Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names  
Disease Agents
  • Dehydration may be defined as a loss or deficiency of water in body tissues which may result from inadequate water intake or from excessive water (and electrolyte) loss from the body. (B101, B125, B290)

Further information on Disease Agents has only been incorporated for agents recorded in species for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" volume has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Only those agents with further information available are linked below:

Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description
  • Clinical signs develop when about 6% of body weight in water is lost. (B337.3.w3)
Clinical signs
  • Loss of skin elasticity and tenting of the skin - the skin does not immediately return to its original position if pulled up;
  • Eyes dull and sunken;
  • Mucous membranes dry or tacky;
  • Weakness;
  • Pulse may be rapid and thready;
  • Capillary refill time may be prolonged;
  • Collapse and death with severe dehydration;
  • Packed cell volume will be increased with dehydration;
  • Urine output of mammals will be decreased and urine will be concentrated.

(B101, B284.2.w2)

  • May appear dazed and lethargic.
  • Affected chicks may lose interest in eating and drinking.
  • Estimation of percentage dehydration:
    • Less than 5% dehydration: usually cannot be detected clinically.
    • 5-6%: slight loss of skin elasticity; there may be some tenting of the skin e.g. over the hocks; the eyes appear dull and the mucous membranes are tacky.
    • 7-9%: some loss of skin elasticity; skin tenting may be visible but is not pronounced.
    • 10-12%: dull and depressed, with dry mucous membranes, cool extremities and increased heart rate.
    • 12-15% severe depression, close to death.
  • Weight loss from dehydration can be measured by weighing daily or twice daily. (B115.5.w6)
  • Clinical pathology: raised PCV, plasma total solids, BUN and uric acid. (B115.5.w6)
  • If a hoglet is dehydrated then the skin on its abdomen will look wrinkled and will stay wrinkled if pinched up gently. (B337.2.w2)
  • As with other mammals the skin may show tenting (not springing back when gently pulled upwards, the pulse may be weak, fluid outputs will be low and concentrated, the eyes dull and sunken, the animal may be depressed, with cool extremities, and with severe dehydration the individual may be collapsed. (B337.5.w5)
Further Information Dehydration may occur associated with:
  • Drought conditions in which water is not available;
  • Individuals without access to a source of water, for example if trapped in a building or by entanglement.;
  • Debilitating injuries preventing the individual from accessing water;
  • Suckling young deprived of their mother or an alternate source of milk/milk substitute;
  • Overheating in hot environmental conditions, leading to excessive water losses from panting, sweating etc.;
  • Loss of water from wounds such as burns with a large surface area;
  • Excessive water losses with vomiting or diarrhoea;
  • Excessive urine output associated with kidney disease or diabetes;
  • Excessive salivation;
  • Persistent fever;
  • Severe respiratory diseases;

(B101, V.w5)

Note: dehydration often includes an element of electrolyte depletion as well as water depletion.

  • It is generally reasonable to assume 10-15% (in terms of body weight) dehydration for casualty wildlife presenting in a debilitated state. (B197.15.w15, B284.2.w2)
  • Dehydration may be seen in chicks in their first week before they start drinking properly; this is seen in both hand-reared and parent reared chicks. (B115.5.w6)
    • Chicks should be monitored carefully for dehydration during their first week. (B115.5.w6)
  • Dehydration may be associated with diarrhoea and many other diseases in chicks. (B115.5.w6)

Dehydration may be associated with:

  • Debilitating injuries;
  • Accidental confinement;
  • Prolonged exposure to heat;
  • Drought conditions.
  • Hoglets which have lost their mother.
(B337.2.w2, B337.5.w5)

Fluid therapy for the treatment of dehydration should take account of the composition and route of fluid losses in order to choose the most appropriate type of fluid and route of fluid replacement. (B101)

  • If possible (dependent on the state of the affected individual) oral fluid therapy should be given. (B101)
  • Oral rehydration solutions containing about 100 mEq of sodium per litre together with glucose or amino acids to provide an isotonic solution (about 300-350 mOsm/l) are readily absorbed following oral administration. (B101)


  • Treatment aims to return the individual's water and electrolyte balance to normal.
  • For mild dehydration fluids may be given by mouth, either by providing the fluids in a bowl for the hedgehog to drink or offering it from a syringe.
  • For more severe diarrhoea parenteral treatment may be required.
  • Fluid therapy should be given to all casualty hedgehogs on arrival via either the subcutaneous, intravascular or intraosseous routes (B151, D92) and/or orally.(V.w26)
  • For further information see: Fluid Therapy for Hedgehogs
Oiled Birds
  • Oiled birds may be considered to be 10% dehydrated unless clinical signs indicate otherwise.
  • Aim to replace this 10% over 72 hours, plus 5% body weight maintenance, plus losses due to e.g. diarrhoea.
  • Suggested suitable oral rehydration fluids (given by gavage (stomach tube) include Liquid Lectade (Pfizer Limited) (P14.5.w6), Pedialyte or lactated Ringer's solution and 2.5% dextrose (B23.38.w2); suggested amount 20ml/kg (P14.5.w6). N.B. weak birds unable to maintain head carriage should not be given oral fluids (B23.38.w2).
  • If necessary, parenteral fluids may be given (subcutaneously, intravenously or intraosseously), e.g. 3-5% of body weight intravenous plus approximately 5% body weight subcutaneous (P4.1990.w1).
  • Calculate the fluid deficit (usually 5-10%), and aim to replace 50% of the calculated deficit in the first 12 hours, then in the next 24 hours, 25% of the deficit, plus maintenance needs. (B115.5.w6)
  • Give isotonic fluids (lactated Ringer's solution, normal saline or lactated Ringer's mixed 50:50 with 2.5% dextrose, at body temperature: warm up in warm water, or keep fluids in an incubator at 37-39 C (97-102 F). (B115.5.w6)
  • See: Treatment and Care - Fluid Therapy
  • Route:
    • For a severely dehydrated crane chick (10% dehydrated or more), give fluids by intravenous bolus (Venipuncture in Cranes). (B115.5.w6)
      • Provide warmth, give other supportive care including antibiotics. (B115.5.w6)
    • Otherwise (5-9% dehydrated), give fluids subcutaneously along the bird's sides just behind the wings (Subcutaneous Injection of Birds). (B115.5.w6)
Techniques linked to this disease
WaterfowlINDEXDisInvTrCntr.gif (2325 bytes)
Host taxa groups /species

Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" volume has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken).

Author Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Return to top of page