Practical Matters: Identifying dehydration in puppies and kittens

Aug 01, 2008

Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT
Pediatric dogs and cats dehydrate quickly with inappetence or illness, and assessing the hydration status of these animals is difficult. For example, skin tenting is a poor measure of hydration in puppies and kittens because they have little subcutaneous fat, which is responsible for the normal skin tent and relaxation response in well-hydrated animals. The eyes of dehydrated animals may appear sunken, but, of course, this sign is not useful until after the eyelids open at about 2 weeks of age. In addition, this measure is subjective. And although mucous membrane tackiness may be a useful measure of hydration, the small oral cavity in puppies and kittens precludes easy digital investigation, and if the animal has nursed recently, the mucous membranes may be artifactually lubricated with milk.

One measure that can indicate dehydration in puppies and kittens is urine color. Normal urine in well-hydrated puppies and kittens is dilute and, thus, colorless. Puppies and kittens less than 2 or 3 weeks old can be induced to urinate by gently stimulating the genitalia with a cotton ball. If the animal's urine is visibly yellow, the animal is dehydrated and fluid therapy is indicated.

Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, MN 55108