Dehydration can lead to serious health issues for cats and dogs—here's how to stop it from happening.

By Caroline Biggs
January 10, 2020
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Ensuring your four-legged family members drink enough water every day is essential to their health and quality of life. "Dehydration is a condition that results when more fluid is lost from the body then is taken in," says Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary. "Similar to in humans, dehydration is a symptom that results from either a condition (vomiting and diarrhea, exercise overexertion, or heat stroke) or an underlying disease process such as chronic kidney disease or diabetes."

How does one determine if their pet is sufficiently hydrated? "Clinical signs of dehydration can be non-specific in a pet and are usually related to the underlying condition or disease that is causing dehydration to occur in the first place," Dr. Richardson says. "These may include: loss of appetite, lethargy and (or) weakness, vomiting and diarrhea, dark-colored urine, and excessive panting." Looking for other ways to guarantee your furry companion is drinking enough H2O? We asked Dr. Richardson for her advice on how to make sure your dog or cat drinks enough water each day, and here's what she had to say.

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Check your pet's gums.

Your veterinarian examines your pet's gums during visits for a reason—their coloring says a lot about their hydration status. Luckily, Dr. Richardson says you can use the same basic technique your vet uses to check your dog or cat's gums at home. "Start by picking up your pet's lip and observing their gum color," she explains. A pet's gums should be a nice pink color and slightly moist. "If you touch their gums with your index finger just above the tooth line and the gums feel dry and they look very pale or bright red, your pet may be dehydrated."

Try a "skin tent" test.

Richardson says another way to check hydration at home is called the "skin tent" test. "If you pick up your pet's skin between the shoulder blades and let it go, it should quickly return to its normal position," she explains. "In dehydrated animals, this response will be delayed and the skin will stay in the 'tented' position for longer." She notes that there is an exception to this rule: "However, overweight animals may not show skin 'tenting' even when dehydrated," she says, "as they will have a significant amount of fat under the skin that will help it return to place faster."

Ensure your pet always has access to fresh water.

The exact amount of water your pet needs per day varies depending on weight, diet, activity, environment, and pre-existing health issues, which is why Dr. Richardson says it's important to provide them with unlimited amounts of water every day. "Rather than focusing on a specific amount, I suggest that your pet should always have free access to a fresh water supply," she says. "Water fountains can be a great tool to encourage cats that prefer fresh, flowing water to drink more."

Have a portable water supply handy on long walks.

If you like to take your dog on long walks, Dr. Richardson recommends always keeping a supply of water on hand—especially on warmer days. "My favorite portable water supply options are the Ollybottle, the Highwave Autodogmug and the Slurpy Sipper," she says. "To encourage your dog to drink more on active days when it is hot out, you can add some unsweetened coconut water to their water (50:50) for some added electrolytes."

Supply your pet with a wet food diet.

When all else fails, Dr. Richardson suggests supplying your pet with food that's already wet or soaked in water to help them stay hydrated. "Soaking dry kibble in some warm water is a good strategy to increase your dog's daily water intake," she says. "Additionally, in that wet food has a high water content, if you feel like your pet hardly drinks, but is on a moist food, they are probably receiving a lot of their daily water from their diet."

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