Dehydration in animals is potentially life-threatening. More than just thirst, dehydration is medically defined as low circulating blood volume. Many factors contribute to dehydration in animals. Veterinarians consider patient and environmental factors along with disease processes when assessing a pet’s risk.

Patient Factors

Animals lose bodily fluids through vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and panting. Moreover, if a dog or cat is severely wounded or burned, he or she may lose significant amounts of fluids through the skin, increasing his or her risk of becoming dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include dry oral mucosa/gums, increased skin tenting of the skin over the nape of the neck, sunken eyes and, in extreme cases, evidence of shock.

Environmental Factors That Contribute To Dehydration In Animals

If you live in a hot and humid environment, be mindful that your pet is at a higher risk of developing dehydration. Your pet’s health combined with the amount of activity that he or she does also plays into the threat level.

Disease Processes

Certain diseases, such as advanced kidney disease, can cause severe dehydration in animals. Animals with kidney disease are not able to drink enough water to make up for the water loss through the kidneys into the urine. Further, patients with poorly controlled diabetes will also experience water loss through the urine.

The Effects Of Humidity And Heat On Pets vs. Humans

Thermoregulation is the body’s ability to maintain core body temperature within normal limits. The body achieves this by heat conservation and dissipation, as needed. Humans cool down by evaporation of sweat over our entire bodies. While dogs and cats sweat through their paw pads, panting is their primary means of excreting heat through evaporation.

High summer humidity makes panting a very inefficient method of thermoregulation. By the same token, a long coat marginally worsens evaporative cooling when panting is impaired.

Uniquely, cats have an additional compensatory mechanism for coping with heat and humidity. In hot environments, cats produce copious amounts of saliva which they use to groom themselves and spread saliva over the haircoat. Moreover, they have the ability to vaporize large volumes of water and dissipate heat from their respiratory passages.

Heat Stroke Caused By Dehydration In Animals

Unfortunately, we see heatstroke often during the warm humid months in the southeast. High temperatures can cause severe organ damage and even death.

Consequently, children and animals who are left in a closed vehicle on a hot day are quite susceptible to heat stroke. It is one of the primary causes. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car (with the windows opened slightly) can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature climbs to 120 degrees.

Heat stroke exhibits in two forms – classic (non-exertional) and exertional. Classic heat stroke develops when the body is exposed to high external temperatures, whereas exertional heat stroke is caused by strenuous exercise.

Though there are two types of heat stroke, symptoms remain consistent. These include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive thirst
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Profuse salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Deep red or purple tongue
  • Seizure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Bloody diarrhea and small red bruises on the body

How CARE Can Help

If your pet is showing signs of heat stroke, you need to seek immediate medical treatment. This a life-threatening situation. Without aggressive treatment, heat stroke often results in death. Our Emergency Services team is available 24/7/365. Call us at 704-457-2300 to let us know you’re on the way.

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