Dehydration Symptoms in Toddlers

Written by emily d'antuono
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Although it is natural for toddlers to lose some water each day as they sweat, cry and urinate, when this water is not replenished or is lost more quickly than it can be replenished, the child can become dehydrated. Diarrhoea, vomiting and extreme sweating are all common causes of dehydration in toddlers, and children experiencing any of these should be given plenty of fluids and monitored for the symptoms of dehydration. When dehydration cannot be remedied at home, the child's paediatrician should be notified so that appropriate treatment can be obtained.

No Tears

A toddler who is dehydrated will shed few or no tears when he cries. It is important to note that the toddler years can be a time of dramatic behaviour in children, often characterised by excessive whining, crying and overreacting as toddlers test limits and assert independence. An experienced parent or caregiver should be able to distinguish between a dramatic cry that would not generally produce tears and a genuine cry that should produce tears but does not because the child is dehydrated.

Lack of Urine

A toddler who is dehydrated may go up to 12 hours without urinating. If he does urinate, his urine will likely be darker in colour than normal. This symptom should be easily detectable in toddlers who are not yet potty trained by monitoring the child's diaper, noting how often he is urinating as well as noting the colour of the urine. For a child who is potty trained, this symptom may be harder to detect without actually watching the child each time he uses the toilet.


A dehydrated child may appear lethargic. A lethargic child is generally tired, sluggish and slow to communicate. She may sleep longer at night or during the day than normal. When someone who knows her sees a child acting lethargic, he will immediately know that the child is not herself because lethargy tends to put a child into "slow motion."

Dry Skin

A dehydrated toddler's skin will be dry. The easiest way to test for this symptom is to press a finger down on the child's arm or leg and to watch how the skin responds when the pressure is released. A dehydrated child's skin will not immediately plump out, but will remain slightly depressed and only slowly regain its proper form. In contrast, a hydrated child's skin will immediately plump back to its normal form.


A dehydrated toddler may express extreme thirst, asking for juice or water and drinking more than usual. Fluids, especially water, should never be denied to a thirsty child as thirst is generally a sign that the body is not well hydrated. Fluids given to help rehydrate a child should be limited to drinks such as water, Gatorade and Pedialyte rather than sugary drinks like soda, juice or fruit punch.

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