Have you ever been hunting with your dog when it’s really hot outside? If so, you know how quickly your mouth dries out and sweat begins to build beneath your camouflage. Your hunting dog is no different. Dogs can experience heat sickness and dehydration just like us 2-legged humans.
Dehydration is more than just a strong feeling of thirst, it’s when the body becomes overly depleted in water and electrolytes containing essential minerals like potassium, chloride and sodium. Any dog can be impacted by dehydration, but field dogs are at the greatest risk of all.
As much as your dog loves food, water is even more vital to his survival. Hunting dogs rely on water even more than house dogs. A housedog can lose up to 23% moisture from respiration, while a hunting dog can lose up to 40% from respiration. That means your hunting dog needs plenty of water, out in the field and back at home.
Ideally you want to prevent dehydration from happening in the first place, but even the most careful dog owners might come face to face with a dehydrated dog at some point. If it happens, your best bet is to be prepared to identify and respond to it.
I know of a couple who took their dog out for the day, it was around 95 degrees F, and he became severely dehydrated and overheated. The owners thought they were doing the right thing by pouring cold water over their dog, but the dog went into shock and died of cardiac arrest. Their heartbreak was immeasurable as was their guilt. You don’t have to let the same fate overcome you and your hunting dog. Here’s how to identify, treat, and prevent dehydration in the field.
Common Signs of Dehydration in Dogs
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of appetite or interest in water
- Dryness of the mouth, gums and nose
- Skin is not elastic; lift a pinch of your dog’s skin at the back of their neck and see how long it takes to sit flat again. The longer the skin takes to settle down, the more dehydrated your dog.
Check your dog’s capillary refill time by pressing a finger against their gums until they turn white. If their gums don’t instantly regain color, your dog is likely dehydrated.
What To Do if Your Dog Gets Dehydrated in the Field
If you notice your dog displaying any of the above symptoms…
- Find a shady spot and get out of the heat to rest and rehydrate.
- Wrap your dog in a cool moist towel, focusing largely on cooling the underbelly and head.
- Give your dog water, but not too much water. When a dehydrated dog drinks too much water at once, they are at risk of vomiting and becoming more dehydrated.
- Call it a day and let your dog hydrate, rest, and recoup for your next hunt.
What if My Dog Won’t Drink or Appears to be Getting Worse?
If your dog shows no interest in drinking, or does not seem to be getting better after cooling off and rehydrating, you need to get to a vet as soon as possible. Your dog may need intravenous fluids to stabilize hydration levels. Even if you feel like you are overreacting, it’s better to be safe than sorry considering extreme cases of dehydration in dogs can lead to organ failure or even death.
How to Prevent Dehydration in Dogs
- Make sure your dog drinks plenty of water at home so they don’t enter the field dehydrated.
- Always bring along plenty of water and a dish your dog can drink out of. Water quality varies, it’s best to give your dog the water he’s used to as opposed to relying on natural sources.
- Make sure your dog stops to drink often, even if he doesn’t seem thirsty.
- Take plenty of time to rest and recover and never overdo it.