt, etc indicating they need more frequent changing.
- Monitor water intake daily. Note any decreases that could indicate an illness requiring veterinary attention.
- Avoid strenuous exercise in hot, humid weather that increases dehydration risk.
- Know the signs of overheating and heat stroke which can lead to dehydration emergencies.
Proper hydration is a vital component of good health. Following these tips will help ensure your dog stays well-hydrated.
How Much Water Does My Dog Need?
Water needs vary by the dog’s size, age, activity level, and overall health. Here are some general daily water intake recommendations:
|Dog Weight||Water Intake Per Day|
|5 pounds||0.5-1 cup|
|10 pounds||1-2 cups|
|20 pounds||2-3 cups|
|40 pounds||4-6 cups|
|60 pounds||6-8 cups|
|80 pounds||8-10 cups|
|100+ pounds||10+ cups|
Puppies generally need around 2-3x more water per pound than adult dogs. Senior dogs tend to drink less but still require adequate hydration.
Adjust these as needed based on environment (more in hot climates), diet, activity level, panting, and other factors. When in doubt, contact your vet for their recommendation on your dog’s ideal water intake.
Choosing the Best Containers and Bowls for Your Sick Dog
Look for these ideal features when selecting water bowls for a sick dog:
- Ceramic, stainless steel, or easy-clean plastic -simple to sanitize to prevent spread of illness
- Wide, shallow design– makes accessing water easier, especially for weak dogs
- Non-tip bowls – weighted or no-spill style prevents water from turning over and spilling
- Elevated feeders – raises bowls 6-8 inches to reduce neck strain
- Smaller size – if your dog can only take small drinks at a time, use a smaller bowl
- Multiple bowls – having water available in multiple rooms/floors prevents traveling far
- Insulated bowls – keeps water cooler for picky pups on hot days
- Avoid sharing food and water bowls between dogs to prevent spreading illness. Wash bowls thoroughly each day with soap and hot water.
How to Make Easy Homemade Electrolyte Drinks to Hydrate Sick Dogs
You can make simple electrolyte replacement drinks at home to replenish hydration and minerals with these basic ingredients:
- Purified or filtered water – use as the base
- Unrefined sea salt – provides sodium and chloride
- Honey, maple syrup, or white sugar – energy source
- Fresh lemon or lime juice – flavor and potassium
A basic recipe is:
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
- 1 cup filtered water
Mix well until dissolved. Refrigerate leftover drink. Provide small amounts frequently based on your dog’s size. Consult your veterinarian before giving homemade electrolytes, especially if kidney issues are present.
When to Seek Veterinary Assistance
While mild dehydration can often be treated by encouraging water intake at home, there are times when veterinary assistance is vital:
- The dog is showing multiple symptoms of moderate dehydration. Intravenous fluids may be needed to rehydrate them.
- Symptoms progress to severe dehydration like extremely delayed skin elasticity, rapid breathing, very sticky gums. This is a medical emergency requiring IV fluid therapy.
- The dog is too sick to drink water on their own or take sufficient volumes voluntarily. Subcutaneous and IV fluids can help stabilize them.
- The underlying illness causing dehydration needs diagnosis and treatment, like gastrointestinal disease, kidney disorders, etc.
- Electrolyte imbalances are suspected, which require testing and supplementation.
- The dog is a puppy, senior, or has health conditions making them high-risk for dehydration.
Do not hesitate to contact your vet if your sick dog refuses water, cannot keep water down, or their condition seems to deteriorate. It’s better to seek help early than risk complications of untreated dehydration.