Published on
Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Dry gums, sunken eyes, and skin tenting are symptoms of dehydration. Dogs normally have moist gums, shiny, moist, and bulgy eyes, and skin that rebounds instantly when gently pulled away from the body.

  • Dehydrated dogs have dry, sticky, or tacky gums, dull, sunken eyes with elevated third eyelids (when severe), and skin that “tents,” or loses turgor when the scruff skin is gently pulled away from the body
  • Dehydration describes when there is insufficient fluid (water) available to the body
  • There are numerous causes for dehydration, including infectious diseases, inflammatory diseases, and diabetes mellitus
  • Dehydration is sometimes related to severe vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive urination; it can also be due to lack of access to fresh drinking water and high temperatures
  • Diagnostics vary depending on presence of other symptoms and may include physical examination, bloodwork, urinalysis, and diagnostic imaging
  • Typical treatment includes supportive care (fluids), medications, and treatment of any underlying causes
  • If rehydration efforts can outpace fluid loss, prognosis is good
Are you concerned?

Connect with a vet to get more information about your pet’s health.

Book an online vet

A closer look: Dehydration in Dogs

Water is essential to all life. Maintaining fluid balance in the body is critical to support healthy bodily function. When there is insufficient fluid available, this is referred to as dehydration. In dogs, severe dehydration is characterized by tacky gums, sunken eyes, and skin tenting.

Any disease associated with disruption to the body’s self-regulation of fluid has the potential to lead to dehydration. In particular, disruption to the kidney and hormonal systems tends to cause changes in fluid regulation that can result in dehydration.

Extreme high temperatures and lack of access to fresh drinking water are also associated with dehydration in dogs.

Symptoms of dehydration are expected to become life threatening if fluid balance is not restored. Any dog who appears dehydrated and is not taking in fresh water needs emergency veterinary attention.

Possible causes

Risk factors

The severity of dehydration can differ and is determined based on the severity of these symptoms (mild, moderate, or severe). For example, a slightly prolonged skin tent may be present following acute vomiting, while a prolonged skin tent with sunken eyes may be present with a more severe, chronic underlying condition. Generally speaking, more pronounced symptoms indicate a higher percentage or severity of dehydration.

Symptoms of dehydration are common in dogs as they can be associated with many underlying conditions. Several underlying causes are serious, and urgent veterinary intervention is warranted.

Testing and diagnosis

Since there are numerous potential underlying causes, a full diagnostic workup is required. This includes a full physical exam, blood work, urinalysis, and possibly diagnostic imaging (X-rays, CT, MRI, ultrasound).

Treatment depends on the underlying condition, for example, surgery for an intestinal blockage or supportive care for parvovirus. Supportive care includes replacing fluids, usually subcutaneously (under the skin), intravenously (in the veins), intraosseous (in the bone), or intraperitoneal (in the abdominal cavity), and giving medications like antiemetics and antidiarrheals to stop the body from losing more fluids.

Similar symptoms

These symptoms may indicate something other than dehydration. For example, old age or extreme weight loss can also be associated with sunken eyes and prolonged skin tenting.

Associated symptoms

Given the great variety of causes of dehydration, additional presenting symptoms are common.


Taylor K. Goucher, BS; Alexandra M. Hartzell, BA; Tessa S. Seales, BS; Abigail S. Anmuth; Brian M. Zanghi, PhD; and Cynthia M. Otto DVM, PhD - Writing for American Veterinary Medical Association
Dr. Alexander Gascoyne - Writing for Veterinary Emergency Group
Jan Reisen - Writing for The American Kennel Club
Pippa Elliott, MRCVS - Writing for wikiHow

Our editorial committee

Our medical review team is responsible for validating and maintaining the quality of our medical information.