Goals of Treating Dehydration
The therapeutic goals for treating a dehydrated dog are to replace its normal fluid volume, correct any electrolyte abnormalities and identify and resolve the underlying cause(s) of dehydration. Electrolytes are natural chemical substances which are essential to the normal function of all cells in the body.
A moderately to severely dehydrated dog should be placed on intravenous fluid replacement therapy, probably with an isotonic crystalloid solution, on an in-patient basis. Typical fluid choices might include Normosol R, 0.9% sodium chloride, 5% dextrose in water, Plasma-Lyte 148 or lactated Ringer’s solution, although the dog’s veterinarian will make the appropriate selection in any given case. The fluids will likely be given slowly over 24 to 48 hours, at what is called a dehydration replacement volume rate. The veterinary team will calculate the dehydration replacement rate based on the degree of dehydration and the dog’s size, weight and overall health, among other things. The total volume of intravenous fluids that the dog initially will receive probably will also include the normal maintenance rate. The goal is to correct the dehydration and restore and maintain normal fluid volume.
It will be important for the medical team to frequently monitor and possibly adjust the rate of fluid administration, depending upon the dog’s response to treatment. The veterinarian will probably recommend regular monitoring of the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, pulse quality, respiratory rate, capillary refill time, pulse quality, packed cell volume (PCV), blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum creatinine levels. Monitoring the volume of a dog’s urine output and its body weight are among the easiest and best ways to assess the level of rehydration. Of course, good supportive care is essential to ensure that the dog is comfortable throughout this process.
Longer term in-home or inpatient treatment options can be determined once the underlying cause of the dog’s dehydration has been identified and, if possible, corrected.
Fortunately, dehydration as an isolated condition can almost always be corrected by administration of intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. The trick is to find out why the dog became dehydrated in the first place, and to resolve that underlying condition. If that is accomplished, the prognosis for a full recovery is good to excellent.