Signs & symptoms of dehydration & malnutrition in dogs

Updated February 21, 2017

Malnutrition and dehydration has many causes and are often symptoms of a bigger problem such as parasites. Pet owners must watch for the signs of nutritional deficiencies or dehydration to get treatment for the animal as soon as possible. Severe malnutrition and dehydration result in the death of the pet if the underlying cause is not treated. When owners cause a pet to suffer from malnutrition and dehydration, it is animal abuse.


Both malnutrition and dehydration cause a dog to have less energy than usual. A dog that is less energetic than usual may be suffering from a lack of nutrients. When nutrition is lacking because of parasites, illness or a lack of food, the dog will appear listless and have low energy.

Loss of Skin Elasticity

Dehydration causes a dog’s skin to lose its elasticity. Owners can test the elasticity of the dog’s skin by pinching the skin in the shoulder area. The skin should bounce back quickly. If the skin is slow to return to its position, dehydration is the cause. Fluids are lost when the dog pants and urinates and must be replaced. Illness that causes vomiting and diarrhoea causes fluid loss in a dog as well.

Visible Ribs and Bones

When the bones of a dog are clearly visible beneath the skin, it is a sign of extreme malnutrition. Some dogs are naturally thin and the ribs may be slightly visible in a healthy dog of these breeds. The difference between a dog that is naturally thin and one that is malnourished is the lack of muscle and tissue covering the bones. A complete lack of muscle is a sign of severe malnutrition.


The gums are another area where the signs of dehydration are visible. A dogs gums should be pink and slippery. To test your dog’s gums for dehydration symptoms, press against the gum until it turns white. When the gum is released, it should return immediately to a pink colour. A dog with gums that do not return to a healthy pink colour right away may be suffering from dehydration. The gums of a dehydrated dog are sticky as well.

Hair Loss

Dogs who are suffering from malnutrition may have hair loss. A glossy healthy coat of fur requires nutrients. Parasites may rob the dog of the nutrients necessary for healthy fur. Hair loss in the pet may be an indication of malnutrition and parasites.

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About the Author

Luanne Kelchner works out of Daytona Beach, Florida and has been freelance writing full time since 2008. Her ghostwriting work has covered a variety of topics but mainly focuses on health and home improvement articles. Kelchner has a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in English language and literature.