Dehydration is a disorder describing the condition that there is less fluid in the body than is required for health and wellbeing.
Dehydration is a medical condition, not just thirst. It is a serious ailment because it spontaneously leads to many related ailments, all of which put enormous strain on the health and wellbeing of your dog long-term, and some of which are even fatal.
Along with a loss of fluid throughout the body, Dehydration also involves a loss of crucial electrolytes - minerals such as sodium, chloride, potassium, etc.
Indeed the body's water balance is of such fundamental importance for health that I gave this topic its own Periodical. You may jump ahead and read it now: The role of water intake for German Shepherds.
Who suffers from Dehydration?
Dehydration may well be the most common ailment for German Shepherds because this breed is so agile and has such a strong metabolism that it is simply not enough to serve a bowl of fresh water with each dog meal (and three bowls with each dry "food" meal).
Also, the hotter it is and/or the more exercise your dog does and/or the more stressed the dog is feeling(!), the more fluids you must supply through the right foods and a bowl of fresh water.
Finally, fever and illness and injury also contribute to the condition of Dehydration, because the healing process consumes extra fluids, and because you may be under the (wrong) impression that your dog is too weak to drink in that condition, and so without intent you might be providing less fluids.
Typical warning signs of Dehydration are:
- dry, sticky gums
- delay in capillary refill time
- lack of skin elasticity
- persistent panting
- sunken eyes
- too much or too little urination
Capillary refill time is the time it takes the gums to return to their normal color after you carefully pressed your finger on them. Capillary refill time should not exceed a second.
To prevent Dehydration, only feed REAL foods, natural foods. Because only natural foods have the high water content that is so fundamental for health.
In addition, always provide a large bowl of fresh water, day and night. Two bowls of fresh water at different places throughout the house if your house is rather large.
Don't think "If I restrict the amount of water intake of my dog, I don't need to walk my dog that often". With that logic, you could also argue "If I don't have a dog, I don't need to walk at all", right?
If your dog cannot relieve every three to four hours maximum when awake and after six to eight hours when the metabolism is slowed down during sleep (but a young puppy every hour, don't believe it? Proof here) then you are asking for dog behavior problems - even before dog health problems manifest.
If you are not willing or cannot take your dog out that often (at least for a brisk relieve walk), you better provide a potty place on your premises or a dog potty of suitable size for a German Shepherd.
And if your dog is not willing to drink much? Then the act of filling a bowl with fresh water can often tempt a "drink-resistant" dog to drink more: I recently was able to test this as well because, except after exercise, my Miguel normally doesn't approach his water bowl during the day (during the night he always does though). And I noticed that even this "drink-resistant" dog does come to drink from his bowl when I go and add some fresh water or replace the whole lot!
Whenever you take your dog on a hike, a run, or prolonged outdoor exercise, consider getting one of those useful dog backpacks and put a large bottle of water on each side (for balancing).
This type of dog backpack has four benefits:
- Your dog will carry its own water supply, not you.
- You can be sure your dog will get fresh water, not contaminated water.
- You can put lots of stuff in them, in addition to the water for your dog.
- Crucially, the equal weight distribution on the sides and the harness-style straps hold this dog backpack in place, while most models annoy and hurt the dog as they move around the dog's body.
To treat Dehydration you do not necessarily need to take your dog to the vet, as cheap text copies on internet marketing sites suggest. If that were the case, the majority of the agile dogs with a strong metabolism would be at the vet every week.
So, better use your common sense: The first warning signs of Dehydration are dry, sticky gums and a delay in capillary refill time.
Therefore, when you make either observation treat your dog for these first signs of Dehydration. Obviously this requires awareness, if not presence near your dog, certainly if the dog is confined to a place that can get rather warm.
Make your dog drink an entire bowl of fresh water (better even, squashed cucumber water) to which you've added the recommended dosage of electrolytes to replace the crucial minerals lost during Dehydration.
If your dog does not empty the entire bowl of fresh water although you are mildly encouraging the dog for 10 minutes or so, then your dog may have another underlying ailment that causes the Dehydration, and you may want to take your dog to the vet.
Likewise, if you notice persistent panting even an hour after exercise, or sunken eyes, then the problem is severe and you may want to take your dog to the vet immediately.
So again, do take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice either of these symptoms, because then something is wrong!
Conversely, too much or too little urination or lethargy are hard to judge because they depend on so many other factors. Therefore, these warning signs must be considered in combination with other warning signs.
Don't wait for the next routine examination (which could be a year away), take your dog to a quality vet straight away.
Yes, the vet visit costs money, but having a sick dog or a dog with behavior problems may in future cost so much more.
In that regard, for a rather large, strong, and agile outdoor dog like the German Shepherd it's worth considering dog health insurance and liability dog insurance, regardless of any legal requirements. Legal requirements are irrelevant as long as nothing happens, but common sense always applies.
Giving milk when dehydrated?
I know of too many vets to count, that advise to give milk upon Dehydration.
No. Do not serve milk, ever! Such advice has no substance and is wrong: Other reasons aside, dogs do not produce the enzyme lactase which is required to break down lactose, the 2% to 8% sugar that is in milk.
By the way, about 90% of the world population of people too lack lactase and would better not consume milk to stay much healthier! Just a hint.
Since I learned it (and reflected on my many symptoms), I too completely stopped having milk with anything. I can't always resist ice cream though!
Conversely, fermented dairies (yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, other cheese, sour cream, or indeed fermented ice cream!) are not problematic (in this regard). Because, to achieve fermentation bacteria or yeast are added which turn the lactose into lactic acid.
Lactic acid is naturally produced all the time by muscle tissue and red blood cells during normal muscle activity, so no problem for either dogs or people. Well, unless you or your dog is known to suffer Lactic acidosis, which would mean there's a blood disorder too! Just so you know.