Hydrating Your Pet for Travel – Why is it Important?

Dog drinking water for hydrawion

Let’s face it. Traveling can be stressful. No matter how much your prepare, you are always on edge on or before travel day. Well, so is your pet. Their anxiety level can run high knowing something is up but not understanding what it is. You are running around taking care of last minute details and you don’t notice your pet’s water bowl is empty. Rats! Another thing to think about! So, why is hydrating your pet for travel so important anyway?

All mammals need water, including dogs and cats. Water assists in regulating body temperature. It lubricates joints and helps eliminate waste. Every cell, organ and tissue in your pet’s body needs fluids to function properly. It is a known fact that many people don’t drink enough water and likely your pet may not either.

It is incredibly important to hydrate your pet before and during travel. Dehydration is very risky side effect of stress and more common in traveling pets than you would think.

How much water does my pet need?

The amount of water that your pet should consume for good health depends on your pet’s size, their body weight, diet, age and activity level. It also depends on temperatures around them. Generally, dogs with a low activity level should consume 1/2 to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day under normal circumstances. A 10 pound dog would need about a cup of water a day and a 50 pound dog would need about 3-5 cups per day. Cats should drink about 3.5 to 4.5 ounces of water per 5 pounds of their body weight. A 10 pound cat would need a cup of water per day.

Puppies need more water than adult or senior dogs and offerings of water to puppies should be frequent.

But here’s where things get off the norm a bit for many pets. Considering the stress involved in traveling, especially when your pet is away from their owner in the aircraft’s cargo hold or even with an experienced ground pet transporter, breathing can be shallower and more frequent. Excessive panting caused by stress can quickly lead to dehydration if it continues for a long period of time and water is not available. Add summer temperatures and the need for water increases.

Owners of snub-nosed dogs should be the most sensitive to dehydration issues when traveling as these breeds are shallow-breathers, even at rest. This condition is exaggerated during travel which is why it is important that your French Bulldog or Persian cat be fully hydrated before the trip starts and travel with a larger than normal water bowl attached to the door of the larger than normal crate.

Senior and smaller toy breeds are also more at risk for dehydration than larger dogs.

On the other hand, many dogs can over drink when exposed to stress leading to water intoxication. Monitoring your pet’s activities prior to travel is a good way to prevent this condition.

How can I be sure my pet is getting enough fluid?

Although it is important not to feed your pet within 4-6 hours of travel, the same does not hold true for water. Pets should have access to water to and through their trip. Here are some suggestions to hydrate your pet before traveling:

  1. Always offer your pet multiple bowls of water and place the bowls in frequently visited places around the home like next to their food bowls, by the back door, next to their bed, by their crate, next to the TV, outside and anywhere else you can think of. Check the water levels often and change the water frequently.
  2. Keep water fresh and clean. Use filtered water if your city’s water is overly treated.
  3. Consider adding electrolytes to your pet’s water as dehydration can cause loss of electrolytes. (sodium, chloride, and potassium).
  4. Add ice cubes or unsalted chicken stock (or tuna juice for your cat) to your pet’s water to encourage them to drink.
  5. Offer your pet a treat after drinking. This training technique will establish a positive relationship between drinking and rewards.
  6. Get your pet a fountain water dish. The movement in the water will add interest to the drink (especially to cats) and keep water circulating.
  7. If you feed your pet dry kibble, consider adding wet food to its diet several weeks before travel. Granted, this is not as convenient as dry food; however, your pet will benefit from the additional moisture as wet food can be up to 80% water.
  8. Avoid long exposure to outside temperatures in the summer months leading up to travel.
  9. Keep your pet brushed, bathed and groomed. Dogs with thick coats should have their undercoat thinned when summer approaches.
cat drinking water

What are the signs of dehydration?

Here are the signs that your pet is dehydrated.

  1. Dry nose
  2. Sticky gums
  3. Thick saliva
  4. Excessive Drooling
  5. Loss of skin elasticity
  6. Sunken eyes
  7. Dark or strong smelling urine
  8. Vomiting
  9. Diarrhea
  10. Lethargy

The easiest way to test for dehydration is to lift your pet’s skin in the back of the neck like a mother grips its young, then release. If the skin returns to a normal quickly, then your pet is well hydrated. If the skin falls more slowly, then it is time to encourage your pet to drink or take it to the veterinarian for a drip.

What should I do if my pet is dehydrated?

If your pet is showing signs of dehydration, get your pet to your veterinarian as soon as you can. A drip is the best way to rehydrate a pet. If you can’t get to a vet, then offer them a big bowl of water, dip your hand in it and let them lick your hand. Lower your hand each time closer to the water. You can also wet down their coat or offer them chips of ice. Obviously, stay in air conditioning and keep the activity level low until they recover. Recovery can take hours or days.

What else can I do to ensure my pet is healthy and hydrated for travel?

A trip to your veterinarian is essential before traveling. Dehydration can be a sign of a more serious disease. Have your veterinarian verify that your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. Both Parvo and leptospirosis can affect dog’s appetite for water and also deplete water in their bodies. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney disorders can also cause changes in drinking habits.

Get your pet an oversized water bowl for its crate. If you have a smaller dog, here is a good water bowl. If you have a larger dog, here is a water bucket that you can attach to the crate door.

Freeze water in your pet’s bowl before travel. This will prevent excess spillage during handling and provide your pet a constant source of cool water.

Acclimate your pet to its crate. This is the single-most important thing you can do to reduce your pet’s stress level when traveling.

Travel in the Fall and Spring when temperatures are not at their peak levels. If you travel in the summer, then avoid the mid-day. Early morning or evening temperatures are a bit more tolerable.

Get your pet a good pet pad sized specifically for their crate that will keep them dry and comfortable for the trip. Blankets and newspapers are not meant to absorb enough liquid.

These are some of the reasons why hydrating your pet for travel is so important. This is one thing you should add to your pre-travel list. It may make a big difference in your pet’s health when traveling.

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